It’s finally here – XCO World Cup racing kicks off for 2017 tonight (NZ time)! We’re back at the scene of the 2016 World Champs in Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic. The racing kicks off at 8pm with U23 men. There’e still no live stream for U23 racing so to keep up with the action head to Tissot Timing.
Nove Mesto: 4.1km, 230m of climbing per lap. After several years on the world cup circuit the course is familiar to racers and spectators alike. The race starts with a ‘start lap’, or modified lap to help separate riders before entering the single track and hitting the first technical features of the course. Expect to see a further 5 to 6 full laps depending on conditions. The track looks to be running fast with temperatures likely to be cool and a chance of showers during the day. This could add to the difficulty of the expert climbs that pack plenty of punch when it’s warm and dry.
In 2016 for avid Kiwi fans Tissot Timing was the only way to keep up with Sam Gaze as he stormed his way to multiple World Cup wins and podiums on his way to winning the rainbow jersey. This year we’ll be watching Sam, and Anton, via the live stream as they go toe to toe with the elite, but there are plenty of young Kiwi’s to look out for in the U23 racing.
The start list for the U23 men reads very differently this year, with the top riders from last year all moving in to the elite category in 2017. It’ll be interesting to watch the field sort itself out in the early laps. Cantabrian Ben Oliver had a solid international 2016 season and looks set to go better this year. After blowing the cobwebs out at the Hadleigh Park International he placed a strong second last weekend at the HC event in Austria. He’ll be starting on the second row and no doubt looking to start the World Cup as strongly as he did last year, with a top 10 result.
Joining Ben in the 152 rider strong U23 race will be Jack Compton (24), Craig Oliver (63), and Gareth Cannon (65). To Jack and Craig it’s a familiar routine, but for Gareth it’s a chance for redemption after his only other world cup race in Cairns last year saw him suffer some of the bad luck that plagued many riders that day.
Coverage of the elite women’s race starts tonight at 11pm on Red Bull TV. After several years of tight racing at the podium end of the women’s field things aren’t about to get any easier! The front two rows are packed with riders who will be both planning and capable of taking control of the race early on. The test will be who is in control later in the race, with familiar names like Jolanda Neff, Annika Langvad, Maja Wloszczowska, Gunn-Rita Dahle Felsja, and Catharine Pendrel all seasoned racers with proven ability to both lead from the front or work their way up later in the race.
There will be plenty of riders nipping at their heels. Yana Belomoina has had a strong start to the season, as has Linda Indergand. Along with Barbara Benko and Alessandra Keller they are a group of riders known for their fast starts looking to hang on for a good finish. And don’t forget Emily Batty. With a revamped pre-season and serious work on her starts 2016 was her best yet, with two top-3 world cup results, a medal at world champs, and seconds off an Olympic medal.
Other riders to look out for are US riders Lea Davison, ready to fire the legs up after making the switch from Specialized to the Clif Pro Team (formerly Luna) in the off season, and Erin Huck who has progressed solidly for several years and has had a very strong early season in the US.
Notably absent from the start list is Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds. She has had a quiet start to the year with just two races so far, similar to the minimal approach to racing of Nino Schurter. Withdrawal from world cups between the entry list and start list usually come from minor illness, especially when a second world cup is soon after, and we should get confirmation of this from the commentary team this evening.
Some notable presences however, are Sabine Spitz , Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, and dropper posts. Early in 2016, Sabine announced her retirement from XCO World Cup racing, but with a broken chain costing her a medal at world champs, and a complicated cruciate ligament tear affecting the end of the season (including the Olympics) she retracted her retirement in November and at 46, having already chalked up wins in the 2017 season, returns to the world cup and will be hungry to repeat her performance from the Nove Mesto course last year, with a different outcome. Less surprising is the return of PFP. The question is, will she return with the form to trouble the leaders from 43rd on the grid, or will her come back be a more steady affair?
And keep an eye out for dropper posts. With more options becoming available with travel as little as 20mm to keep the weight down there are more and more of them at the World Cups. Noted first several years ago being ridden by Tanja Zakelj, then last year on the hardtail of Maja Wloszczowska, you can now also expect to see Catharine Pendrel and GRD running them, among others.
Kiwi rider Samara Sheppard sits out the opening round and will join the World Cup in Albstadt next weekend.