Racing kicks off again tonight NZ time at 8pm with U23 women, followed by the elite men with coverage starting at midnight on Red Bull TV. To follow the U23 women and see what’s happening off camera in the men’s race, check out the update on live timing at the end of this preview.
Last night Ben Oliver did exactly what he needed to do and came away in 9th place, easily the best result of his young career and a promising start to his 2017 World Cup campaign.
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. Elite men will race a further 6 full laps. Conditions look set to remain cool and dry. For a detailed look at the course check out the pictorial course preview with T-Mo.
Anything can happen in racing and the result is never a foregone conclusion, but for dominance like Sina Frei showed last year you only have to go back another year to when Jenny Rissveds won the U23 world cup with a clean sweep. In fact, the only major Sina didn’t win last year was the U23 world champs that Jenny was required to race as she was racing the world cups as a U23 rider. A big difference is that Sina won in a clean sweep in her first year as a U23. When she eventually joins the elite women she is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Already this season she’s been mixing it up with riders like Jolanda Neff, Annika Langvad, and Yana Belomoyna.
Evie Richards and Kate Courtenay will have their work cut out to keep her in sight and have a chance of upsetting her perfect record.
Kiwi Charlotte Rayner starts on the 4th row of the 57 rider field. This is her first world cup and the biggest race she’s been in. Everyone who has taken to the start of a world cup for the first time at any level knows the number one objective is to learn from it. If she can get a good start she will have an excellent chance of defending her starting position and have the opportunity to improve on it.
Ben Oliver wasn’t the only Kiwi to produce a career-best ride last night. Over in California former mountain biker George Bennett took out the general classification in the Tour of California, becoming the first Kiwi to win a UCI world tour race. Sam Gaze and Anton Cooper will both be looking to add to the list of awesome Kiwi results for the weekend. But can anyone knock Nino Schurter, off his perch? They’ll have to soon because his top tube is running out of room for his list of titles!
Last year it took two punctures and three Frenchmen with a home crowd advantage to do it in La Bresse. On paper, the man still most likely to edge him off the top step of the podium is Julien Absalon. Nino is closing rapidly, but Julien still holds the record for World Cup wins and in the opening round he’ll be keen to increase the gap again with a win over his long time rival. Between them, the two won every major event in 2016, including World Champs in Nove Mesto, and the Olympics.
The man most likely to upset both of the big guns is the man with the home crowd, Jaroslav Kulhavy. He won here last time it was raced as a world cup in 2015, but of course it’s no surprise that 2nd and 3rd were Nino and Julien. With Ondrej Cink absent, (2nd place and a win as a U23 rider back in 2011 and 2012, and a podium performance last year in the elite field to finish 4th at world champs) Jaro is the only local rider with a shot at the podium.
After a breakthrough season last year, Frenchman Maxime Marotte has had a quality start to 2017 and remains a likely podium contender in the opening round, although he’s never placed higher than 7th on the Nove Mesto course and that was way back in the first year it was on the circuit (2011). Other riders who will be looking to build on their 2016 season and become podium regulars are Mathias Fluckiger, Stephane Tempier, David Valero Serrano, and Victor Koretzky.
There’s no question there are more than a handful of other Swiss and French riders eyeing up the podium and looking to make things less predictable than they have been at the top for the last few years. But we’ve got our own young guns certain to work their way in to that mix. A reigning and former U23 world champ, from the 4th and 6th rows respectively, Sam and Anton are both capable of a top ten result in the elite field. This is Sam’s first elite start in a world cup, but having Jaro as his team mate can only be an advantage. He has already gone wheel to wheel with Nino Schurter more than once in the US, most recently besting him in a sprint finish at the Sea Otter short track event just a month ago. The following day it was Anton taking it down to the line with the reigning world and Olympic champion. After a rocky start to his first elite season last year, surgery to correct an ongoing respiratory problem and some time off Anton hit the reset button and has unquestionably returned to racing with all the promise of the past.
The start is going to be important for our guys with the modified opening lap providing the best opportunity to maximise passing. Both have the experience and the ability, and every racer knows it helps to have lady luck on your side too. Let’s hope our boys can show them our national bird might not be able to fly, but that’s because our national bird doesn’t ride a mountain bike!
An update on live timing
Live timing is being run by a new outfit this year and it took more than a couple of goes to figure out how to get it working perfectly. My advice is to bookmark the UCI MTB live timing link. At the bottom of the page, right click on the ‘results’ link of the current event and open it in a new window or tab. From there you can navigate to the race you’re after and scroll as you need to. Note: if you don’t open it in a new window or tab it doesn’t scroll and you’ll only see the top 12 results during live timing.