Cowbell Preview – 2017 XCO World Cup Round 2

The World Cup is back with round two in Albstadt, Germany this weekend.  It’s over two days again, but with a different schedule.  U23 men will race at midnight Saturday NZ time.  The rest of the races start with U23 women at 7pm Sunday, followed by elite women with coverage from 9pm for a 9:15pm start, and coverage of the elite men starting at midnight.

The Albstadt round of the World Cup is also host to a round of the Junior World Cup where junior National Performance Hub riders Eden Cruise, Jack Wilson, Taylor Johnston, Liv Bishop, and Jess Manchester will be racing.  Live timing should be available here.  The juniors race before U23 men, starting at 10:15pm NZ time Saturday.

Did you know…?  Albstadt has been on the World Cup circuit since 2013 and will be the host venue for World Champs in 2020.

The Course

The distance per lap is similar to last week and while there is less elevation gain, instead of being broken up in to 5 primary climbing segments there are only two.  Instead of the 1-2 minute climbs of Nove Mesto, Albstadt demands more like 2.5-5.5 minutes (give or take, depending on who you are).  And what goes up must come down, sometimes with pretty rapid loss of elevation.  There are some small changes to the course but on the whole it remains very similar to past years.  The forecast is for dry conditions, and it’ll definitely be warmer than last week.

Check out a close up of the course with Pinkbike and Catharine Pendrel:

Albstadt course profile – a bit like the back of a camel that’s been crossed with a dinosaur…
Albstadt lap










U23 Men

Last week Norwegian Petter Fagerhaug was something of a surprise winner with the race being wide open as the top riders from 2016 graduated to the elite field.  Last year Fagerhaug raced only two world cups and never looked like being in the mix.  U23 can be an unpredictable category with the constant flow of riders in to and out of the category.

The first celebration for the Kiwis last weekend was the strong performance from Ben Oliver that took him to 9th place, equaling his career best in Cairns last year but arguably a better result given the much larger field of riders in Nove Mesto.  This year he has the support of the National Performance Hub behind him and he’s following up his 9th with back to back world cups and only a day long drive between venues.

Ben’s brother Craig battled illness in Germany last year.  The long climbs don’t play to his strong suit but he’s capable of a result that improves well on his start position of 63rd.  Gareth Cannon will line up next to him in 64th.  Strong starts from both of them will pay off at the end of the race.

Joining the Kiwi line up this week is first year U23 rider, Paul Wright.  He’ll line up right at the back of the field and while Mathieu van der Poel blew all of our minds last week by riding from 90th to 8th, passing a couple of riders every minute in the early laps, getting through all that traffic is hard.  Paul will want to channel his inner MvdP and be ready to be aggressive to pass each and every rider.  With 168 guys on the start line and the pace so hot up front, just finishing on the lead lap is an ambitious goal.

U23 Women

Last weekend Kate Courtenay was the fastest woman on course.  Period.  Her average speed was faster than the average speed of Annika Langvad.  To put that in perspective, the U23 fields have been separated from the elites since the 2011 season.  Since then the fastest U23 woman’s average speed had only exceed the fastest elite woman’s average speed twice.  It will come as no surprise that the women who achieved it were Jenny Rissveds (Nove Mesto 2015) and Jolanda Neff (Petermaritzberg, 2013).  In Petermaritzberg 2013 seven of the top ten from the U23 race that day have since gone on to podium in the elite field, 6 of which have made top 3 at least once .

(Incidentally, among the men it has happened only once, when Victor Koretzky was faster than Nino Schurter in 2015 at Windham.)

Evie Richards had an early lead over Kate but a crash allowed Kate to close the gap and Evie was unable to match her after that.  If fully fit and well there is no question that Sina Frei is still a force to be reckoned with and this is definitely the trio to watch, not only this weekend but for years to come as they move up to the elite ranks.

For those not aware, it is entirely appropriate for Kiwi’s to throw their support behind Evie Richards.  Not only is she a former CX U23 world champ, it went official on Facebook earlier this week that Sam Gaze is her biggest fan!

Elite Women

The talent in the elite women’s field goes as deep as ever.  You could narrow it down to 10 women as likely contenders for the podium but picking a final five is tough!

The common theme in pre-race interviews last week was ‘we’ll find out about the form in the race’.  We sure did!   We found out Annika Langvad has come in to this season with the sort of form she had at the start of last season.  If anything, the enforced ‘taper’ due to the demands of her studies will allow her to retain that form for longer.  She is unquestionably the woman to beat this week based on the form book.  And try to beat her they will…

Yana Belomoina and Catharine Pendrel will have sky high motivation, for different reasons.  After a successful four years as a U23 racer with 7 wins and a further 11 top three placings, Yana made the elite podium at worlds in 2015 as a first year elite, but despite many strong starts a world cup podium had eluded her – until last week.  This could be her breakthrough season.  Catharine will want to put last week firmly behind her, and what better way than adding to her haul of world cup wins?  A top three will most likely put her back on the front row for round three.  She’s disappointed to be starting from the third row (although in good company with Jolanda Neff, Emily Batty and former world champ Irina Kalentyeva) but has a strong history of riding through the field to finish on the podium (remember Rio?).

‘Unretirement’ appears to agree with Sabine Spitz.  She was 4th in her home world cup last year and if she carries the form from last week and with the crowd right behind her could she take her 3rd world cup win on home soil?  I think she’ll retain the form.  The podium is in reach, but going equal to or better than last weeks 2nd place against the competition will take everything she has.

That final podium spot is tough to pick.  Jolanda Neff could benefit from being held back a bit at the start, Emily Batty will want to get on the board for the season and she’s been on the Albstadt podium for the last two years.  Her former team mate Bec Henderson showed some great signs of form last week suggesting she could put something great together if she can take advantage of her front row start, and Maja Wloszczowska put together a storming last lap in Nove Mesto demonstrating that she’s still got the form that took her to three world cup podiums, had her riding in medal position at world champs right until the finish, and earned her silver in Rio last year.

And we’ve got a Kiwi back in the game!  Sam Sheppard kicks off her international season this weekend.  She’ll have it tough from the 7th row but the climbs suit her and she’s been in the form of her life.  The higher up she finishes the more points she will earn and the further up the grid she’ll be at the next round.

Elite Men

There were a couple of big stories last week and they concluded within a split second of each other.   One was the 9th place finish of Anton Cooper.  The other was the guy who beat him in a sprint finish for 8th.  Mathieu van der Poel was impressive in the two rounds he raced last year, riding from the 90s to the 30s in both rounds.  But last week he rode from 90th position (that’s a 12th row start) to the front row for this week.  He had two crashes and a dropped chain on his way to passing 82 riders, 23 of them in a single lap.  There are a couple of sides to the debate of how he will go with a front row start.  The first is that he was moving slower in the early stages (nearly 3 minutes back after the first full lap) so had fresher legs later on that enabled him to crank out the fastest and second fastest times on three of the laps.  But that doesn’t take in to account the efforts required for passing, fortunately for MvdP these are more like the efforts of a CX race.  Nor does it recognise that he produced the fastest lap of the day while passing 13 riders.

MvdP is seriously fast.  I’m really excited to see whether he will push Nino and what his strategy will be to try and do so.  Conversely, what will Nino’s strategy be?  He doesn’t often take off as early as he can and ride solo for the win.  He is inclined to wait until a good portion of the race is over.  He said he was pushed on the climbs last week but he was never at risk of losing the wheel of David Valero, and even if he had been, he’s the best bike handler in the field and capable of closing huge gaps on the descents, and recovering at the same time.  MvdP has a wealth of experience in racing head to head against the best in the world in cyclocross.  If the Albstadt course appears too unlike the demands of ‘cross racing bear in mind he made up 65 places on it a year ago.  He did win stage 2 at the Tour of Belgium on Thursday (Europe), around the same time he announced he would race Albstadt, but didn’t start the rest of the tour which suggests he’s going to come to the race with fresh legs and intent.

The Albstadt course is much better suited to Julien Absalon than Nove Mesto, and while he didn’t appear to back himself to match the leaders last week he certainly showed he had more in the tank when he made the defining move for 3rd place on the last lap.  Maxime Marotte confirmed that he is leading the charge to take Julien’s place as the number one Frenchman and his continued consistency make him a strong podium contender once again.

The men’s field is establishing good depth and like the women’s field it isn’t easy to pick a firm top five or six.  David Valero has come in to the season strong and was pushing the climbs last weekend, but he’s a big guy who hasn’t shown that the long climbs don’t hurt him, and they’re likely to suit others like Mathias Fluckiger and Titouan Carod better.  Anton Cooper is absolutely no slouch on the long climbs and I expect to see him pushing for the podium.  Sam Gaze had to withdraw last week but after being delayed by the crash at the start he posted the fastest 3rd lap and had made his way back to 16th before the incident that caused him to withdraw.  He has the form and he won the U23 race here last year, so if he’s 100% he’ll work his way up from row 6.  The podium will be a stretch but he’s one of the fastest guys in the world so a top 10 finish is on the cards.

Follow the races

Junior racing – 10:15pm Saturday – live timing

U23 Men – midnight Saturday – live timing

U23 Women – 7pm Sunday – live timing

Elite Women – 9pm Sunday – live broadcast

Elite Men – midnight Sunday – live broadcast

Note, if you prefer, you can now watch the elite broadcasts with German commentary!


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