Cowbell Preview – XCO World Cup Round 4

With the excitement of the world champs last weekend still fresh in our minds, it’s already time to look to the next world cup!  This weekend we’re off to Switzerland.  The Swiss know a lot about cowbells!  And you can bet on hearing some Alphorn players out on the course.  They also happen to know a thing or two about mountain biking.  In particular, cross country.

                                     Leumann_alphorns  COW_02_LS0063_01_P

The mountain resort of Lenzerheide hosted a world cup for the first time last year as the first of three years preparation for world champs in 2018.  Retired Swiss XC racer, Ralph Näf, had significant input to the course design resulting in a mix of long and short climbs, technical singletrack descents like Heidi’s Hell and the GoPro Root Section littered with roots and rocks, natural drops like the Näf  Kante, and a couple of man-made fun features – the Ochsner Sport Dual Slalom, the Lenzerheide drop, and Shimano Jump Line.

Sitting at around 1500m above sea level, it is possible the altitude could affect some riders.  Conditions are currently dry and expected to stay that way throughout the weekend, while temperatures are forecast to stay fairly mild.

Elite Men

Last week Nino Schurter stopped Yaroslav Kulhavy from winning the rainbow jersey in his home country.  Last year the shoe was on the other foot when Yaro won Nino’s home country world cup.  Nino was the Swiss meat in a Czech sandwich last year with Ondrej Cink coming home in 3rd.  Cink was in his best form of this year last week rolling over the line in 4th in front of his home crowd.

Bested by Kulhavy in the closing stages last week, Julian Absalon finished 9th in Lenzerheide last year.  He spent most of the race in 3rd but a puncture too soon after one tech zone and too far from the next saw him drop as far back as 14th before regaining positions to finish in the top ten.  Nino also punctured last year but was close enough to a tech zone to retain 2nd.  Last week the outcome of the women’s race was affected by punctures close to the finish and the next day Nino had opted to forego his usual Dugast tubulars that have let him down on his new 29er this year, in favour of something that was no doubt a bit more robust.

Maxime Marotte might be giving some thought to the rubber he runs this weekend after puncturing last week.  Combined with a bad start he had his worst finish of the season.  He’ll want to get back on track and maintain his overall position in the world cup.  With the form Kulhavy and Cink brought last week his position on the podium may well be under threat.

Lars Forster secured his place in the Swiss Olympic team prior to the world champs and might feel relived at that finishing behind 6 of his countrymen.  He will be keen to show the Swiss crowd that he is the right 3rd man for Rio with a strong result this weekend.

Between Lenzerheide a year ago, and world champs last week, the big 3 remain the favourites this weekend, but Marotte, Cink, Forster, and Koretsky will want a piece of the action.  With a home crowd, Schurter and Forster will have some advantage.

big 3
The big 3 in Lenzerheide 2015 in the finishing order of world champs 2016. Which order will it be this week?

Elite Women

In 2015 all eyes were on local girl Jolanda Neff, but despite a strong middle of the race she was unable to recover from ground lost after a fast start and finished 4th.  Gunn-Rita Dahle Flessja and Catharine Pendrel swapped positions for the lead before GRD broke away to ride solo to an historic 29th world cup win.  And in form similar to that displayed last week, after working throughout the race Lea Davison pushed Catharine back to third and claimed second spot, her best world cup result to date.  She went next level again last week by bettering her bronze at world champs in 2014 to take the silver.

All eyes will again be on Jolanda and we can count on her taking an early lead.  But will it stick?  And if it doesn’t, can she rally back to the front of the race?

Not if Annika Langvad has anything to say about it.  Freshly crowned world champion and undoubtedly the form rider of the moment, unless the Speshy team have overdone the celebrations during the week after 2 golds and 2 silvers last weekend, she is likely to provide us all with another lesson in composure as she shows Rob and Bart once again that she is more than just a marathon racer.  Team mate Lea comes in to this race with unprecedented form and confidence.

Last year’s winner was out of the world champ after only 100m or so and was left to watch from the sidelines after slipping a pedal off the start and being left lying on the tarmac shortly after with her handlebar 2 pieces.  After the same damage in Val di Sole last year, Gunn-Rita will be on the start line this week really fired up (and probably with reinforced handlebars).

In third place last week, Emily Batty is timing her form to perfection for Rio, while the woman she out-sprinted to take the bronze, Maja Wlosczowska has rediscovered the form she had shown consistently throughout her career until the last few races.  Fellow Canadian Catharine Pendrel maintained her top-5 trend for 2016.  The two-time winner of the world cup overall trails Annika Langvad by just 66 points.

Catharine’s team mate, Katerina Nash, will return to the front row for the start this week, as will U23 rider Alessandra Keller.  Jenny Rissveds also returns to the elite field after taking her second U23 rainbow jersey last week.

As the Olympics draw closer, the depth in the women’s field only increases, but right now Langvad is the one to beat.

Gunn-Rita makes history in 2015 with her 30th world cup win
Gunn-Rita makes history in 2015 with her 29th world cup win

U23 Men

Look, I’m not paid to be objective so I could just leave this here…

Congratulations Sam – colours will look good on you!

But even with Karotsky moving back to the elite field for the world cup there are a few Frenchmen who will never give up the top step of the podium without a good fight.  And Marcel Guerrini will have a home crowd advantage which could be enough to secure him his best result of the world cup season so far after taking home bronze at world champs.

Ben Oliver was 2nd Kiwi home last week and currently sits at 16th overall in the world cup.  A good showing this weekend will help to secure a high result in the 2016 overall.  Craig Oliver hasn’t really fired yet in Europe this year.  He’ll be looking forward to round 5 in Mont St Anne where he finished a career high 14th, but the start of the second half of the world cup season is a good time to find the form that took him to that result.  And Jack Compton had his best result of the European season last week with a top 40 result.  It’ll be great to see that form continue through the rest of the season.

Follow & Watch

As always, Tissot Timing will follow every split and lap as the riders pass them.  And Red Bull TV will cover the elite races live on line.

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