Cowbell Preview – XCO World Cup Round 6

It’s almost time for the final round of the 2016 Wold Cup, which is the last major XC race of the year.  We have world and Olympic champions crowned, and in a few hours we’ll know who is taking home the Overall.  Difficult as it is to believe, it’s not even 4 1/2 months since round 1 in Cairns!

There are several factors at play for tonight’s races (NZ time).  If you watched the downhill last night you’ll know it started raining, and if you’ve seen updates since you’ll know it has been raining heavily.  At the 2015 world champs we saw the impact of heavy rain on the Andorra track.  Some riders in the downhill over night were running mud tires, either front or rear or both, in an attempt to mitigate the impact of the deep, fine dust that blanketed the course.  The XC course looked equally as dusty, so depending on how much rain makes it through the canopy the course is likely to throw up some slippy, gloopy challenges, including last minute decisions on equipment.

Men

Round 6:  The unquestionable favourite in every way is Nino Schurter.  On paper – 10 wins from 12 starts in 2016.  On form – with the exception of round 3 in La Bresse where the Frenchmen rose to the top and he did suffer two punctures, he has been visibly stronger whether he has taken the lead early on or waited to make his move and never appeared to be under any real pressure.

Positions 2-5 are more interesting.  Yaroslav Kulhavy has demonstrated the best form over the second half of the season.  Maxime Marotte had such a strong early season but wasn’t able to back it up in more recent races.  Despite a close race, he missed out on bronze in Rio running out of punch during the final lap.  If he’s taken some down time over the last couple of weeks and comes in to this race without putting pressure on himself to perform he has the potential to bounce back to the top three.

A lot of people regularly comment on the age of Julien Absalon.  He might be getting older, but it’s definitely too soon to ignore him.  With the exception of the Olympics he hasn’t finished out of the top three in a major this year.  He’s definitely still a safe bet for top three.

Mathias Fluckiger, Matthias Stirnemann and Viktor Koretzky were all strong in Mont St Anne and have each been on the podium in 2016.  It’s unlikely that all of them will fit this time around so it remains to be seen who has the legs and the form (and probably some luck) to cap their season off with another top five result.

Overall:  To be certain of taking the overall title, Julien needs to place 10th or better today.   A top four keeps Nino in second place.  There are two possible scenarios that would result in a change in the top three: For Nino to move in to first he has to win and have Julien finish out of the top 10.  For Nino to be bumped to 3rd, Maxime has to win and Nino finish out of the top four.  Neither is impossible, but they are extremely unlikely.  Then again, if the conditions a severe enough that is exactly when significant or even catastrophic mechanicals can (and do) occur.

Women

Round 6:  This is as tough as ever to call, but I’m going with Catharine Pendrel.  Her form has been there since the start of the season and if you didn’t know about the broken thumb, the surgery, and the complications that followed you would be forgiven for thinking she was at or near the top of her game all season.  But the race and result we saw in Mont St Anne had nothing to do with who wasn’t there, and everything to do with the end of the thumb issues and smart training in the lead up.  A career best performance in Rio isn’t just about the bronze medal she earned, but also about the ability to leave the pits near the end of the first lap in almost last place and ride through the entire field minus 2.  She’s back on the front row this week and the #2 plate has been attached to the Oiz, so she’ll be ready for the conditions.

Jenny Rissveds – The gold medalist from Rio, and she won the last world cup she raced back in Lenzerheide for round four.   There’s no doubt she can match the pace of anyone at the front of the field.  She hasn’t had the type of consistency of her teammate and male-counterpart through the season, and the last couple of weeks are the first time she will have experienced the type of distractions and commitments that come with winning such a significant event.  She showed the type of maturity needed to get through all of that and perform at her best this weekend in keeping her head together through the race in Rio.

Emily Batty – 2016 has been a stand out season for Emily.  With the Canadian national title, third place in two world cups and at world champs, and just shy of third in Rio, she’s built and carried her form perfectly.  It’ll still be there this weekend so she just needs to bring it to the party one more time and she’s definitely a top-3 contender.

Maja Wloszczowska – We saw the return to the sort of form we’d seen for so many years from Maja during the season, making it in to the top 5 in La Bresse and then being robbed of a medal at world champs, following that up with another 4th in Lenzerheide.  It was no surprise to see her in the group that would eventually lead in Rio and continue on to take the silver medal.  She’s definitely on a roll so expect to see her mix it up with the leaders here.

Annika Langvad – It’s impressive to carry top form from the end of one season to the beginning of another.   Not only that, but she carried it through to world champs so she’ll be donning the rainbow stripes again this weekend and looking to make her way back to the top step.

Jolanda Neff & GRD – Neither of these riders has had the season they’re capable of.  Both skipped the first round of the world cup and Jolanda missed the second due to illness and MSA electing to compete in the Olympic road race instead.  She did however win in La Bresse.  GRD dnf’d at world champs and finished out of the top 20 at Lenzerheide, but came storming back in MSA to take 2nd place.  Neither fired in Rio, finishing 6th and 10th respectively.  Lea Davison is another rider in a similar situation.  They’ve all got the goods, but they need to produce them on race day, and for the whole race.

A key player who is missing from this round is Katerina Nash.  With world champs and the Olympics done it’s a pretty safe bet that she’s going to stay home to prepare for the first rounds of  the Cyclocross World Cup that are in the US in a couple of weeks.

Overall:  Jolanda Neff won the overall in dominant fashion in 2014 and 2015 but she’s out of contention this year.  Annika Langvad currently leads Catharine Pendrel by 56 points.  To turn that around, Catharine needs to either win and Annika place 3rd or lower; place second with Annika 5th or lower; or place 3rd with Annika 9th or lower.  To be assured of the win Annika needs to place either first or second.  The absence of Luna’s Katerina Nash could be the difference given her ability to top-5 at world cups.

Further down, Emily Batty will finish in 3rd overall if she places 2nd or better.  If Jenny finishes in 1st or 2nd Emily needs to be between 3rd and 6th to hold 3rd overall.  If she finishes 7th or better, Bec Henderson will move up to at least 5th, which would bookend her season really well after her 3rd place in round 1.

U23 Men:

The overall is pretty well tied up for these guys.  With a 100 point lead and 90 points for the win, Titouan Carod has the win wrapped up.  Likewise, Sam Gaze has a secure hold on 2nd place.   They’re also most likely to battle for the win on the day.  The minor placings in the overall will be sorted out during the race, with less than 40 points separating the next four riders, and 40 points the reward for 5th place on the day.  Romain Seigle, Simon Andreassen, Antoine Bouqueret, and Marcel Guerrini are all in a position to take third place in the overall.

He was in the leaders jersey for his only world cup race since world champs so far, so I’m looking forward to seeing the pics of Sam racing a world cup in his rainbow jersey!

Follow the races:

U23 Men live timing

Elite races live on Red Bull TV

Oiz#2

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