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RACE FACE: Slip and slide in Albstadt in a World Cup race to remember

After the dry and hot conditions of the opening round of he Mercedes-Benz UCI MTB Cross-Country World Cup in Stellenbosch the world's elite were presented with the polar opposite here in Albstadt, Germany. The course had been heavily effected by rain earlier in the week, and further muddied by overnight rain. Tyre choice would be important in such conditions on a track that has at times been like skating on ice during practice runs.

The course was indeed treacherous for the women’s elite when they started their race. What usually is a fast and flat-out track became a slippery and unpredictable demon. Already one of the most physical tracks of the season, the start loop here in Albstadt demonstrated how treacherous the German course was running with dabbing, dismounts and crashes before the first full lap had even began.

It was carnage from the start

© Bartek Woliński

With the new XCC short track race on Friday determining the front two start lines – there were new faces on the line-up, including 22 year old Kate Courtney. Those who usually placed on the front row but missed out on the top 16 (notably Pauline-Ferrand Prevot) on Friday’s race saw themselves back in row 3 to begin and used the start loop as a chance to regain place. Yet, the slick track meant that nothing about this race was predictable, as front-runner Annika Langvad quickly found out as she struggled to find traction.

Mud tyres were a good call from Neff

© Bartek Woliński

Out in the lead, Jolanda Neff had suitably chosen to run mud tyres for this race and sacrificing rolling speed for grip definitely was paying off for the Swiss rider who entered lap 1 with a comfortable lead. While on the asphalt straight she squirted water at her rear derailleur attempting to remove as much mud as possible from her bike. By the end of the start loop the top 10 were already divided by a minute – a long time considering that one full lap hadn’t been completed yet.

On the chase

© Bartek Woliński

A strong start from Alessandra Keller and Courtney placed them at the front of the field, while the remaining chasers battled with the Albstadt mud. Sabine Spitz was seen changing both wheels in the tech zone, supposedly onto mud tyres – but this change took up a lot of time and by the end of the first lap she appeared to have dropped out of the race.

Keller takes a tumble

© Bartek Woliński

A big crash from Keller off a rocky drop section almost saw her lose her holding on second place to Courtney, yet a resumed attack allowed her to maintain position. The field was tightly packed as riders struggled for grip and were unable to make attacking moves. Apart from the lone wolf at the front, away from all the slipping and sliding, Neff was having a sensational ride. She entered into lap 2 in an incredible 1m 20s lead.

Neff was in a league of her own

© Bartek Woliński

Behind Neff the turbulent track conditions were constantly changing the standings. Keller prominent at the front of the chasers took another big stack off the same rocky drop section that caught her out in lap 1 and this was enough for Anne Tauber to make her presence known among the jostling chasers.

Standings were constanstly changing

© Bartek Woliński

However, a tightly packed field saw with the likes of Courtney, Linda Indergand, Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, Elisabeth Brandau and Yana Belomoina all providing mounting pressure.

Belomoina puts on the pressure

© Bartek Woliński

All out aggressive riding from Neff on the descents allowed her to enter lap 3 with an astonishing 2m 20s advantage. It was Keller followed by Tauber driving the chasing pack, with the top 10 still close together. Belomoina, who was returning to the World Cup scene after an off-season recovering from a broken hip, began to inch her way through the field.

There was no shortage of energy from Neff as she entered into lap 4. Keller had managed to fend off approaching attacks and held second place, just over 30 seconds ahead of a bustling battle for third position, consisting of Brandau, Belomoina, Tauber and Indergand. A bloody-kneed Langvad came into lap 4 in 21st place, covered in mud and clearly had a number of crashes on the brutal Albstadt course.

Tauber didn't let a tumble keep her back for too long

© Bartek Woliński

Tauber took a tumble on the tricky rock drop that had thwarted Keller on previous laps, and Belomoina used this chance to get into third position. However, it wasn’t long until Tauber was back up to speed and joining Belomoina and Brandau in the battle for third.

Brandau pushes deep

© Bartek Woliński

It wasn’t until the final lap that Keller’s long-held second place position was truly challenged as Tauber began to pick up the pace. The battle for third quickly became a battle for second place as Keller’s reign was lost on the dual hill climb. With Tauber now in front, Keller was sandwiched between her and an approaching Belomoina.

Returning Belomoina hungry for second

© Bartek Woliński

She wasn’t going to let her long-standing position slide too easily, though, and fought hard to keep momentum. But it was Belomoina who was really hungry for second place and she made a tactical attack at the base of the final climb, securing front position for the final descent.

Neff dominated the race

© Bartek Woliński

A victorious Neff crossed the line 2m 16s ahead of the field. It was a return to racing with a bang for Belomoina taking second place, and a final sprint between Tauber and Keller placed them in third and fourth respectively.

Happy to have survived

© Bartek Woliński

An exhausted-looking Brandau crossed the line in fifth rounding off the podium. Neff cited her victory to treacherous conditions and seemed to have been one of the only riders who excelled on the challenging track: “the conditions were my best friend today… I love these conditions… I knew they would play to my favour.” With her win here, Neff also takes the lead in the race for the Women's World Cup overall title.

UCI XCO World Cup Albstadt Women's results

1.Jolanda Neff1h 36m 17s

2.Yana Belomoina1h 38m 33s

3.Anne Tauber1h 38m 42s

4.Alessandra Keller1h 38m 49s

5.Elisabeth Brandau1h 39m 06s

See the full results here.


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