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Superhuman efforts and medal mayhem at the La Bresse Women's XCO World Cup finals. One of the mo

© Bartek Woliński

The rain that had so affected the downhill racing in La Bresse had all but disappeared as the Elite Women and Elite Men took to the track for Round 7 of the UCI Mercedes-Benz XCO World Cup. The deluge of the previous few days had taken its toll on the course, though. Ruts were forming out in the open, while in the covered forest sections the rocks and roots were extremely slippery, making climbing very hard and descending technically demanding.

© Bartek Woliński

The Elite Women's XCO grand finale didn't disappoint and the title showdown played out with one of the most exciting and intense races we've seen on the cross-country circuit for a long time. Littered with mechanicals, and with the pressure of the World Cup overall title riding on this race, it was drama-filled and action-packed from the get go. When it came to overall standings, the battle for the top spot was between Danish rider Annika Langvad and Switzerland Jolanda Neff.

© Bartek Woliński

Lagvad had secured at least second overall by dominating the XCC races this season, but now had her sights on the top position. To clinch her first World Cup overall title, Langvad would have to finish first and hope was Neff outside the top three.

Neff dominated Lap 1, and from the start her intentions were clear. She was in this race to win and shot ahead of the field. Rain over the previous days had made the track incredibly slippery and some of the climbs and technical descents required dismounts. Langvad got caught up in one of these dismounts and was stuck behind a string of riders as Neff rode away with a clear lead.

© Bartek Woliński

A chasing group of Alessandra Keller, Emily Batty and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot were joined by Anne Tauber and Langvad, as the five pursued the elusive Neff. Disaster struck Neff on Lap 2. Starting the lap with a healthy 30 second advantage on the field, she was seen pulling into the pits with a rear flat tyre soon after. Her mechanics fumbled to change it and as she stood by her bike, waiting for it to be fixed, she was passed by Batty, Langvad, Tauber, Ferrand-Prévot and Keller. After such an incredible start, Neff was now back in sixth place, with the rear tyre change costing her 55 vital seconds.

© Bartek Woliński

By Lap 3, Langvad was now where she wanted to be, leading the race, but with a determined Batty catching her up on every technical descent it was a hard fought position. If Batty managed to maintain second, she'd move up from fifth to third in the overall standings so it was important for her to stay as close to Langvad as possible.

© Bartek Woliński

Neff hadn't given up her fight, though, and was stomping on the pedals with vigour as she passed Keller and went in pursuit of Ferrand-Prévot.

© Bartek Woliński

Quickly approaching the French rider, Neff was able to overtake her on the tricky uphill dismount, jumping back on her bike to tackle the technical descent with a speed and control that only Neff can achieve. Batty was next.

© Bartek Woliński

Approaching Batty on the steep log roll, Neff was right on her back wheel, and the intimidation of the Swiss rider so close to her on such a difficult section saw the Canadian lose her footing over the rock garden. As both feet unclipped from her pedals, Batty miraculously managed to stay on her bike as it bucked her around. It gave Neff the opportunity to pass her however.

Disaster struck again, this time in a double whammy as both Langvad and Neff suffered flat tyres, which drastically changing the race standings again. As Langvad pulled away from the tech zone having had a rear tyre change, a distraught Neff pulled up with a flat front tyre. All the while, Ferrand-Prévot and Batty were now driving the race forward.

© Bartek Woliński

Lap 4 began with Ferrand-Prévot and Batty in the lead, but neither could rest, as Langvad was in third and flying back from her puncture. Batty stormed ahead, while Ferrand-Prévot was passed by Langvad on the steep climb, and as the leading trio surged forward, Batty held onto her prime position while Langvad and Ferrand-Prévot tussled behind her.

© Bartek Woliński

Coming into Lap 5, there was only six seconds between the front three. Neff, fighting back from her two punctures, was now sitting in fourth place, 24 seconds behind Batty. The race then came back together as Neff joined the leading trio in the tricky slippery uphill, with all the rides forced to dismount. It was now all to fight for again.

© Bartek Woliński

Taking the 'B' line on the steep log roll cost Langvad valuable places, as Batty, Neff and Ferrand-Prévot opted for the steep 'A' line that shot them ahead of the Dane. To the cheer of French fans, Ferrand-Prévot took to the front, while behind her Batty and Neff interchanged places and Lagvad dropped back.

© Bartek Woliński

Coming into the final lap, there was a jostle for the lead, as Ferrand-Prévot, Neff and Batty all sprinted hard on the climb. With her home fans support, Ferrand-Prévot pulled ahead and opened a small gap back to her chasers. A small mistake in the wood section meant she had to dismount, though, and the knock-on effect led to three front runners running and pushing their bikes, as a relentless Langvad stayed on her bike and reappeared with the lead trio.

© Bartek Woliński

As the pack came together, there was a constant change of positions, as the riders fought valiantly through the final lap to secure those precious points. Attacks were made whenever opportunity arose, with Langvad and Batty making contact as the Dane overtook the Canadian in pursuit of Neff, who was in the lead. Using her exceptional descending skills, Neff was able to ride away from her pursuers, while in contrast Langvad lost places to Batty.

© Bartek Woliński

Despite sprinting out of the saddle to close the gap to Neff, it was too late in the game fr her chasers and the Swiss rider took the win, securing the World Cup overall title in the process. Collapsing to the floor with sheer exhaustion, Neff had clearly put it all out there in this race, where even two punctures couldn't hold her back.

© Bartek Woliński

Batty crossed the line in second place to take third in the overall standings, with Langvad and Ferrand-Prévot in third and fourth respectively.

© Bartek Woliński

UCI XCO World Cup Rd 7 La Bresse Women's results

1 Jolanda Neff 1h 33m 03s

2 Emily Batty 1h 33m 08s

3 Annika Langvad 1h 33m 30s

4 Pauline Ferrand-Prévot 1h 33m 36s

5 Alessandra Keller 1h 34m 30s

6 Anne Tauber 1h 35m 01s

7 Kate Courtney 1h 35m 56s

8 Githa Michels 1h 36m 14s

9 Maja Wloszczowska 1h 36m 36s

10 Tanja Zakelj 1h 36m 54s

11 Erin Huck 1h 37m 44s

12 Chloe Woodruff 1h 37m 51s

13 Haley Smith 1h 38m 05s

14 Julie Bresset 1h 38m 12s

15 Catharine Pednrel 1h 28m 12s

16 Iryna Popova 1h 38m 39s

© Bartek Woliński

2018 XCO World Cup Elite Women's overall standings

1 Jolanda Neff 1930 points

2 Annika Langvad 1743

3 Emily Batty 1305

4 Alessandra Keller 1275

5 Anne Tauber 1240

Catch the women's best moments here:


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