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Kate Courtney steals the show at the 2018 UCI XCO World Championships

With crowds packed around the entirety of the Lenzerheide track, Swiss flags and supporters of Jolanda Neff made up the visible majority of spectators. The home favourite doesn't live very far away from the race venue and her supporters had come out in droves to cheer her on.

The venue was packed with fans eager to see the racing

© Bartek Woliński

Fuelled by their energy, Neff was fast off the mark, but by the time the peloton had made it to the top of the first long climb, it was Danish rider Annika Langvad controlling the race.

Local favourite Jolanda Neff stays cool before the race

© Bartek Woliński

Giving chase to the Dane was America's Kate Courtney and Canadian rider Emily Batty, with local favourite Neff placed in a secondary chasing pack led by France's Pauline Ferrand-Prévot.

Quick off the start by Neff

© Bartek Woliński

As the Lap 2 progressed, Langvad was well ahead of the rest of the field and the powerful rider looked calm and composed as she ploughed around the course. A strong first lap from first year elite rider Courtney put her into second, with Batty holding third. Behind them there was a sizeable gap back to the chasers.

Langvad flying ahead of the field

© Bartek Woliński

Despite charging on the downhills, Neff was over a minute back from Langvad. The undulating, rough sections of track made finding flow hard and the limited amount of big downhills didn't allow Neff to use her usual tactic of making up big chunks of time on the descents. She sat in sixth place, with Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå and Maja Włoszczowska ahead of her, but with five more laps still to go, there was a lot of racing left.

Neff pulled back some time on the descents

© Bartek Woliński

Lagvad was laying down the power at the front of the race. Out of the saddle on the climbs and pushing the pace at an incredible rate, clearly her tactic was to ride flat out from the start. As Lap 3 rolled around, she was 35 seconds ahead of rivals Batty and Courtney, while further back in the field Neff and Dahle Flesjå crossed the line in unison, followed by sporadic patches of riders.

A cat and mouse chase between Jolanda Neff and Gunn-Rita Dahle ensued

© Bartek Woliński

Langvad came into shot later in the lap with mud on her shoulder and blood on her forearm. She'd crashed somewhere out of sight and lost a lot of time.

Mud on the shoulder and blood on the knee after Langvad had been down

© Bartek Woliński

After chasing the elusive Langvad, Batty now had her in her sight and with renewed vigour surged forward, as third placed Courtney tried to hang on to the relentless pace.

Emily Batty charges forward

© Bartek Woliński

The elusive Lagvad managed to power away from the encroaching chasers again however and was in a league of her own at the front as she started Lap 4. This is when first year Elite rider Courtney decided to put down an attack. Vying for the chance to be at the front with Specialized team-mate Lagvad, Courtney put down the power on the long climb out the start and Batty was unable to follow the American's advances.

Lagvad manages to maintain her lead

© Bartek Woliński

Eating up the kilometres into Lap 5, Langvad was still leading by a small margin, but Courtney was closing in and now only 19 seconds behind the Dane. Batty meanwhile faded slightly to 44 seconds back.

With strong technical skills, Kate Courtney flew over the roots

© Bartek Woliński

As the penultimate lap began, Coutney was a tantalising 7 seconds behind Langvad. Her noticeable strength and speed advantage on the technical and rooty sections were helping her close the gap to the front. Noticing Courtney hot on her heels, Langvad pushed incredibly hard on the long climb, with both riders looking absolutely exhausted at the extra exertion required, although Langvad did pull a noticeable gap.

Climbing is Langvad's forte

© Bartek Woliński

Agonisingly close to the lead, Courtney fought up the climb, with the fans giving plenty of encouragement from the sidelines. With a huge gap back to third placed Batty, and another sizeable distance back to Jolanda Neff in fourth, all eyes were on the Specialized duo at the front of the race.

Courtney catching up with Langvad out front

© Bartek Woliński

Once again it was Courtney's technical skills that played to her advantage. Opting to take the 'A' line on the steep rock roll, Courtney catapulted onto Langvad's back wheel just in time for the duo cross the line in unison as the final lap began. Using her climbing prowess, Langvad opened up a gap on the climb, with Courtney fighting painfully to try and keep up.

Kate Courtney bossing the 'A' line

© Bartek Woliński

A mistake on the roots forced Langvad to dismount, and that was the opportunity Courtney had been waiting for. Sailing past her Specialized team-mate, the American flew over the roots to steal the lead from Langvad for the first time since the race began. Courtney was having the ride of her career and opting to take the 'A' line on all of the technical sections saw her open up a big 18 second gap to Lagvad, who looked defeated as she tried to maintain pace.

Crossing the line to a huge roar, Courtney claimed the Gold medal and coveted world champion's rainbow stripes in an unbelievable performance from the first year Elite rider, making her the fourth American woman in history to be crowned XCO world champion.

Courtney takes home Gold for the USA

© Bartek Woliński

Langvad took Silver place, but, having dominated the race right up until the last lap, it must have been a disappointing result for the Dane. Batty took the Bronze medal for Canada, with home-town favourite Neff coming home in fourth place.

Celebrating well earned podium places

© Bartek Woliński

2018 UCI XCO World Championships Women's results

1.Kate Courtney 1h 34m 55s Gold

2.Annika Langvad 1h 35m 42s Silver

3.Emily Batty 1h 36m 53s Bronze

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