Overnight rain made way for early morning clouds, scorching sunsh and strong wind, turning the Cross-Country Olympic (XCO) track into a wild mixture of techy roots, fast sprint sections, tricky climbs and steep, slippery descents.
The Leogang race course would become the perfect showcase for rider abilities and spectators gathered in the Austrian town witnessed history in the making and not only because this was the first-ever XCO World Cup in the Austrian town of Leogang.
History is being written in the Women Elite division this season. French phenom Loana Lecomte would separate herself from the pack early and by the end of the second lap, held a lead of over a minute, which she only expanded as the race continued. The French rider would make light work of the technical descents on the Bongo Bongo section and looked cool and collected on the steep climbs of the course. Lecomte’s dominant performance in this race would make her the first woman to win all three opening races of the season since Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR), as well as only the third woman ever to win the Short Track and Olympic distances on the same weekend.
“I’m very happy to be at this point. It’s a little bit unbelievable. I just keep doing all I can, I’m very happy. I had never won in the Juniors or U-23, so I don’t really know what to say,” said Lecomte following her win.
The chase group, made up of Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (FRA), Jenny Rissveds (SWE), Jolanda Neff (SUI) and, later in the race, Laura Stigger (AUT), was enveloped in a race-long battle for second place, which would come down to the very last few minutes of the race. Rissveds spent most of the race as part of a second chaser group, but stayed within striking distance and methodically closed the gap between her and the women in front of her.
The Swede proved that she cannot be counted out on race day as she powered up the long, straight climb in the final lap and snuck past Stigger. Both riders pushed hard in the last set of turns, but the Swede would cross the finish line in 1:18:51, slightly ahead of Stigger.
Just like Rissveds, the Austrian would need to fight her way back from outside the Top 5. The young Austrian would find her rhythm midway through the race, fighting her way past Rebecca McConnell (AUS) and Haley Batten (USA) before battling hard with Prévot and Neff, who were not willing to relinquish their position to the Austrian. Prévot and Neff would dominate the climbs, but Stigger took riskier lines on the descents, putting her ahead of Neff and on the back wheel of Prévot heading into the final lap, overtaking her shortly after. It looked like a done deal that Stigger would take second here in Leogang, but that was before Rissveds unleashed her attack on the climb. Only two seconds slower than her Swedish rival, Stigger would finish the race in 1:18:53, earning her a well-deserved third place at her home World Cup.
In the Men Elite race, Ondrej Cink (CZE) cranked up the speed from the start, setting the pace early. It would not take long until Cink and Flueckiger separated themselves from the chaser pack, which included, amongst others, Anton Cooper (NZL), French riders Victor Koretzky and Jordan Sarrou, with Vlad Dascalu (ROU) and Thomas Griot (FRA) a little further back.
In a hard-fought battle with Cink, Flueckiger showcased his strategic thinking, staying within a few meters of the Czech rider for the first two laps, before unleashing an attack, sneaking past Cink and pushing hard on the rooty descents. The two would be practically wheel-to-wheel for the remainder of the race. Cink took back the lead late in the race, but Flueckiger knew exactly where to push, putting a few critical seconds between himself and the Czech rider in the penultimate lap of the race. Heading into the final lap, the Swiss powerhouse built up an 11-second advantage on his rival, which would prove enough to give Flueckiger the fastest time of the day, with 1:15:50, as well as the leaders’ jersey.
“It took a big mental effort today. I found more and more rhythm during the race and in the second-to-last lap I could make an attack and a gap to Ondrej. I’m really happy with this win. My legs got better during the race and once I had the gap, I was pretty confident that it would be enough to win the race,” said Flueckiger after the race.
Cink, in pursuit of his first-ever World Cup win, and with a strong showing in the Short Track on Friday, was looking to capitalize on his current form. Establishing his lead early on in the race, the Czech rider held off Flueckiger for a long time, but was forced to watch the Swiss rider widen the gap as the race went on. Finishing the race in 1:16:04, he heads to Les Gets with two second place finishes here in Leogang.
Cooper, despite being part of the lead pack early in the race, would see Cink and Flueckiger speed away. The Kiwi fought hard to stay in third place and widened the gap to the riders chasing him down which, for a while, included current World Champion Jordan Sarrou (FRA). Despite being chased down by the likes of Dascalu and Griot, Cooper put in a great performance finishing the race in 1:16:35 and is finally back on a XCO World Cup podium, heading into the rest of the season with a smile on his face.
Before the Elite division took to the track, it was the turn for the U-23 racers to put their bid in for the podium. Kicking things off early, at 08:30 CEST, the U-23 women’s race provided the first spectacle of the day. Austria’s Mona Mitterwallner, the current defending Junior World Champion, was in the lead pack of 5 racers coming out of the start gate and within the first lap, had moved her way into first – a position that she did not relinquish anymore. Finishing the race in 1:06:30, Mitterwallner takes home her third win of the season, previously being fastest in Nove Mesto and Albstadt as well, with Blanka Kata Vas (HUN) and Caroline Bohe (DEN) rounding off the Top 3, finishing in 1:07:31 and 1:07:56 respectively.
After narrowly missing out on a Top 3 finish in the Junior race during the 2020 World Championships right here in Leogang, young American Riley Amos is eager to prove himself in the U23 ranks this season. Backing up his second-place finish in Nove Mesto, Amos held a comfortable lead for the entire time, racing to first place in a time of 1:08:26. Martin Viadaurre Kossmann (CHI) managed to close the gap to Amos in the second lap, but the pace of the American would be too much to overcome. Kossmann, finishing in 1:08:38 and taking second place, managed to hold off a late surge by a pack of three riders, which included Joel Roth (SUI), as well as Italians Simone Avondetto and Filippo Fontana. The Swiss rider would prove too fast for the Italians, finishing in 3rd with a time of 1:09:15.
XCO Men Elite Top 3:
Mathias Flueckiger (SUI) – 31:15:50
Ondrej Cink (CZE) – 1:16:04 (+14)
Anton Cooper (NZL) – 1:16:35 (+45)
XCO Women Elite Top 3:
Loana Lecomte (FRA) - 1:17:03
Jenny Rissveds (SWE) – 1:18:51 (+1:48)
Laura Stigger (AUT) – 1:18:53 (+1:50)
XCO Men Under 23
Riley Amos (USA) – 1:08:26
Martin Vidaurre Kossmann (CHL) – 1:08:28 (+12)
Joel Roth (SUI) – 1:09:15 (+49)
XCO Women Under 23
Mona Mitterwallner (AUT) – 1:06:30
Blanka Kata Vas (HUN) – 1:07:31 (+1:01)
Caroline Bohe (DEN) – 1:07:56 (+1:26)
Full results from today’s action can be found here.