Tremendous Mood, Spectacular Races

von Erhard Goller

Three Swiss victories in front of a huge and enthusiastic crowd
The World Champion in the Witch Cauldron Bullentäle ©Lynn Sigel/EGO-Promotion

At the last of three days Mercedes-Benz Mountain Bike World Cup in Albstadt the Switzerland triumphed three times. A really great and noisy crowd, saw the world champions Nino Schurter and Jolanda Neff winning the elites races, while the u23 women went to Sina Frei. Two years before the worlds 2020, Albstadt took it to another level.


At the end of the World Cup weekend in Albstadt, World Champion, Nino Schurter, won the Elite Men's race, making it three consecutive victories for him here in Albstadt. Frenchman, Stephane Tempier was second at 16 seconds, and Mathieu van der Poel came third, a further 24 seconds back . The top German rider was Kirchheim's Manuel Fumic in ninth place.


An interesting race developed in front of more than 10,000 spectators who flooded the Tailfinger Bullentäle valley.

Nino Schurter, who could not start from the front row for the first time in almost ten years following his withdrawal from the Short Track race on Friday evening with a mechanical, made an amazing start from row three and managed to turn the corner at the end of the start straight in 4th position.


Schurter was put under pressure several times, including by his Swiss compatriot, Matthias Flückiger, who made a strong impression before succumbing to a flat tyre of lap 3. Noticing that he had lost air, he pointed to his rear wheel as he went by the television cameras to inform his pit crew. Then he attacked hard, figuring that he could recover as he waited in the tech zone for his mechanics to change the wheel. The change took 38 seconds and the group that he had attacked came streaming past. 


The group splintered soon afterwards. Mathieu van der Poel showed his nose at the front but could not quite do as he had hoped; a scaphoid fracture last weekend and a break in his shoe buckle both slowed him down. Maxime Marrotte also drove the pace for a short while but ultimately had to back off. And so it is only Stephane Tempier who could follow a speeding up of the World Champion.


"I did not want to put the cards on the table too early, but then I realized that Mathieu could not follow anymore and that Maxime (Marotte) was having a hard time. That's why I attacked. However, I was surprised that then Tempier came back," explained Schurter. 


Having used valuable energy to get through some traffic at the beginning of the race, Tempier could not go with the second attack of Schurter on the final climb of the penultimate lap. 

"Closing those gaps against Nino is almost impossible," admitted Tempier.

Although he fought right to the end, he could not prevent the 27th World Cup victory of Nino Schurter.


"I think today the choice of material played an important role. And probably I have saved a little energy by not completing the race on Friday. It's nice to win here for the third time. 2020 is the World Cup here, that makes me feel good," commented Schurter.


Stephane Tempier admitted that he had no chance against Schurter, especially in the second climb of the course. "I was a bit tired after the short track, but I'm happy with second place today. Something was missing for victory, but I'm confident for Nove Mesto."


Mathieu van der Poel also wants to be closer next weekend. After the handicap of his scaphoid fracture at La Rioja Bike Race in Spain nine days ago, he says that he can be be satisfied with third place. "I'm a bit disappointed that I missed the leader jersey by a few points, but I was certainly not the strongest in the race today. I could only go one pace and not react when Nino attacked. I hope that it will be a bit better next week," said Friday's Short Track winner.


Van der Poel won the duel for third place against Maxime Marotte having ensured he was ahead at the top of the final climb.

Marotte commented on his fourth place:

"In the end, a few seconds were needed to stay on the rear wheel. In the attack, I did not have enough power to follow. I like the track and also the wet weather. The atmosphere was really great today. It was like being in the stadium, very loud. The World Cup 2020 will be cool."


Women: Jolanda Neff solo’s to world cup win number 10

In the Elite Women's race, the German crowds were given many reasons to cheer: a masterclass from the World Champion, an epic battle for the podium places, and a fifth place for Elisabeth Brandau, marking her first ever World Cup podium. 


The Bullentälle experienced a spectacular race; the rain had made the track extremely difficult and so there was a constant change of positions as riders quite literally slid their way up and down the standings! 


Jolanda Neff took the lead on lap one of six, displaying impressive skills on the extremely slippery terrain. The 25-year-old Swiss-woman was in a class of her own and took a commanding victory, over two minutes ahead of her nearest rival.

"I'm really happy about this victory. These are my favorite conditions. I was always informed about my lead so I could ride without stress. The mood on the track was tremendous, the people were fully involved," explained Neff, who recently has recently suffered with an injury to her thigh. 


Behind her, European Champion, Yana Belomoina, won a brilliant battle for second place.

With a tactically perfect attack on the final climb, she could distance Alessandra Keller and Anne Tauber with whom she had fought closely in the final two laps of the race. 

Belomoina had ridden with Elisabeth Brandau up to the leading riders. Last year's overall World Cup winner had started steady and gradually ridden herself into contention. Brandau, too, had a slower start, thanks (or no thanks) to her start number of 46. Brandau managed to climb as high as third position, but in the slippery downhills she was losing time.


There were many crashes, even from the top riders, especially on the A-line of the near-vertical Mitas Abbyss drop. Keller and Tauber both fell foul to this tricky obstacle and eventually conceded to taking the B line. 


Yana Belomoina: “I normally do not like such muddy races, because the bike gets so heavy then. But today it was okay. At the end, when everybody got tired, I could manage to take the second spot on the podium. After I broke my hip in autumn, I am still not at hundred percent, but I am so happy to be back.”


Anne Tauber: “I did not expect another third place. Of course, it was not the big surprise as in Stellenbosch, but Albstadt was totally different. I am happy, that I am stable and consistent. In training I had no confidence in the track, but we found a good solution with the tyres. The course was difficult, but we are an outdoor sport and the organizer has done everything to make it as safe as possible. I had fun.”


U23: Sina Frei takes it


Sina Frei won the women's U23 race on Sunday morning, 21 seconds ahead of Briton Evie Richards, earning her seventh World Cup success in the U23 category.

Dane, Malene Degn, finished third, 3:52 minutes back.


Sina Frei did not get away particularly well at the start, but she already compensated for that on the first climb where she was able to take the lead. In the first downhill she opened up a  gap which she went on to extend up to 30 seconds. 

On the third lap, however, she crashed on the tarmac finish straight which had become covered in mud. That cost her much of her lead, but second-placed Richards was unable to completely close the gap.

"In these conditions, it's better to ride up front. It was about making as few mistakes as possible, and I succeeded," Frei commented after the race. "It's great that I won a World Cup again and for the first time in the rainbow jersey. That's what makes the win special. "


Evie Richards never gave up, but she didn't pose a real threat to Frei in the end.

"I think the rain can put other people off so I try to use it as a strength; it rains in the UK all the time! I love this course. It's simple with two steep climbs, but it was so slippy today so it was hard to go 100 percent on the descents. I was closing the gap on the climbs and transitions. I'm so pleased with 2nd place today and to know that I'm in a good place going into the next World Cup."


Malene Degn could not keep up with the pace of the two and was in danger of losing her third place in lap three of five. Ronja Eibl from Grosselfingen had reduced the gap from 18 to five seconds, much to the delight of the local audience. But just in this phase Eibl suffered an irreparable mechanical, and, completely disappointed, the cyclist from the RSG Zollernalb had to give up.

"I've never had such good legs in my life," she said. The only 18-year-old shook her head and rode away, utterly dejected.


With this, Degn remained safely in third place.

"It was insane today. I did not know if I bike or skate! But it was cool, it was great fun. I am happy about the third place. I'm still in the game for the overall standings," said the Dane.


Frei took over the overall lead from her teammate Degn. Richards is third.