Albstadt in the south west of Germany returned for its fourth consecutive UCI World Cup season and under the heat of an early summer sun, proved yet again why many view it to be a modern classic.
In the women’s race, there was drama before the riders had even lined up in their grid boxes. With minutes to go, it was announced that Jolanda Neff, the 23 year-old Swiss starlet would not be racing. A viral infection was to blame and after having declined the lengthy trip to Cairns, Australia for round one, it left her challenge for the 2016 title in tatters.
One rider who didn’t seem that disappointed by Neff’s absence was Annika Langvad. The Dane had won the final race of the 2015 season and had also been victorious in Cairns. Poised to defend a hard charge from a deeply placed Neff, the Specialized Racing rider charged off into the distance. A challenge never materialized. After an early crash, a flying Jenny Rissveds, in only her second ever Elite UCI World Cup race, passed some of the sports biggest names on the last couple of laps to take a scintillating second place ahead of Catharine Pendrel in third.
In the men’s race, the stage was set beautifully. The previous installment of this race had seen Frenchman Julien Absalon pip Swiss star Nino Schurter at the post after the latter crashed out on virtually the final bend. A tightly bunched start soon thinned out to the familiar yet still mouth-watering prospect of Schurter versus Absalon.
Jaroslav Kulhavy, returning after a broken arm suffered in March rode well and impressed many but would ultimately end the day in fourth behind a plucky ride from Frenchman Maxime Marotte.
Out front and the titan’s who have loomed so large over XCO racing for so many years warred on. Each took it in turn to punch and counter punch, sizing each other up for the final assault. So evenly matched were they that it looked like it was a race that would go right down to the wire but few could have imagined just how close it would be in reality. They rounded the final turn and mounted the long, hot Tarmac drag together but neither wanted to be the first to fully commit to the sprint for the line. Absalon went with the line in sight but Schurter had timed his surge to perfection and took the win with under a bike length to spare.
It was a victory which seemed to make up for the bad luck the stalky Swiss had suffered twelve months prior and as he punched the air in celebration it was clear to see how much it meant to him. Absalon slid his bike to a halt and jumped off before walking away to contemplate what would have been his 31st UCI World Cup victory.
Next weekend the circus will move to his home trails of La Bresse in France and amongst his own passionate fans, you sense that today’s defeat won’t be far from his mind.