Summer is flying by, and so is the UCI World Cup mountain bike season. Both the cross-country and downhill competitions are more than halfway through now, with four out of seven rounds complete, which gives us an idea of where everyone is tracking.
Some rounds have been predictably dominated by veterans, (we’re looking at you, Mr. Schurter) and in other rounds we’ve seen vets like Rachel Atherton make way for newer talent like Tahnee Seagrave.
There’s still a half season of racing left, but here’s where men’s and women’s elite downhill and cross-country competitions stand right now.
The opening round of elite men’s cross-country in Stellenbosch, South Africa was quite a shocker. It proved that Nino Schurter was human after all, and it had everyone asking, “Who is Sam Gaze?” Schurter had a perfect season in 2017 and for a younger racer like Gaze to beat him in a sprint to the finish, it was the last thing most World Cup fans expected.
But Schurter has since shown that it might have just been a fluke as he has won the three following rounds. In the Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic round, Anton Cooper, the 23-year-old racer from New Zealand came a fraction of a second away from beating Schurter in a sprint to the end, but Schurter kept his tire in the lead and beat Cooper.
Schurter looked great in Val di Sole, Italy during the latest round last weekend. He had energy to spare on the climbs and was the smoothest in the field on the descents. He finished confidently with a six-second gap between him and Gerhard Kerschbaumer. Second place is Kerschbaumer’s best ever men’s elite World Cup result though, and no doubt a confidence-booster.
In terms of overall UCI points, Schurter is of course leading by a big margin. He has 2,170 points. Next up is Henrique Anvanci with 1,546 points, and Stephane Tempier with 1,437 points. It’ll be hard for any of the other elite men to catch up with Schurter’s overall points for the season, but we may see some upsets in individual rounds like we did in Stellenbosch and like we almost did in the Czech Republic.
Jolanda Neff has proven that she’s the woman to watch out for in women’s elite cross-country this season. Neff broke her collarbone at the cyclocross World Cup in January of this year, healed, won the Chelva Cross Country International in Spain on March 4, then took sixth at the World Cup opener in Stellenbosch on March 10.
Neff grabbed gold the next round in Albstadt, Germany, then second, and third respectively in Nove Mesto na Morave and Val di Sole. She’s been consistent in every round this season, although speculation remains that she could have won in the Czech Republic if she didn’t look back right before the finish to see Annika Langvad sprint past her.
Americans Kate Courtney and Ellen Noble got their best results yet after this past weekend in Val di Sole. Courtney took seventh in a sprint finish and Noble took 16th in her second-ever women’s elite World Cup race. This is Noble’s first elite World Cup season after moving to Trek Factory Racing from racing primarily cyclocross the previous season.
Neff’s consistency has paid off in terms of points, though, and she has an almost 250 point lead over the next competitor, Yana Belomoyna. Aside from Neff, the only other racer to get a medal more than once this season is Annika Langvad, but she wrecked in the beginning of the Val di Sole race and had to pull out. Langvad still sits in fifth for overall points for the season, although there’s no word yet that she’ll return this weekend in Vallnord. Maja Wloszczowska holds third in overall UCI points after the win in Val di Sole.
Rachel Atherton has struggled to find a rhythm since her perfect 2016 season. In 2017 she had one gold medal, and although it seems like she’s close to getting to that position again, UK’s Tahnee Seagrave and France’s Myriam Nicole have both pushed Atherton aside for wins this year.
Seagrave and Nicole both had multiple wins in 2017. Between those two and Atherton and Tracy Hannah, this season’s podiums will most likely be held by a mix or combination of these four ladies.
Seagrave is now leading in overall UCI points for the season after another win in Val di Sole, where she beat Atherton by a tenth of a second. However, she only has 21 points over Myriam Nicole. The gap could grow though as Nicole pulled out of Val di Sole before finals, following a bad wreck. Nicole hasn’t announced exactly when she’ll return. Seagrave would be leading by much more, but she was disqualified after going off course in the Leogang round.
The only conclusion we can come to in the women’s elite downhill this season is that it’s anyone’s guess. Only 260 points separate the top five women. In a World Cup downhill round, first place gets 200 points, 2nd place gets 160 points, 3rd place gets 140, 4th gets 125, and 5th gets 110 points. With everyone so close together, Atherton, Seagrave, Nicole, and Tracy Hannah, who sits in third overall, all have a shot.
The name to remember so far in the 2018 men’s downhill season is Amaury Pierron. Gwin came out swinging in the opener in Lošinj, Croatia, but has been plagued by somewhat of a string of bad luck since then. Pierron has now won three rounds in a row in Fort William, Leogang, and Val di Sole.
In Fort William, Gwin crashed during his finals run, but still managed to get 20th. Since then, he’s been battling an injured thumb. At certain points, he’s hinted that it’s manageable as he still took second in Leogang, just a half second behind Pierron. Now, it seems to be a real problem.
At the latest round in Val di Sole, Gwin took his finals run, with the injured thumb and minus his normal amount of grip strength, and still finished 31st. He’s since announced that he’ll be taking the next month off altogether, skipping the round in Andorra and trying to heal up before Mont-Saint-Anne, Canada, a historically good track for him.
Pierron now leads the series in points, although Gwin isn’t far behind. Troy Brosnan holds third in the series and has been very consistent this season. Laurie Greenland has been sneaking in results too with a bronze and silver in Leogang and Val di Sole. The season still begs a lot of question in the men’s elite field. Will Pierron hold his streak? It seems like Gwin is out for the overall season winner since he’ll miss the round in Vallnord, but could he come back and get an elusive World Championship jersey? Also, Brosnan is still very much in the running if he can get on a top step this season.
What do you think? Who will take men’s and women’s cross-country or downhill titles? Who did I miss? Who still has a shot? Leave a comment and let us know.
Results and remaining schedule
March 10: (XCO) — Stellenbosch, South Africa
XC Winners: Sam Gaze, Annika Langvad
April 21-22: (DHI) — Lošinj, Croatia
DH Winners: Aaron Gwin, Myriam Nicole
May 19-20: (XCO/XCC) — Albstadt, Germany
XC Winners: Nino Schurter, Jolanda Neff
May 26-27: (XCO/XCC) — Nové Mesto, Czech Republic
XC Winners: Nino Schurter, Annika Langvad
June 2-3: (DHI) — Fort William, Scotland
DH Winners: Amaury Pierron, Tahnee Seagrave
June 9-10: (DHI) — Leogang, Austria
DH Winners: Amuary Pierron, Rachel Atheron
July 7-8: (DHI/XCO/XCC) — Val di Sole, Italy
XC Winners: Nino Schurter, Maja W?oszczowska
DH Winners: Amaury Pierron, Tahnee Seagrave
July 14-15: (DHI/XCO/XCC) — Vallnord, Andorra
Aug. 11-12: (DHI/XCO/XCC) — Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada
Aug. 25-26: (DHI/XCO/XCC) — La Bresse, France
Sept. 4-9: UCI MTB World Championships — Lenzerheide, Switzerland