Staying in the southern hemisphere, and two weeks on from the start of the World Cup season in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, the UCI World Cup action moved to Australia for the 24th to the 27th April.
Specifically Smithfield Mountain Bike Park, known for its wide variety of technical rainforest trails.
It’s been 18 years since a World Championship event was held here, and over the weekend it was host to the second round of the XCO (Olympic Cross Country) and DH (Down Hill) World Cup and the first round of the XCE (Cross Country Eliminator).
If you had even half an eye on the Redbull TV coverage this week then you would know that the conditions were WET! All over the weekend a myriad of edits appeared online, showing both Downhillers and XC riders spending a fair amount of time sliding down the track rubber side up! Not to mention the snakes, spiders and stinging trees that filled the jungle lining the course.
UCI MTB XCE World Cup – Round 1
The first round of the XC Eliminator took place on Friday. This type of competition takes place over one short XC lap, usually less than 1km, and sees four riders pitched against each other at a time. The top two from each heat go through to the next stage whilst the other two riders drop out. The top 16 riders qualify for the finals, which are held on one afternoon.
These riders will complete about 5 laps of this course at full on sprint pace over the course of the afternoon, and many of the riders will also then compete in the XCO on Sunday. It sounds hard going, but the commentators said that the racers would think of the XCE race as a warm up!
In Cairns the course was 813m long, consisting of rollers, jumps, a climb and then a technical descent to the long sprint finish. The first corner on this course appeared to be the deciding factor, with the rider making it to this corner first and managing to stay in front got a good position up the climb. If they then stayed incident free down the descent then more likely than not they managed to cross the finish line first.
This was exactly the tactic Swedish rider and 2013 World Champ Alexandra Engen (Ghost Factory Racing) used in the final. She lined up next to Jolanda Neff (Liv Pro XC), Jenny Rissveds (Scott-Odlo) and Kathrin Stirnemann (Sabine Spitz Haibike). Engen dominated the final, nailing the first corner, putting down the power uphill and cruising the descent to sprint across the line. Hot on her tail was fellow Swede Rissveds taking second place. Behind them Stirnemann crashed out early on and the XCO winner from Pietermaritzburg, Jolanda Neff took third place, a crash for her also prevented her from vying for second place.
Watch again: Catch up on all the action courtesy of Red Bull TV
Full Results: Find these on the UCI MTB World Cup site.
1. Alaxendra Engen, Sweden (Ghost Factory Racing)
2. Jenny Rissveds, Sweden (Scott-Odlo)
3. Jolanda Neff, Switzerland (Liv Pro XC)
4. Kathrin Stirnemann, Switzerland (Sabine Spitz Haibike)
5. Eva Lechner, Italy (Team Colnago Sudtirol)
UCI MTB DH World Cup – Round 2
One of the most exciting races took place on Saturday. Conditions were awful; with so much rain having fallen in Cairns the downhill track was treacherous at best, and this track through the rainforest has it all - massive roots, tricky never-ending rock gardens, large jumps and an epic pedal to the finish line.
Qualifying took place on Friday with a thick layer of gloopy mud covering the whole track, which was then smeared all over the already slippery roots and rocks by numerous tyres, bikes and bodies.
Local girl, Tracey Hannah came in 7th in qualifiers, with an aim to better this on race day. Emmeline Ragot qualified 3rd, with the Brits showing everyone how to ride in the mud, Manon Carpenter in second and Rachel Atherton a massive 18 seconds up qualifying first!
Race day dawned sunny and the track began to dry up which made some parts better and some worse, with the drying mud becoming claggy and sticky, clogging up wheels, bikes and pedals.
First to mention is Tracey Hannah, who did indeed improve her performance and made the podium in fifth place for the home crowd. She was also fastest through the speed trap all day.
Emmeline Ragot had a nasty fall in a rock section but still managed to take the fourth place slot. The race was all about staying on the bike so when Myriam Nicole made it down the hill with a clean run she took third place. Manon Carpenter was next down the hill, and took the hot seat by 13 seconds over Nicole.
Rachel Atherton was last down the mountain and came storming though, with five seconds up on Carpenter in the top section. By the time she crossed the finish line she had snatched the lead and the win from Carpenter by 11 seconds, and the overall World Cup lead.
Watch again: Catch up on all the action courtesy of Red Bull TV
Full Results: These are all listed on the UCI MTB World Cup website.
1. Rachel Atherton, UK (GT Factory Racing) - 4:50:57
2. Manon Carpenter, UK (Madison Saracen) - 5:02:23
3. Myriam Nicole, France (Commencal / Riding Addiciton) - 5:16:42
4. Emmeline Ragot, France (Lapierre Gravity Republic) - 5:18:84 (+28:264)
5. Tracey Hannah, Australia (Hutchinson UR) - 5:20:15 (+29:581)
UCI MTB XCO World Cup – Round 2
By the time the XCO (Olympic Cross Country MTB) took place on Sunday the weather had made a turn for the better and the course became drier and drier as the day went on. It was still pretty sloppy under the cover of the trees though, with many slippery roots in the technical sections.
The 5 lap course was a mix of steep uphill including a 10 minutes climb, technical downhill sections and also alternative ‘B’ lines to give riders the choice of tackling a tricky section, or bypass it but with a time cost.
The winner in Pietermaritzburg, Jolanda Neff made a very strong start, leading for the first lap and a half. Neff was immensely quick down the A line of a section called Jacobs ladder, doubling up jumps and flying down the rock section. In lap two she began to loose power, and from here slipped backwards to eventually finish 9th. Ready to move up into the lead was Italian Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol), who quickly began to open up a gap on the rest of the field, which was a whole 26 seconds by lap 3.
Holding second place behind Lechner was German rider Sabine Spitz (Sabine Spitz Haibike), and Canadian Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) in third, for most of the race.
There was drama however when both Spitz and Batty punctured, with other riders including Irina Kalantieva taking this opportunity to push through. With immense effort both Spitz and Batty managed to recover, with Batty pushing hard to recover the second position. Spitz also rode hard and regained the third position but an unfortunate crash on the final descent threw her back and Kalentieva crossed the finish line in third place.
Watch again: Catch up on the action via Red Bull TV
Full results: Visit the UCI MTB World Cup Website
1. Eva Lechner, Italy (Colnago Sudtirol) - 1:38:48
2. Emily Batty, Canada (Trek Factory Racing) - 1:39:40 (+52)
3. Irina Kalentieva, Russia -1:39:55 (+1:07)
4. Sabine Spitz, Germany (Sabine Spitz Haibike) - 1:40:07 (+1:19)
5. Tanja Zakelj, Slovenia (UniorTools Team) - 1:40:55 (+2:07)
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Headline image copyright Laurence Crossman-Emms