MTB racing Gallery: Going solo at the XCO World Cup in Val di Sole
Piper Albrecht captures the action from the elite XCO races.
It was a big weekend of bike racing! While a certain
French race kicked off in Bilbao, Spain, the mountain bike world was tuned in to the fourth leg of the UCI MTB World Cup. Situated in a valley in northern Italy’s Trentino region, the challenging terrain of Val di Sole never fails to produce exciting racing. With a shared downhill and cross-country World Cup round, the crowds were buzzing, the weather was scorching, and the racing was brutal.
elite women’s cross country, it was once again first-year elite racer Puck Pieterse who took to the front and didn’t look back. Meanwhile, the race for second was hard fought between local racer Martina Berta and reigning world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot.
In the men’s, Nino Schurter made the most of the tight, steep, and technical course to wear down his opponents. In the end,
Schurter would go on to get his 35th World Cup win, while the race for second and third remained thrilling till the end.
Piper Albrecht was on the ground getting his lenses covered in the dust, sweat, and champagne of all the action. Clouds threatened throughout the day, but both the women’s and men’s races were run in scorching heat. Brutally steep climbs? Yep. Technical, root-and-rock-infested descent? Indeed. Wide open ski slopes for white-knuckle speeds? That too. Val di Sole has it all. Australian champion, Rebecca Henderson, was looking relaxed at the start. It would prove to be a showing of form from the rider who was so dominant at the start of the 2022 season. Alessandra Keller and Jenny Rissveds wish each other luck before the start gun. Rissveds surely got a laugh out of this one. Following a good result in the short track race (XCC), Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff looked to be back. Just like the previous World Cup round in Leongang, Puck Pieterse hit repeat on her strategy by going clear on the first lap and not looking back. Behind, Neff lead the chase group in the start lap before soon suffering a puncture. The first lap quickly saw Pieterse get out in front, while Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, Allesandra Keller, Laura Stigger, and Martina Berta were in the chase behind. Tight racing in the second chase group. Here Italy’s Greta Seiwald and Austria’s Mona Mitterwallner duke it out. The wooded sections of the course offered some respite from the sun, but the technical nature of the course didn’t give much chance to rest. Able to maintain a comfortable gap over the field, Pieterse looked absolutely flawless for most of the race. Coming off a third-place finish in Leogang, Laura Stigger had a strong race, eventually finishing in fourth. Swiss rider Alessandra Keller was in the mix for much of the race, but eventually faded to an 11th-place finish. Meanwhile, Pieterse just kept dominating. The live feed regularly showed a heart rate of 190 beats per minute. Former world champion Evie Richards looks to be finding form with the World Championships as the next key event on the calendar. Finished ninth over the weekend. With a weekend of downhill and cross-country action, the crowds were in full-force. Loud cheers and the racket of chainsaws could be heard throughout the hills. Here’s Poland’s Gabriela Wojtyla climbing one of the many steep pinches. Israel’s Naama Noyman smiles through the pain. The heat looked brutal for the riders who doused themselves with water each lap. Former Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds had a strong race, finishing in seventh. The first half of the race saw Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and local hopeful Martina Berta duke it out for second place, that was until a big crash on the fourth lap for Ferrand-Prévot. The crash happened right before the tech zone which meant quick attention to the bike, but it certainly knocked the rhythm from the reigning world champ. France’s Léna Gérault was in the mix and would go on to finish 15th. A dominant performance from Pieterse. Fatigue only showed on the final lap with a bobble on a technical uphill section, but it was hardly enough to cause concern given her lead over second. It was a great day out in front of a home crowd for Martina Berta. Following the crash of Ferrand-Prévot, it was between Henderson and Stigger to fight for third. Neff is clearly beginning to find the winning form she’s known for. Following that first lap flat, the Olympic champion crawled her way back to sixth place. It was a good day for the whole Trek Factory Racing outfit, with Evie Richards (ninth) and Gwendalyn Gibson (12th) also in the mix. The strategy of going it alone worked again. Pieterse finished 52 seconds ahead of second place. A stoked Martina Berta crosses the line in second. And Rebecca Henderson returns to the podium in third. Henderson’s last two laps looked extremely strong while others faded. Fourth place for Stigger. Those home crowd vibes. American racers, Gwendalyn Gibson and Kate Courntey finished in 12th and 13th respectively. Well-earned celebrations. Onto the men’s, and it was South Africa’s Alan Hatherly that looked ready to take a win. Meanwhile a crash at the start disrupted things for a number of favourites. As has been the case for the past couple of World Cup rounds, Germany’s Luca Schwazerbauer was a force at the front. New Zealand’s Sam Gaze and Nino Schurter sitting a few wheels back and ready to pounce. Sam Gaze was looking quick and soon took over the lead from Schwazerbauer. Brazil’s Henrique Avancini tackles one of the many rock gardens on course. France’s Victor Koretzky with a confident line. Koretzky would finish 25th. The heat and dust made it a tough day for all. Quickly following the start loop Schurter took to the front – an all-too-familiar sight when the Swiss rider is feeling good. Gaze was able to go with Schurter’s increase of speed. Anton Cooper was spotted in the chase group behind. The New Zealand racer (and Oceania champion) would finish in 19th. Schurter made the most of the challenging terrain and used the descents to apply further pressure. Deep dust meant it sure was loose out there. By the second lap Schurter was starting to test the strength of others and was taking advantage of the technical terrain. His line choices through one of the more technical rock gardens was noticeably more risky, and of course, faster than that of the following riders. However, it wasn’t until the fourth lap that Schurter finally broke free of a fading Alan Hatherly. Meanwhile fellow Swiss rider, Mathias Flückiger, was only getting stronger and making up for the bad start. France’s Maxime Marotte wasn’t far behind. Marotte would go on to finish sixth. For much of the race it looked like Alan Hatherly would finish second to Schurter, but he faded in the final laps. Mathias Flückiger had an incredible finish as he began closing down the gap to Schurter. Jordan Sarrou on one of the wide-open descents towards the finish. Sarrou finished in eighth. Number 35 for Schurter! And he still cheerishes every single of those wins. Mathias Flückiger grabs second. The two Swiss riders will arguably be the two most marked riders at the World Championships in August. Romanian rider Vlad Dascalu is another finding his form in the approach to World Champs. Dascalu finished third, beating Joshua Dubau in a sprint to the line. Schurter cemented his position as Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) two rounds ago. This win simply makes him GOAT’ier. Dascalu seemed happy with that. Third. That’s Val di Sole done. Time to rest, recover, and prepare for Worlds! What did you think of this story?
😐Meh 😊️Solid 🤩Excellent