One week ago, Nino Schurter solidified his place as the king of cross-country mountain biking. Schurter is not only the world’s most winning World Cup racer, but for the past decade he has also been a symbol of Swiss performance, representing a nation that has long dominated the top ranks of the sport.
Such is his stature that he overshadows names like Lars Forster and Mathias Flückiger, who both ride for Thömus maxon this year, a team with thoroughly Swiss DNA.
Four years ago, Forster joined Schurter on the decidedly Swiss Scott-SRAM team, managed by legendary former racer Thomas Frischknecht, and in that same year, Forster won his first elite World Cup XCO race in Snowshoe, West Virginia. It looked like it could be the start of a new era of Swiss domination, but Forster would go without a World Cup win for the next three seasons.
In Leogang today, the 29-year-old didn’t factor in the race discussion until late in the six laps of steep climbs and loose descents, sitting rather anonymously in the top ten wheels. He let the race play out, and struck only when he smelled victory.
Orbea’s Pierre de Froidmont led out the start lap followed by Luca Schwarzbauer (Canyon CLLCTV), Jordan Sarrou (Team BMC), Joshua Dubau (Rockrider Ford Racing Team), and Ondřej Cink (PMG Racing Team).
After the first lap, a group of ten formed which included the likes of Cannondale’s Alan Hatherly, Anton Copper (Trek Factory Racing), and Christopher Blevins (Specialized Factory Racing). The steep climbs would break up the group though, with Schwarzbauer and Cink looking the strongest.
The German Schwarzbauer was on his best ride yet, seeking out his first win in the XCO discipline after claiming two XCC wins in the past two years. Cink was also propelled by the chance of victory, having finished on the podium many times but always missing the top step. On lap three, Froidmont, Flückiger, and Sarrou were all also within striking distance of the lead.
But the race began to unravel on the fourth lap of six. The Swiss champion Flückiger attacked off the front, seeking redemption after finishing 11th in Lenzerheide, but this potentially race-winning move was dampened by a rear puncture, and Flückiger lost 44 seconds getting a new wheel in the tech zone.
Once again it was the Cink-and-Schwarzbauer show as the duo gained 18 seconds, but Forster kept it steady and joined the two leaders by the penultimate lap.
Forster launched his stinging attack at the start of the last lap, pulling out 14 seconds on Schwarzbauer by the time he crossed the line. With Nino Schurter hinting at retirement – although surely not before the Paris Olympics in 2024 – this performance of his younger compatriot is a timely reminder that there’s an enduring depth to the Swiss MTB scene.
Cink, who pulled out of his home race in Nové Město with illness a few weeks ago, earned yet another third place finish behind the Swiss and German duo. In a show of how strong he was on the day, Flückiger placed fifth, just 44 seconds back.
Results powered by FirstCycling.com
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