Mathias Flückiger has been on a comeback campaign all season long. The Swiss rider was one of the top dogs of the World Cup circuit just a couple of years ago, winning races as well as the World Cup overall title in 2021.
Last season was a setback for the Thömus maxon racer, most notably serving a provisional suspension for an alleged anti-doping violation, missing a chunk of the season before authorities announced that the test result should not have been considered a positive test.
Flückiger’s fortunes began turning around this year, bit by bit, but his victory Sunday on a rain-slicked XCO course in Andorra was not without a gritty, hard-fought effort.
How it happened
Much like the women’s race earlier in the day, the race began under grey skies with rain coming back to add fresh mud to the track intermittently through the race. Luca Schwarzbauer (Canyon CLLCTV) was fast off the line, leading out the likes of Joshua Dubau (Rockrider Ford), Luca Braidot (Santa Cruz RockShox), Nino Schurter (Scott-SRAM), and Flückiger. Schwarzbauer was quickly joined at the front by Flückiger, and the duo opened a 10-second gap on the field.
That gap quickly doubled, with the group of chasers including Martins Blums (KMC), Jordan Sarrou (BMC), and Joao Ulloa Arevalo (Massi) in addition to a lurking Tom Pidcock (Ineos) wearing his new world championship jersey.
Flückiger decided to strike out on his own and opened a gap on Schwarzbauer, who rode in second before further fading. Early on in the race, the World Cup leader, Schurter, lost time by stopping in the tech zone for a rear wheel change.
As Flückiger appeared to be riding away with victory solidly in his sights, a number of moves shook up the chase for the podium. Sarrou joined Schwarzbauer along with his Canyon teammate Thomas Griot.
Griot, a former French national champion, had bigger ambitions than to settle for the podium and began to hunt down Flückiger. The race turned into a nailbiter heading into the final lap, with Griot pulling back time on the leader, getting within 10 seconds of Flückiger.
Though Flückiger’s trajectory has been on the up this season, it hasn’t been without struggle. He punctured out of the race lead in Leogang, and underwent surgery to fix a broken thumb ahead of the world championships. Could his best shot at victory yet be upset by Griot, a man who has stood on the podium but never won a World Cup before?
The prospects of a late-race catch grew increasingly unlikely as Flückiger lit the afterburners, buffering his lead by another 10 seconds. Behind, Pidcock had his sights on Sarrou for third. The Ineos rider said earlier in the week that he was not on the best form after a post-worlds vacation, but he found enough in the legs to catch Sarrou and overtake him for the third podium spot.
Schurter holds on to the overall lead as the World Cup heads to the Haute-Savoie next month before capping off the season with a stint in North America.
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