Mud races are mountain biking in its purest form. ‘Mudders,’ as we colloquially call them, require riders to navigate slippery sections of trail, where each rock and root presents a hockey rink-like death trap, immediately exposing a rider’s technical flaws. The saturated ground is no easy feat on the uphills either, requiring more power to get through boggy sections.
It was fitting then that one of the most promising young riders on the World Cup circuit used Andorra’s challenging conditions to prove that she has what it takes to be at the top of the sport. At 21, the Austrian Mona Mitterwallner (Cannondale Factory Racing) was already an accomplished athlete, holding rainbow jerseys from the junior and U23 categories, and most recently grabbing the rainbow bands in the marathon race in Scotland. Until today, she had missed out on an elite XCO victory.
Riders lined up on the start grid under stormy skies, keeping their warm rain gear on until the last possible seconds. Martina Berta (Santa Cruz RockShox) was clearly comfortable with the courses water-logged conditions, as she was the first through the opening corners and onto the first climb. She was joined by Alpecin’s Puck Pieterse adorned in the World Cup leader’s jersey, but Pieterse would crash on one one of the first wooded sections, highlighting the tricky conditions.
Before the first lap was over, it looked like we could be in for a repeat of the World Championships XCO race as Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Ineos) went on the attack and gained 20 seconds on Berta, who was followed by a chase group containing Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing), Alessandra Keller (Thömus maxon), Pieterse, and Savilia Blunk (Rockrider Ford).
Keller, who won the short track race on Friday, managed to bring back the Frenchwoman on the second lap, aided in the additional traction afforded by her full-suspension bike which was in contrast to Ferrand-Prévot’s choice to run a hardtail. Meanwhile, Mitterwallner moved up into third position.
Keller overtook Ferrand-Prévot for the lead, and the Ineos rider was later overtaken by Mitterwallner as well, confirming that her long-range attack strategy would not work today.
The slick conditions were made more challenging by the Andorran track’s relatively high altitude, sitting just under 2,000 meters above sea level (6,500 feet).
Perhaps it was the altitude, fatigue, slick conditions, or a combination or the three that caused Keller to make a mistake going down a steep, rock-riddled downhill section, which allowed Mitterwallner to close the gap to the leader.
The young Austrian took the opportunity to overtake Keller, stalling slightly during her attack but still managing to put about 15 seconds on her rival by the start of the fifth and final lap.
Mitterwallner navigated the final loop with confidence, piloting her Cannondale race bike through the technical sections while staying on the power on the brutal climbs. She had 34 seconds to spare on second-place Keller when she crossed the line to take her first elite World Cup XCO victory in style.
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