WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT THIS WEEKEND’S WORLD CUP RACE

The cross-country action heats up at Crans-Montana in Switzerland this weekend

PRESS RELEASE FROM WHOOP UCI MOUNTAIN BIKE WORLD SERIES:

We’re almost at the halfway point of the six back-to-back weekends of the WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series racing, and this weekend’s Crans-Montana, Valais UCI World Cup in Switzerland promises more of the same adrenaline-fueled action.

After Val di Sole’s Downhill and Cross-country combo, the focus falls on the Endurance formats at the third new Cross-country Short Track (XCC) and Cross-country Olympic (XCO) venue of the season. While little was known about the two new Brazilian venues that kicked off the season, several high-profile Swiss riders have already got to grips with the Crans-Montana course, having ridden it during last year’s National Championships.

Two hours away by car from Geneva, Crans-Montana, in the canton of Valais, is in the heart of the Swiss Alps, where beautiful backdrops of pine forests and snow-capped peaks can be found around every corner.

Riders won’t have a chance to drink in the views while racing, though, and with this the penultimate UCI World Cup before the Olympics, expect it to act as a good yardstick for who’s in form heading into the biggest race of the year.

Finally, this weekend’s racing could also be an indicator of who’s likely to be a future rainbow jersey wearer, with Crans-Montana, Valais set to host the cross-country Olympic and cross-country team relay races of the 2025 UCI Mountain Bike World Championship.

TIGHT, TECHNICAL COURSE

While most riders won’t have experienced the Crans-Montana course ahead of this week’s build-up to the UCI World Cup, they’re in for a tight, technical race if last year’s Swiss nationals parcours is anything to go by. Long, drawn-out climbs on narrow singletrack are punctuated by twisting, undulating sections of forest, where exposed roots could cause some interesting developments if there’s a pre-race downpour.

The regular lap of the UCI Cross-country Olympic World Cup course is 3.5km with 162m elevation gain, while the UCI Cross-country Short Track World Cup is 1.6km with 72m elevation gain. Both will reward explosive climbers and fearless descenders.

OLD GUARD VS FUTURE HEIRS

Nino Schurter won his record-setting 36th World Cup XCO race last weekend. This weekend he’ll be going up against Tom Pidcock and the rest of the Elite Men’s XC riders in the world. (Photo courtesy of  Scott-SRAM)

Age is just a number for Nino Schurter (Scott-SRAM MTB Racing Team) and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Ineos Grenadiers). While neither have said that they’ll be hanging up their mountain bikes for good at the end of 2024, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this was the last year that we see them stand at the top of a UCI World Cup podium – particularly Ferrand-Prévot, who has said she wants to concentrate on road cycling next year. The multi-time UCI World Champions showed that they’ve still got it in Val di Sole though, winning their 36th and 7th UCI World Cups respectively, and few would bet against them doing the same in Crans-Montana, Valais.

Here’s a shot of Tom Pidcock racing in the World Cup Short-Track race at Mont- Sainte-Anne, Canada, last October. (Photo by Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool)

Two riders trying to stop them though will be Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck). Pidcock already has one-from-one in the XCO format of this year’s WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series and will be aiming to use this weekend’s race to apply his final preparations for defending his Olympic gold medal, with the British multi-discipline rider switching his attention to the Tour de France between now and then.

Pieterse meanwhile finished second best to Ferrand-Prévot in Italy, and the 2023 UCI Cross-country Olympic World Cup overall winner will be looking to go one better in Switzerland after putting in a winning performance in the Val di Sole UCI Cross-country Short Track Olympic World Cup.

Other riders to keep an eye on are local favourite Alessandra Keller (Thömus Maxon), who did the women’s XCC and XCO double at last year’s Swiss nationals, and current series leader Haley Batten (Specialized Factory Racing), who will be aiming to return to the podium after a disappointing weekend in Val di Sole.

In the men’s, Mathias Flückiger (Thömus Maxon), knows what it takes to win on the course after claiming the XCO national jersey in Crans-Montana, Valais in 2023, while another Swiss star, Filippo Colombo (Scott-SRAM MTB Racing Team), has podiumed in three out of four XCO races so far this season.

All of the above will be in contention during the XCC, but a handful of specialists might also have a say in how the spoils are shared. Reigning UCI Cross-country Short-Track World Champion Sam Gaze (Alpecin-Deceuninck) has a 50 per cent win record from the first four UCI XCC World Cups this year, and with the winner of the other two, Victor Koretzky (Specialized Factory Racing), not racing in Crans-Montana, Valais, the New Zealander is the clear favourite.

Others to look out for include Koretzky’s teammate Christopher Blevins (Specialized Factory Racing) and Luca Schwarzbauer (Canyon CLLCTV XCO). In the women’s field, UCI Cross-country Short Track World Cup winner in Mairiporã, Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing – Pirelli), is getting back to her best after a concussion caused by a crash in Araxá (Brazil) ruled her out for almost two months.

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