Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools) won her first elite World Cup race — and took the series lead — as round two of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup concluded on Sunday in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
In men’s racing, world champion Nino Schurter (Scott Swisspower) bounced back from a poor race in round one to win for the second consecutive year in Nove Mesto. He likewise took the overall lead.
The women’s race saw five riders break away from the rest of the field early on. Zakelj, World Cup leader Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol), Maja Wloszczowska (Giant Pro XC), Catharine Pendrel (Luna) and Alexandra Engen (Ghost Factory) had pretty much decided the podium by the end of the first lap, with only the order to be battled over.
Engen couldn’t match the pace of the others, who stayed together until the fourth of five laps, when Lechner flatted. Zakelj attacked on the same lap, dropping both Wloszczowska and Pendrel.
Wloszczowska fought back up to Zakelj in the final kilometer only to crash in the last tight turn, leaving Zakelj to roll across the finish line and fully celebrate her first win.
“It feels amazing,” said Zakelj. “I know what I achieved today was special. I had problems to stay with the leading group for the first few laps, but I stayed focused and knew that on the fourth lap I would make an attack.
“I just rode my race and didn’t worry about Maja’s race. I thought she might try to pass me on the climbs but I guess I was strong enough to stay in front. Then I was waiting for the sprint but Maja crashed, so I was able to achieve this awesome victory.”
Zakelj and Wloszczowska are tied atop the standings with 400 points each; Zakelj took the lead due to her win. Lechner sits third in the series, 10 points behind.
In the men’s race, a group of eight set the pace: Absalon and Lukas Flückiger (BMC); Thomas Litscher and Ondrej Cink (Multivan Merida);Emil Lindgren and Fabian Giger (Giant Pro XC); and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Factory), the Olympic champion and local favorite.
The group soon began to splinter under the pace set by Schurter and Absalon. Kulhavy crashed heavily and fell back, and the others simply couldn’t keep up.
The world champion was riding the technical sections better than Absalon, and on the last lap finally opened a small gap, winning by just three seconds after over 90 minutes of racing. Flückiger hung on for third, with Litscher fourth, while a late charge saw Canadian national champion Max Plaxton take fifth.
“I’m really happy about the victory because this is an awesome place to race. It fits me well, the climbs are not too long and the technical sections are good,” said Schurter.
“Last week did not go so well, so it was a tough week coming here. But I had a good start today and felt really strong, so I’m happy to be back on top.”
The men’s overall standings are also tied, with Schurter and round-one winner Daniel McConnell (Trek Factory Racing) both at 320 points. Flückiger is third with 300 points.