Before attention turns to the Downhill lunacy in Fort William, the weekend saw a different sort of madness at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup XCO in Albstadt, Germany. Yes, that kind of madness where people ride the kind of course many of us would balk at on a full-sus enduro beast, but they skip round on lightweight carbon, often rigid, dropper-post-less racing machines.
And what a weekend of racing it was. Evie Richards – three times a runner-up in world cup races, including last week in the Czech Republic – dominated over the climbs in Albstadt to secure her first win. Starting in the front row, alongside early world cup series leader Kate Courtney of the United States and Switzerland’s Sina Frei, Richards saw her American rival take an early lead over the opening loop section, but as soon as the course reached the main circuit, Richards showed her skills, closing a seven second gap to have a lead of more than 20 seconds after one lap.
— British Cycling (@BritishCycling) May 28, 2017
From there, despite suffering a flat tyre during the course of the race, the win never looked in doubt for the young rider from Malvern, who stretched her lead to over a minute by the halfway mark. Richards powered home to cross the line in South Germany in 1:23:17 – 52 seconds clear of Courtney and having delivered the fastest final lap of any rider in the field.
Fellow British rider Isla Short, representing OMX Pro Team, finished 18th, 9:29 behind Richards, while her Great Britain Cycling Team colleague Ella Conolly showed great form to finish 44th – a strong performance after illness cut short her race in Nove Mesto one week earlier.
The win sees Richards move to first in the world cup rankings, albeit tied on points with Kate Courtney with four of the six races remaining, and it’s great to see such promise in the U-23 ranks.
Also in the U-23s, but in the men’s race, Frazer Clacherty had his best ever result, leaping from his 40th placed finish the week before (and what was then his best ever placing), to 6th this weekend. Clacherty began the race ranked in 47th – but soon found himself in the top 25 after a pacy opening lap and sat just outside the top ten in 11th place at the halfway stage of proceedings. On paper it seemed as if the field ahead of him had too large a lead, but Clacherty was in inspired form over the tricky German climbs.
In perfect conditions, Clacherty dug deep to overtake experienced rivals to reach a high point of fifth – only to be pipped to that place by Latvia’s Martins Blums in a sprint-finish, with Italy’s Nadir Colledani taking the win in dominant fashion. Clacherty’s last lap was the fastest of the race, an indeed only 18 elite men put in a faster lap time. With a first-ever top ten finish at the world cup under his belt, Clacherty now sits in 12th place in the world cup rankings with two of this season’s six races completed. This is Clacherty’s first season as a full time bike rider without education commitments, and it looks like the focus is paying off – although it’s about to get a lot tougher as his UKSport funding ends next month. If Clacherty can continue to deliver at this level, and improve, then British Cycling’s decision to keep supporting him at races funding looks like a good one – let’s hope he can make it to the end of the season, as this only covers racing and training expenses – or a sponsor steps up to help out. It would be a shame to see him have to divide his focus between training and employment in order to cover the cost of living.
Elsewhere, in the junior men’s race earlier on Saturday, Great Britain Cycling Team’s Dan Tulett finished 12th as Germany’s David List took the home win. In the elite women’s race, British rider Annie Last (OMX Pro Team) finished 19th with Ukraine’s Yana Belomoina taking the win while Switzerland’s Nino Schurter won the men’s elite race. Schurter wasn’t too far off being beaten though, as World Cyclo Cross Champion Mathieu Van der Poel – who is ‘having a go’ at XC racing – was only 26s behind Schurter, despite crashing. Britain’s Grant Ferguson (CST Sandd American Eagle Mountainbike Team) finished 49th
All in all, this second round gave some great results for British riders. With such promise in the junior ranks, let’s hope these green shoots of promise for British XC racing can be nurtured into growth for the sport.