UCI XCO World Cup #3, 29 May
La Bresse, France
Ariane: 49th place
James: 40th place
The third round of the UCI XCO World Cup took place in the pristine French town of La Bresse. Both Ariane and James had a point to prove after tough racing at Round 2 in Albstadt, Germany. With showers predicted for race weekend, and an incredibly challenging course, the two moved into town with Team Spur mechanic JP Jacobs early in the week and set about familiarising themselves with the 4.3km test of lung capacity, climbing power and handling skills.
Although race day dawned with pleasant, if overcast, conditions, overnight rain made for some very sketchy sections. Many of the world’s top pro riders came unstuck on the rocky and slippery descents, and knee-deep ruts were quickly carved into the fastest racing lines. This had a capacity French crowd chanting at riders all day. The atmosphere was thick with cheers and charged with energy.
Ariane started at 11.20am in 52nd position on the grid. She had opted for her lightweight S-Works Fate hardtail, and was hot out the start gate as a result. She was in a decent position for the first technical climb as the race strung out. Up front it was her countrywoman Jolanda Neff who, despite crashing heavily and flatting on the final lap, put on a masterclass of technical riding to claim first place. Ariane decided to play it considerably safer on the slick course with two critical marathon title races looming on the horizon.
“It rained during the night on Saturday. Certain sections were very slick. I struggled a bit with it and decided to ride cautiously. I had a really good start but just wasn’t good enough in the technical stuff and got pulled back by other riders. It wasn’t my best result. But I’m learning and figuring this thing out and I’ll get better – we just have to try again.”
Ariane had high expectations for her two World Cup ventures and was disappointed with the outcome. Yet the learning from the high-intensity bar-to-bar racing will stand her in good stead for her Swiss and World XCM Championships later this month.
James had a mental mountain to climb after his underwhelming 88th finish in Albstadt. Although he could take some solace from the fact that it was mechanical bad luck that had pushed him way down the results list. He knew the French round would be a bruising test, as a scrum of highly motivated European athletes were gunning for Olympic selection. A long Olympic qualification period for James in South Africa prior to Europe was starting to take its toll, and he would be asking increasingly tired legs to perform one last time before a scheduled break…
Starting in 41st position James dropped the hammer with a seething mass of 133 riders. The pace through the sleepy town of La Bresse was brutal and electrifying. As with Albstadt, James had a strong start and jumped from 41st on the grid to 32nd in the first lap. The plan was to control his effort though the intensity of the first lap, keeping it steady. James kept to the plan for the most part, passing riders who let the buzz of La Bresse get the better of them.
“I just had to start conservatively up the climb so as to not burn my cards early on. I ended up coming through the start lap in 32nd but was still running a little hot. I lost a few places on the second lap where the cards settled themselves and then just plugged away at it consistently .”
It was a consistent performance, and James is happy, if not ecstatic, with his 40th place. Importantly, it was a technical and mechanical trial that James and his S-Works Epic passed with flying colours. No crashes and no flats!
The first tests of the European challenge are over and Ariane and James have acquitted themselves well. Plenty to learn from as the pieces of the high-performance puzzle come together neatly.
Ariane now switches to marathon-mode for the Swiss XCM Champs on 19 June in Evolène and a (short) week thereafter the UCI XCM World Champs in Laissac, France.
James has time to get the legs fresh again with his next big dance the UCI XCO World Champs in Nové Město na Moravě in the Czech Republic on 3 July, followed by Round 4 of the UCI XCO World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.