UCI XCO World Cup #2, 22 May
Ariane: 53rd place
James: 88th place
The second round of the 2016 UCI World Cup took place in Albstadt, Germany and both Ariane and James were there to pit their form against the best mountain bikers in the world. It was the last opportunity for countries to earn UCI points for Olympic qualification, and thus determine how many riders they would be able to send to Rio.
Sunday’s race day brought blue skies and sun, and with the sublime weather an excited Albstadt crowd. Rain earlier in the week during practice meant part of the technical XCO course remained slick and slippery.
First up was Ariane with the Elite Women’s race kicking off at 11.20am. Ariane had a deep start on the grid, in position 61, so was always going to be picking her way through traffic. Her main motivation in racing select UCI XCO World Cup series races is to build her technical skill level and bunch racing ability, ultimately to help her in the marathon racing format. Albstadt was a rude reminder of the intensity of top level XCO lap racing. Nevertheless, Ariane kept chipping away at her competitors and rode consistent lap times in her first international-level XCO race since Val di Sole in August 2015, where she finished 36th.
“I didn’t manage to perform at my best. Although I actually felt quite good. Leading up to the race the legs were good but I didn’t do well with managing the riders on course and getting around them. I was happy to stay on the bike all the way and I didn’t crash, which sounds crazy, but is a positive. I will learn from the experience. The whole set-up – accommodation, our mechanic JP – was great in Albstadt. It’s really exciting to race World Cups.”
James was under starter’s orders with a 140-strong bunch of Elite Men at 2.20pm. There is very little room for error in the seething pack of hungry riders and James had a powerful start, jumping from his grid position of 51st to 35th on Lap 1.
Disaster struck on Lap 2, when a Colombian rider rear-ended James’s bike, breaking one of his spokes and causing him to flat. After losing 20-odd positions getting to the next tech zone and changing wheels, James soon experienced another mechanical with a flat tyre on his replacement wheel. James rejoined the race in the mid-90s and fought hard before being pulled from the course while in 88th position.
The mechanicals were unavoidable, but James was eager to talk up the feedback from his disappointing outing: “The positive sensations were that I felt good, I felt strong. The profile of the Albstadt course, it isn’t a track that suits me. This weekend we have a new chance in La Bresse, France where the track is completely different with one long climb and one long enduro-style downhill so we will wait and see.”
Although James’s efforts in Albstadt sadly didn’t add significantly to South Africa’s UCI points tally, he can be proud of his contribution of the most points of any South African rider in the 2015/2016 season. His role has helped South Africa qualify two places on the start line of the Rio Olympic Games in August.
The team is staying a stone’s throw from the La Bresse course in the Squirt athlete house. They have had the week to practice on another tough World Cup course in a variety of weather conditions. We’re confident their preparation will reap rewards on Sunday.
Go to Redbull.tv to follow the racing action live on Sunday, 29 May.