In Méribel the riders were faced with both steep climbs at altitude and technically difficult descents, demanding both skill and fitness to do well.
Neff ended her World Cup season the way she began it, with a start to finish ride at the front of the race. By the end of the first lap in the six lap race Neff had 28 seconds on Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) and Pauline Ferrand Prévot (Liv Pro XC), with Maja Wloszczowska (Liv Pro XC) and Catharine Pendrel (Luna) a further five seconds in arrears.
By the third lap Pendrel, the winner of the previous round and second in the overall standings, had moved up to join Dahle Flesjaa and Ferrand Prévot in the chase. Pendrel dropped off the pace to eventually finish fourth, while Dahle Flesjaa chased alone after Ferrand Prévot crashed in a rock section and had to briefly stop in the tech zone for assistance. Dahle Flesjaa’s gap shrank to 14 seconds by the halfway mark, but that was as close as the Norwegian would get before it stretched out again to 48 seconds at the start of the last lap. Ferrand Prévot dropped Pendrel to take third.
“I went from the beginning and rode the whole race at my own pace,” explained Neff. “It is a very nice course, quite technical in the descents and I enjoyed it a lot. The start was especially important here because we didn’t have a long start loop and then it went into singletrack, so it was even more important to have a good start then in other races. It was great to win today, even though I didn’t need to for the overall. I’m very happy to win the overall trophy.”
Neff wins the overall title with 1300 points and three wins for the season; the youngest ever World Cup title winner since she is actually an Under-23 aged rider. Pendrel, despite missing the first two rounds due to an early season injury, finishes second with 940 points and Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools), the defending champion, is third with 856, just ahead of Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) at 830 points.
Helen Grobert (Ger) Focus XC Team won the U23 Women’s 24.26 km 5-lap race in honour of her teammate Annefleur Kalvenhaar (Ned) as Yana Belomoina (Ukr) Betch.Nl Superior Brentjens MTB Racing Team in second claimed the overall title.
Jordan Sarrou (Fra) BH-Suntour-KMC) took home another victory and the overall title in the 29.06km U23 Men’s 6-lap race with Grant Ferguson (Gbr) in second and Michiel van der Heijden (Ned) Giant Pro XC Team in third.
The Men’s World Cup has been dominated by two riders all season – Absalon and Schurter, each with three wins apiece. Absalon was virtually assured the overall title, since Schurter had missed the second round, but it would not affect his desire to win the final round before his compatriots.
Schurter is always a fast starter, and had a 20 second lead by the end of the first lap on a chase group initially containing Absalon, Mathias Fluckiger (Stockli), Lukas Fluckiger (BMC), Emil Lindgren (Giant Pro XC), Dan McConnell (Trek Factory Racing) and Manuel Fumic (Cannondale Factory).
While Absalon was driving the chase on the climbs, with only Fumic able to match him, Schurter was clearly faster on the descents, maintaining a 30 gap at the start of each lap after final long descent. On the final lap, Absalon finally managed to drop Fumic on the climb to solo in 13 seconds behind Schurter, as he took the 14th World Cup win of his career.
“It’s an awesome feeling to win my third [World Cup] in a row, I feel super lucky,” said Schurter. “I felt pretty confident on this tricky track. It was a really technical downhill and I chose the full suspension bike, which I think was the right decision, since I think I gained a lot of time on the downhill. I’m really looking forward to the Worlds next, I want to defend my title there.”
Absalon wins the World Cup title, the sixth of his career but first since 2009, with 1490 points, followed by Schurter at 1330. McConnell finishes third with 970 points, while Fumic jumps from fifth to fourth with 856 points after finishing third in the final round.
“I’m really happy to win the title,” said Absalon. “I have had it five times, but the last time was a long time ago , so I’m happy to have such a good season. It was really good to have the final here in France with lots of spectators and the ambience all around the track. It was difficult to fight and still do a safe race.
“For sure it is more pressure for me to race in France; it would be easy for me to do a top-30 to win the [overall] trophy, but in France, for me, it would not be possible to ride in 30th position. For the public I have to fight to be in front. I didn’t want to flat, I didn’t want to crash or have any technical problem, so I lost lots of time in the downhill. It was a little bit like Windham [Round 6], where Nino was also fast in the downhill.”