Still, the loudest cheers at the legendary Nové Mesto venue in the Czech Republic, were for hometown hero, Jaroslav Kulhavy, who finished second as Julien Absalon (France) settled for third on the day.
The day began in ideal sunny conditions with the U23 woman’s race as Catherine Fleury was the top Canadian placing 22nd as Jenny Rissveds proved unstoppable claiming Sweden’s second rainbow jersey at these MTB Worlds.
“I’m really satisfied with my race as the top Canadian and meeting my objective,” said Bouchard . “It’s a great venue and the crowds are awesome – it just makes you push and push.”
L’Esperance also had an amazing day moving up 48 spots setting the passing record at this year’s Worlds. “I started number 101 and finished up 53rd, 48 passes. Everything just worked today,” commented L’Esperance.
Elite Men’s Report
The 2.8-kilometer start loop was initially dominated by Kulhavy with Schurter right on his wheel as Absalon had a slower start than usual and found himself 10 seconds behind the leaders along with Swiss riders Florian Vodel and Mathias Fluckiger.
Kulhavy with Schurter began the first of 6 laps together but were soon joined by Ondrej Cink (CZE), another local favourite, as the boisterous crowds went wild with two Czech riders up front. Absalon was still 13 seconds down riding with Matthias Stirnemann (SUI) in fourth and fifth place.
Behind them, Bouchard maintained 28th place, while Kabush moved up to 43rd with Zandstra close behind. L’Esperance and Gagne appeared to be riding together as McNeely had dropped back to 78th. Meanwhile, flats, mechanicals and bottlenecks plagued the field as the 104 racers were spread out over the course.
During the second lap, Schurter took over the lead establishing an 8-second gap over Kulhavy and Cink, while Absalon fell even further behind at 24 seconds, with Stirnemann on his heels. A flat for Vogel ruined his chances of remaining in the chase group. Meanwhile, Zandstra passed six riders to move into 37th as McNeely dropped out of the race.
As the third lap began, Cink had faded from the lead group despite urging from the crowd, and Kulhavy and Schurter were back together with Absalon now 17 seconds behind and Cink desperately trying to hold his wheel. Stirnemann followed 34 seconds back, with Stephane Tempier (FRA) just behind him.
Bouchard slowly began to move up, from 28th to 24th, as did Zandstra, moving into 34th. Halfway through the lap, it seemed that Cink might rally as he and Absalon lowered the gap to Schurter and Kulhavy to 11 seconds.
As the lap was ending, Absalon and Cink managed to bridge up to Schurter and Kulhavy but the effort must have drained Cink as he fell back a few seconds as lap four began with Stirnemann and Tempier at 48 seconds behind. Canada’s Bouchard continued to sit in 25th with Zandstra still in 34th.
Schurter attacked on the climb and opened a gap on Absalon and Kulhavy with a half lap to go while Cink desperately tried to maintain contact with the lead group. “It was nearly a perfect race for me,” said Schurter later. “When I realized I was a bit stronger than the others, I attacked.”
Absalon was at 11 seconds with Kulhavy another six seconds behind as they struggled to stay on Schurter’s wheel. Meanwhile, Cink faded to 30 seconds back but needed to keep Stirnemann and Tempier at bay.
Halfway through the fourth lap Bouchard was slowly advancing to 22nd while Zandstra also moved up into 32nd as Kabush sat in 53rd, with L’Esperance and Gagne in 61st and 62nd, respectively.
With two laps to go, Schurter’s gap had grown to 19 seconds as Kulhavy closed the gap to Absalon to four seconds. Bouchard finally cracked into the top 20 racing in 20th by the halfway mark through the lap, while Zandstra slotted into 29th.
As the bell rang for the last lap, Schurter’s lead had grown to 30 seconds, with Kulhavy and Absalon side by side as Cink retained his fourth place at 1:49 behind the leaders, yet only 17 seconds ahead of Stirnemann and Tempier. Bouchard held steady in 20th while Zandstra dropped back to 36th with Gagne 54th and L’Esperance in 56th. Unfortunately, Kabush was pulled.
With half a lap remaining and a 27-second lead it was clear Schurter would not be caught and the battle for the silver was on. Kulhavy made several attempts to crack Absalon but could not shake him. Finally after the rock garden he established a 5-second gap which grew by the finish.
Schurter took his fifth title as the crowd’s roar was amplified when Kulhavy crossed the line 17 seconds later for the silver with Absalon winning the bronze. The crowd saluted Cink as well as he made his way into the finishing stretch for fourth, while Tempier took fifth and Stirnemann finished sixth.
Interview with Nino Schurter
Interview with Jaroslav Kulhavy
“I had kind of a rough start but I got into my rhythm after the start loop and started picking off guys,” said Zandstra. “I had a crash on the fourth lap which lost me some spots but carried on and then suffered a rear mechanical the next lap and had to run into the tech zone. After that it was hard going, but I gave it my all.”
Veteran Kabush tweeted earlier that he’s raced at 21 World Championships. “I’m always really proud to wear the maple leaf and today was definitely one of the best crowds and atmospheres I’ve seen in recent memory,” he commented. “I was happy with my start and the first half of the race today battling traffic up to the forties midway. It was my fault but unfortunately I tipped over fighting for position on one of the technical uphill climbs and bent my dropout. Things kind of spiraled downhill a bit from there trying to fix things trail side but I still really enjoyed racing in front of the incredible crowds. Thanks to everyone at Team Canada for the support.”
McNeely was feeling good as well until his mechanical. “The start stretch in Nove Mesto is one of the fastest and scariest on the circuit. I was able to gain a few spots and really started to feel good, through the first lap, after the start loop. Unfortunately, some unpredictable mechanicals forced me to pull out of the race early.”
“I had awesome legs, the Norco Revolver was absolutely dialed and the support from Team Canada was top notch,” added L’Esperance.
“It feels awesome to be in the top 20,” concluded Bouchard. “It’s been my best year so far and I’m looking forward to representing Canada in Rio at the Olympic Games.”
U23 Women’s report
Cooler temperatures in Nove Mesto meant nearly perfect racing conditions for the 19.2km U23 Women on Sunday morning that featured a 2.8km start loop + 4 x 4.1km laps. The 35-woman field was populated with the best talent between 18 and 23 in the world, and Sweden’s Rissved didn’t disappoint her fans, controlling the race from start to finish.
The 2.8-kilometer start loop saw Rissveds in the lead, with three women on her wheel: Alessandra Keller (SUI), Sina Frei (SUI) and Evie Richards (Gbr). Behind them Fleury was 15th after the start loop with Frédérique Trudel in 22nd and Soren Meeuwisse in 28th.
As they headed into the first lap, Keller briefly took control of the lead group, with Rissveds right on her heels. Frei, followed by Richards, completed the lead group. Behind them, Anne Tauber (NED) and Malene Degn (DEN) sat fourth and fifth, respectively.
Fleury was 1:53 behind the leaders in 18th, while Trudel and Meeuwisse sat in 22nd and 23rd through the first lap as the pace would soon pick up.
Heading into the second lap, Rissveds began to open a small gap of six seconds on Keller, while Richards and Frei fell slightly off the leader’s pace. Tauber and Degn’s gap increased to over a minute and midway through the lap, Rissveds’ gap had grown to 11 seconds. Keller had a 30-second gap over Frei in third place. Behind them, Fleury moved into 20th, Trudel was 22nd while Meeuwisse remained in 28th.
At the start of the penultimate lap, Rissveds’ lead had grown to 25 seconds with Keller in second. Behind them, Frei slotted into third at 40 seconds ahead of Richards. Halfway through the lap, Rissveds’ gap pushed out to 39 seconds. With 1.5 laps to go Fleury held in 20th, while Trudel fell back into 25th and Meeuwisse sat in 29th.
Rissveds raced into the last lap with a 50-second gap to Keller, with Frei 1:22 down. But by midway through the lap, Keller’s gap between herself and Frei was dropping – down to six seconds with only minutes of racing remaining.
In those last minutes, behind Rissveds, the podium order changed as Frei got around Keller to take the silver. Rissveds, meanwhile, comfortably sailed in for the win, with over a minute lead. Behind them, Richards took fourth with Degn claiming fifth.
Fleury took the top Canadian spot in 22nd, with Trudel in 25th and Meeuwisse in 30th.
“I haven’t raced since Albstadt [World Cup], and with my ankle it was hard to run on some of the steep climbs,” said Fleury. “I gave everything that I had for today. I’m a little bit disappointed about my result and how I felt out there, but days like this happen, and for me it was today.”