Canada’s Catharine Pendrel (Luna) claimed second and Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) 4th as the dynamic duo landed on the podium while other Canucks earned personal bests on this commemorative round of the World Cup.
The weekend was marked by nostalgia as MTB legends, pro athletes, amateurs, racing teams, partners, volunteers, and spectators gathered to celebrate 25 years of UCI MTB World Cup racing in Mont-Saint-Anne, an outstanding moment in the sport’s history.
The cross-country at Mont-Saint-Anne is always demanding, with steep climbs, rocks and roots. The Cross-country racers were spared the rain that hit the Downhill event, but forested sections were still muddy and slippery.
Neff, the defending champion here, got her usual fast start, opening a gap of 34 seconds on Round 3 winner Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) on the first lap. World champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna), after a bit of a slow start, caught up to Dahle Flesjaa on the second lap, and then headed off in pursuit of Neff on her own for the rest of the race.
Neff’s lead maxed out at 1:25 by the end of the third lap, but Pendrel was relentless in her pursuit, posting the fastest times for the final three laps. However, Neff was simply too far in front, and cruised across the line 34 seconds ahead of the Canadian. Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Raboliv) took third after an impressive ride through the field from 31st on the start line.
“It was maybe the craziest race of my life,” commented Neff, “because this morning when I got up I fainted, and I hit the floor with my head and I lost consciousness for a few seconds, and I wasn’t sure if I would race today.”
“I crashed every lap, which is not so normal for me. So it is unbelievable to win. I just wanted to win here. I love this track, I won here last year and I just really wanted to win, it’s amazing. It is really cool I can keep the lead overall so I can wear this [leader’s] jersey again, which I like a lot.”
Sandra Walter (Can) LIV Cycling Canada finished 26th, Mikaela Kofman (Can) Scott-3ROX Racing was 35th, Cindy Montambault (Can) Equipe du Quebec/CVM 2 VALS placed 41st, Rebecca Beaumont (Can) Cyclone d’Alma was 42nd, and Elyse Nieuwold (Can) finished 49th.
Neff now leads with 900 points, followed by Dahle Flesjaa at 790, Pendrel at 670 and Batty with 505 points in fifth.
Pendrel and Batty Interview
The men’s race became the latest of an ongoing series of battles between the two top men in the world – Nino Schurter and Julien Absalon (BMC). Both have won here, with Schurter taking the latest victory last year.
Schurter attacked on the opening lap and Absalon was part of a group that bridged across to him, including Florian Vogel (Focus XC), Ralph Naef (BMC), Andrea Tiberi (FRM Factory), Ondrej Cink (Multivan Merida) and Mathias Fluckiger (Stoeckli Pro Team). Missing from the front group was Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized), winner of the first and third rounds, and World Cup leader heading into Mont-Saint-Anne.
When Schurter surged again, Absalon was the only one who could go with him, and the pair steadily pulled away for the remainder of the race. Entering the final lap they were still together, despite attacks and counterattacks, but when Schurter went again on one of the climbs Absalon was unable to respond, finishing 14 seconds down on his rival. Vogel took third, just ahead of Naef.
“Yeah, I knew I had good legs,” revealed Schurter, “but I didn’t know how strong he [Absalon] was. I took my chance and I got away a bit, and now I have my first win of the season.”
“I am really happy [to get the first win of the season]. I worked hard this season but always got second, but now everything came together and also a bit of luck, you need it to win. I’m really happy to win this race and also to take the overall lead.”
“It is a really important result now. You need to win races if you want to win the overall. I saw that Jaroslav finished 13th, so I won a bit of points over him, so it was probably quite an important race for the overall.”
Absalon said “Yes I am happy [with second place]. It was not possible to do better than this. It was a really nice fight with Nino, but in the last lap when he attacked, my legs were already really hard and it was not possible to follow him. I am really happy because I was tired during this week and I did not really good training the last two days, with the storm; with the wet conditions I had some trouble on the track. Today the feeling was really good, even in the technical sections I was good, I was able to follow Nino.”
“I won my first World title here in 1998; I won as Junior at 18 years old, so lots of souvenirs and memories, and it is always a pleasure to be here.”
Canada’s Raphael Gagne (Rocky Mountain), the reigning Elite Men’s National champion, matched his career-best 14th (2014 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa) as local fans swarmed him for autographs post race. It was more affirmation of Gagne’s great season where he won Pan Am MTB gold, his first Elite national title and the US CUP Pro Series XCT title, another first.
Schurter takes the overall lead from Kulhavy with 850 points to Kulhavy’s 740 with Absalon in third with 710 points and Gagne the top Canuck in 25th with 194 points.
Recently crowned Canadian U23 Men’s champ, Alexandre Vialle (Local Ride/Espresso Sports), put in a stellar ride to claim a personal best 13th in the 22.5km 6-lap U23 Men’s XCO won by Titouan Carod (Fra) Scott Creuse Oxygene Gueret. Howard Grotts (USA) Specialized Racing claimed second and Victor Koretzky (Fra) BH-SR Suntour-KMC finished 3rd.
In the women’s 5-lap, 18.6km competition Catharine Fleury (Cyclone d’Alma) led the Canadian charge placing 9th for a personal best result as well, with former U23 women’s national champ, Frederique Trudel (Specialized), finishing 10th. Jenny Rissveds (Swe) Scott-Odlo took the win over Alessandra Keller (Sui) Strueby-Bixs Team in second and Alice Barnes (Gbr) Betch.nl Superior Brentjens MTB Racing Team in third.