The fifth round of the World Cup XC in Val di Sole provided some intense racing, here are five things we noticed from the sidelines:
The German online bike brand took three of the four top spots this past weekend in Val di Sole after Pauline Ferrand Prevot, Mathieu Van Der Poel and Ronja Eibl took the win in their respective categories. Correndon Circus' Mathieu Van Der Poel and Ronja Eibl opted for the full-suspension bike while Canyon Factory's Pauline Ferrand Prevot chose the hardtail for the long steep climbs and it seems that it played to her advantage in a sprint finish against Jolanda Neff.
The Elite Men's and Women's races couldn't have been more different with the Elite Men's racing creating the largest men's winning margin in Val di Sole and the women's the smallest. Mathieu Van Der Poel managed to create an 18-second gap to Mathias Flueckiger in an impressive last-minute attack on one of the final climbs after riding alongside Schurter and Flueckiger the whole race. The previous largest winning margin in an Elite Men's XC at Val di Sole was last year where Nino Schurter beat Gerhard Kerschbaumer to the line by just six seconds.
In the Elite Women's race, Pauline Ferrand Prevot looked like she had the win after the third lap when she had built a gap of 34 seconds to Jolanda Neff but between lap four and the end of the race, Neff managed to close the gap making up an amazing 13 seconds in just the last lap. The race ended with one of the closest sprints in recent years with Neff almost taking the win. The one-second winning margin is the smallest in the women's race in the venue's history with 2018 coming closest at nine seconds.
The current World Champion now sits just 116 points ahead of his closest rival Mathieu Van Der Poel in the overall after a perfect weekend for the Dutchman. However, with Mathieu Van Der Poel set to miss the final round in Snowshoe so he can take part in the Road World Championships, he's actually very unlikely to be a big player in the race for the overall.
Mathematically, anyone down to Maxime Marotte in seventh can still win the title, however if Schurter can leave Lenzerheide with a lead of 375 points, the title is guaranteed to be his. For example, if Schurter wins both races in Switzerland, Avancini or Flueckiger will have to score at least 225 points to stay in the title race. If they both fail to podium, Schurter could claim the title outright with a round to spare.
For the Women, it is very much down to two riders, Kate Courtney and Jolanda Neff. However, with only 33 points separating them at this stage, it's too tight to call for the moment.
When the heavens open on Friday and covered the Short Track course in a layer of mud there was only going to be one rider who could master the conditions. Drawing on all his cyclocross experience, Mathieu Van Der Poel was unstoppable in the slop. Come Sunday, the mud had disappeared but the strength of MVDP was brought to light again when he launched an attack on the last lap that put 18 seconds into Mathias Flueckiger and nearly a minute on Nino Schurter.
Another Cyclocross rider that performed well in the Valley of the Sun was Daan Soete who finished 29th in his first World Cup race. It would be an eventful weekend for Soete as he didn't know how to pick up his race number so ended up being a late entry and started at the back of the race in 122nd. Soete would make up almost 100 places by the time he crossed the finish line. Are we on the verge of a number of cyclocross riders trying their hand at XC racing in their offseason?