Pinkbike Predictions: Who Could Win the XC World Cup Season Opener?

May 11, 2023
by Ed Spratt  
Another win for Vidaure after a dominating performance.

It feels like it was a long wait for the opening round of the 2023 XC World Cup, but with the racing finally back for another season there is no better place to see the riders shake off their winter trainer cobwebs than at the legendary venue of Nove Mesto. 2023 is not just any normal year of XC racing as riders will be revved up more than ever as everyone is competing to get a place in next year's Paris Olympics.

Before the racing kicks off with the Elite XCC Short Track we have given our best shot at predicting who we think could be the ones to watch this weekend.

Who Has Proven Form?

Mathias Fluckiger rode near the front for most of the race but slipped back to 6th in the end.

Let's start things off with riders who have already proven strong form in 2023. As always, the top XC racers have been pretty busy in the wait for the World Cup season to begin with plenty of stacked national races seeing the world's best test out each other's training.

First up the latest French Cup in Guéret saw Pauline Ferrand Prevot take the win with her new team for 2023, Ineos Grenadiers. We now have it confirmed that she will be riding the new Pinarello Dogma XC race bike this weekend and this could be a chance for its first World Cup win. This round of the French Cup XC series also saw Sam Gaze upset a packed French top four as he pulled ahead of Joshua Dubau by three seconds.

Earlier in the season we saw a mass pilgrimage for many of the top racers to the Shimano Supercup Massi Banyoles with the top results going to Haley Batten and Alan Hatherly. While Alan was only able to win his race by around six seconds, Haley Batten secured a big margin of over a minute on a top five that could easily happen at a World Cup.

It's not just the Europeans who have been holding pre-season racing as the US Pro Cup took place at Fayetteville in April where Christopher Blevins and Savilia Blunk took the top honors. The women's race saw an incredibly close finish with Gwendalyn Gibson and Kate Courtney all crossing the line with the same time. We think we could be seeing some strong performances from these three this year. Following this Kate Courtney also secured the American Continental Championships title in Brazil. Jose Gerardo Ulloa Arevalo took the men's title.

Finally as a last-minute test of strength before the racing this weekend many World Cup riders attended the ÖKK Bike Revolution in Chur, Switzerland. In the women's racing, we saw a huge return to form for British rider Evie Richards. She bested Pauline Ferrand Prevot by around a minute and a half to take the win and we hope will be taking this confidence into this weekend. For the men it was a win for Tom Pidcock against the two top Swiss riders Mathis Flückiger and Nino Schurter.

While not XC racing, it is worth adding that Tom Pidcock has also picked up some big wins on the road this year winning the Strade Bianche, coming seconds at the Liège–Bastogne–Liège and going third in the Amstel Gold Race.

Who Could Win the Women's Racing?


The current World Champion in four disciplines is impossible to write off at this weekend's opening round of the 2023 season. Pauline has already taken some strong results this season and is a proven performer at Nove Mesto, with a new team and bike for 2023 she will be wanting to start the year in a big way.

Evie Richards emerges from the darkness. Check out what s keeping her company in her rear-wheel...

Evie Richards had a tough 2022 season but from early season races she looks to be on amazing form and her victory against Pauline Ferrand Prevot should help fire her up for the XCC and XC races this weekend. Evie has taken some great results at the venue before securing back-to-back XCC wins in 2020 and multiple top 10 XC finishes. It's so good to see the 2021 XC World Champion back on top form and Evie is one of our picks to watch for the win on Sunday.

Loana Lecomte with Jenny Rissveds hot on her heels.

Our final pick for the women's racing is Loana Lecomte. Since her first win at Nove Mesto in 2020 she has become a mainstay at the top of the sport and has not dropped outside of the top four in races she has finished since she started racing Elites in that same year. With incredible consistency and seemingly always strong at the start of the season we may see another win from the young French rider.

Who Could Win the Men's Racing?

Thomas Pidcock cooling off the jets in the Nove Mesto sun.

Just like his new teammate, Tom Pidcock is the clear favourite coming into Nove Mesto, and after his road success in 2023 and his win last weekend in Chur we don't disagree. If Tom can complete the race this weekend we expect him to take the win. With two back-to-back wins in Nove Mesto as his only two times racing there, the data certainly agrees with this.

Big table off the bat for Nino Schurter.

Still hunting for the elusive 34th and record-breaking win Nino Schurter will be wanting to achieve this at one of his favorite venues. Amazingly, Nino Schurter has won six of the twelve times the World Cup has visited Nove Mesto so this is clearly a venue that suits him well. 2022's race didn't exactly go to plan for the Swiss riders after a big puncture set him back by over a minute at the midpoint of the race. A big effort saw Nino push through and somehow take 3rd by the finish line so if he can avoid any issue he will be one of Pidcock's main threats on Sunday.

Mathias Flueckiger was showing teeth today and pulled through good enough for third.

If there's one rider with something to prove this weekend it is Mathias Flückiger. The Swiss rider was forced to sit out the second half of the 2022 season because of a provisional ban that was later lifted following a Zeranol test result not being considered a positive doping sample. Mathias will be pushing even hard this weekend at his first World Cup since Lenzerheide.

Honorable Mentions

While we have made our main predictions for potential winners above there were other riders who we should mention as potential top performers this weekend.

Olympic champ Jolanda Neff led the first lap but would slip back to 5th with a few mistakes.

Jolanda Neff ended the 2022 season on great form after struggling to find the pace after winning the Olympics in Tokyo but after a busy off-season and even getting between the tape at some DH/Enduro races we expect to see a strong first round for the Swiss racer.


Since his first win at Stellenbosch in 2018 Sam Gaze has not been able to repeat this success, although he has come close on a number of occasions. With some top results and a few wins under his belt already in 2023 we could see the New Zealand rider and 2022 Commonwealth Games winner take a strong result come the big race on Sunday.

Rebecca McConnell finally gets that first World Cup win.

While her season may have tapered out in the second half no one can disagree that Rebecca Henderson dominated the first rounds of the 2022 season. After taking her first World Cup win in Petropolis, Rebecca backed this up with two more back-to-back wins. The first win was a long time coming but now it's here and she totals three career victories; we can see more coming soon.

Who do you think can win this weekend?

Author Info:
edspratt avatar

Member since Mar 16, 2017
3,165 articles

  • 113 1
 How is this not a poll
  • 88 2
 Or a Fantasy XC
  • 9 1
 takes less time to do a poll than a long article
  • 24 2
 @ezearts: Exactly. Pinkbike needs to run the fantasy again. How hard could it be to set up....
  • 2 0
 @ezearts: I just noticed that's gone.
  • 4 0
 No fun and games on PB makes Johnny a sad commenter.
  • 82 0
 In this last pic, i swear it looked like she had no hands
  • 5 0
 Double take for sure!
  • 1 0
 @Skiskateshane: She Has not
  • 26 0
 Hands = extra weight
  • 1 0
  • 5 0
 Look Ma! No hands!
  • 1 0
 Carl the llama got her. His stomach was making the rumblies only hands could satisfy
  • 49 0
 I think Brage Vestavik will have a strong season and pull off the win.
  • 11 0
 I predict he will be robbed of the xc world title.
  • 2 0
 He just needs a big enough kicker to get to the top of the climb. He can hold his own on the way down if he doesn't break his 1200g carbon wheelset.
  • 26 3
 If only there was some sort of Fantasy team project, it would drive clicks, keep people on the site for longer, possibly promote some brands in the way of prizing. But no, 'tis a silly idea.
  • 1 1
 Don't be ridiculous!
  • 4 1
 Who downvoted this, and what's your agenda?
  • 2 0
 @jaytdubs: was that Brian
  • 1 0
 Fantasy league was so good. Don't even care if they have good prizes or any, it was just fun.
  • 10 0
 I'm thinking Martin might be a huge problem for the elites, but if I had to put my money on someone, I'd have to go with Pidcock.
  • 6 1
 Looking at that picture of Nino jumping, he really has his cleat far to the front. Is that common in XC? It is almost like he's pushing the pedal with his toes. Of course he has stronger calves than any of us, but does it give him any advantage?
  • 4 2
 I noticed that too. It seems odd to me, especially since I feel like I'm much faster and more efficient the further back I put them. I wish my current shoes had their slots further back. I have my cleats slammed to the back and I want them back further. I imagine it's just a personal preference for him.
  • 3 3
 @danielfloyd: Seems to be an XC thing - and seems to square with what roadies do.
  • 3 1
 @g-42: which is strange as I ride a lot of road as well and my bike fitter has always moved my cleats as far back as they'll go. Probably just preference at this stage in his life.
  • 12 1
 On DH and recreative Enduro is more important to have support for the long technical descents so you will see cleats positioned far back. On XC, road and some pro enduro riders you will see cleats positioned more to the front as they look for pedaling efficiency, more power on sprints, hability to pedal with a higer cadence, etc, etc.
  • 2 0
 Super short mutant toes?
  • 7 0
 Having the pretty far forward is common in road and XC, but Nino also has his heels way down (towards the camera) in that photo, which could exaggerate how it looks.
  • 9 0
 you wanna tell him he does'nt know what he's doing lol ?
  • 16 0
 Looks to be pretty much right under the ball of the foot or slightly behind. Pretty normal setup.
  • 1 3
 @elyari: Yeah, better calf engagement with the cleats farther forward. It doesn't work well for us mortals, but the pros' strength training allows them to make more efficient use of all of the muscles in their legs.
  • 4 10
flag Trouser84 (May 11, 2023 at 15:33) (Below Threshold)
 @Austin014: your correct here. It's common to move your cleat as far back as possible in road/gravel. No idea why people are saying different.
  • 2 3
 @Trouser84: I wonder when shoe manufactures will change their cleat position seeing as 90% of people I see and most reputable bike fitters recommend that you run your cleats as far back as possible
  • 3 0
 @danielfloyd: depends on whether you want pedalling power (to the last 0.5 Watt) or descending performance and comfort. As XC descents are relatively short the demand for maximum power probably wins.
  • 12 0
 @dindillion: I guess the bike fitters you know aren't interested in power or efficency?
The "ball" of the foot,or the start of the bone from the biggest toe is the point of the foot where you can generate more power,and it always has been adviced to align it with the pedal axle,by positioning the cleat directly under that spot. People who tend to climb out of the saddle may use the cleats a bit forward,others a bit back.
It's not the most confortable,or the safest, it's the most powerful.
  • 3 0
 Picture how humans run (well, more specifically, sprint)... up on the balls of feet. More powerful in dynamic movement. So its logical to position cleats under ball of foot for disciplines where powerful pedalling standing up is important (e.g. XCO).

Gravity riders who use a more rearward position is generally more about how stable/balanced riders feel in that position (as opposed to power production)
  • 1 1
 That's an interesting one. Is it more powerful to push with the ball of the foot than with the heel (or ball and heel together)? That is, can one lift more weight when standing on the ball of the foot than on ball and heel together? Would be an interesting comparison actually. In the chain of everything between core and pedal, the calves and foot seem like a relatively weak link to me.
  • 1 0
 @vinay: I think there's arguments either way in terms of general power production as an absolute. But I think it's that ball of the foot is more effective position in terms of dynamic/explosive power production.

It does result in more potential stress on the foot, with the long lever that creates.... but this is also why stiff carbon soled shoes are so important/beneficial for XCO
  • 2 0
 @Cabin: Yeah, would be cool to read some research about this. I am aware that for sprinting and jumping people (and even more so, fast mammals like horses and dogs) are on their toes and basically bounce on the elasticity of their tendons. I just have a hard time imagining how this would work in a circular pedal motion. Either way, thanks for your input!
  • 1 0
 @nozes: Yeah that's just demonstrably false. The foot is a terrible lever so you're not going to gain power and you will definitely not gain efficiency with a more forward cleat. All you're gaining is instability and more strain on your calves and knees. Also making it more difficult to engage your glutes and hamstrings.

Maybe the bike fitters you know are just shit? Look up Steve Hogg, one of the most influential and well respected bike fitters and see what he has to say about cleat placement. Placing cleats under the ball of the foot is a myth that should have died years ago. And if you really want to have your cleats forward and gain all of the adverse effects that come with that then just move them up or buy the shoes that are currently being produced. For those who know better it would be nice to have the option of getting correct cleat placement.
  • 1 0
 @dindillion: Kinda a dead thread but at least someone understands what the majority of fitters suggests. This is a starting point guideline.

I should of put in a clause on my first comment.

Nino clearly knows what he is doing and his fitters know what's best for him.

But I believe starting with your cleat at the back and moving forward is a positive for power and ergonomics.
  • 5 0
 competed in an enduro with Yolanda late last year. I finally was able to witness just how much better an Olympian, let alone a gold medalist, than me. It was a joke...the descents were one thing, but her casual ascending gave her 7 climbs to my 2.... maybe more importantly, how dope is it she was at a local enduro and that she was nice. like being at a flag football event and ... well ... pretty sure Aaron Rodgers ain't showing up.
  • 6 0
 Luca Braidot was looking pretty good in Italy's national series. And with two wins last year in World Cup, I'm surprised he didn't at least earn an honorable mention.
  • 1 2
 Because both his wins where pure luck!
  • 1 0
 @laupe: I recall people said that about Camille Balanche too. You can lose because of bad luck but getting near the front will always be hard work.
  • 2 1
 @vinay: yes, not saying he didn't work hard, hats off to him for getting in the top five, but:
In his first win, he was dropped by Nino and Fluckiger and would have never won if it wasnt for fluckiger crashing into Nino.
In his second win, Vlad was clearly stronger that day, but he had a mechanical
  • 2 1
 @laupe: Yeah, maybe it was the use of words. "Pure luck" sounds like "nothing but luck" to me. I agree there is luck involved but I also think mechanicals are a calculated risk. Bikes can be made strong and reliable nowadays. If you want a bike that can survive a couple of laps on an XC loop including crashes and collisions, you can. But it won't be the bike that allows you to ride fastest. On the competitive edge athletes choose to get somewhere on the spectrum between lightweight and strong/reliable. If something breaks, they should know it was a risk they were taking.
  • 1 0
 @vinay: Yea, could have said it diffrently.
Vlad had a drivetrain mechanical and thats a place where there is really no options to get more burly components, so in my opinion no risk where taken
  • 1 0
 @laupe: Fair! Tires, rims, saddles, frames and handlebars are among the weight savings stuff but I agree that drivetrains aren't really weightsavings matters (other than maybe the lack of chainguard, chainguide or if there are silly lightweight chainrings involved). I can imagine he must have been bummed going out with a mechanical outside his control!
  • 1 0
 @vinay: Yea, he was looking at his first world cup win, he pulled away with half a lap to go, but then had the mechanical
  • 8 5
 What's most frustrating about this whole Fantasy XC thing, is how with all this talk here, I bet there will be no official word of either "yes" or "not happening", just like it was the case last year, when all staff ignored the ever-present questions all season long. It's like they're not supposed to discuss it? Weird.
  • 8 1
 They did comment multiple times. It's not happening anymore. Too resource-intensive. Easy on the conspiracy theories.
  • 4 2
 @rockandride6: Take it easy, never mentioned any conspiracy. I just remember last year it took a long time before anything official came out. If it was said this year, I must have missed it.
  • 1 1
 @arek: "It's like they're not supposed to discuss it? Weird."

Apologies if you did not mean that as conspiratorially as it sounded.
  • 6 0
 I think the guy on the first photo have a good chance also... (Vidaurre)
  • 6 0
 Not winning? of RedBull TV / Rob Warner.
  • 6 0
 Kate Courtney is looking like she might bounce back
  • 1 0
 Where did she look like that? Honest question - I don't follow her SM
  • 1 0
 @suspended-flesh: she has snagged a few podiums this year. Though not WC level. She was up there in today's XCC too.
  • 1 0
 @MDW83: Oh OK. She's a local girl so I like to see her do well. 27/39 not quite 'up there' in the XCC today, though...
  • 2 0
 @suspended-flesh: she was at the pointy end for most of the race. Not sure what happened on the last lap.
  • 1 0
 @MDW83: Ah yes I see that now. Hope she stays up there on Sunday
  • 5 0
 Is Emily Batty a privateer now?
  • 2 0
 She's was not on the NM starters list last time I checked. II too am wondering what are her plans for this season.
  • 3 0
 Pidcock might have finished on a amstel gold podium but his beer chugging performance has been abmysal, he needs to work on that if he wants to hang around here Smile
  • 4 0
 Ineos will dominate World Cup XC this year.
  • 4 0
 Still would love to see Nino race an EWS.
  • 3 0
 Jenny Rissveds is looking strong - took a podium in an Elite mens road race in Sweden the other week!
  • 1 0
 How did a women take a podium in a male race?
  • 1 0
 Always pulling for Jenny
  • 4 0
 i came here to vote wth
  • 3 0
 Keller, pfp, stigger or Batton.
  • 3 0
 Also, who is rebecca henderson? thought it was mconell?
  • 2 0
 not anymore
  • 6 0
 Yeah, they really should've added a sentence explaining that.
  • 5 1
 @matjtom90: She raced all year last year as Henderson, considering they split at the end of 2021. Was mentioned various times throughout last year here, and from her TV interview at round 2 last year.
  • 1 0
 @handynzl: News to me-and others, so have a time out in the corner.
  • 4 0
 Jenny Rissveds
  • 4 0
 in Vallnord 2019 in an early lap in the group she slid and had to put her foot down. I yelled "go Jenny!" and she smiled Smile
  • 1 0
 Nino is going to have to shred on the downs to stay in front of pidcock on the ups. Poor Nino, this is going to be a tough one.
  • 2 0
 My vote is for the jar of peanut butter.
  • 3 0
 Go Mathias!!
  • 2 0
 You know who I’d like to see on top?
  • 1 0
 It's a pointless title, anyone competing COULD win.
  • 2 1
 No dream team or rob Warner so who gives a fu**.
  • 1 0
 I think whoever finishes first will win
  • 1 0
 Why isn’t the first response “Hiw f so over watch this”
  • 1 0
 That's a legit whip by Nino!!
  • 1 0
  • 1 1
 and how do we watch this here in Canada?
  • 3 1
  • 2 1
 You don’t because why support GCN?
  • 1 0
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