The 2023 XC World Cup season has seen its first winners as riders battled it out on the legendary Nove Mesto course. The event held in the Czech Republic always produces some of the most exciting racing of the season with the past four days of frantic action keeping up the tradition.
After the lung-busting XCC races on Thursday and Friday, it was the U23 who kicked off the Olympic discipline races with some closely fought battles for the all-important podium positions. Oliver Vedersø Sølvhøj, who came third in the XCC, started his 2023 season in a big way taking his first even XCO win. Second-placed Dario Lillo fought hard to make it his day, but a gap built on the fourth full lap was too difficult to overcome. The Swiss rider had settle for the silver medal at round one. In another heavily contested fight on course, Tom Schellekens pulled a final lap attack to push past Oleksandr Hudyma and secure third.
Next up was be the U23 Women, here we saw a very different performance with Sofie Pedersen launching out of the start and never looking back to start off her season in the best possible way. For a while, she did have some race companions with Swiss riders Ginia Caluori and Ronja Blöchlinger following for a short period, a rear wheel mechanical ended Ronja Blöchlinger's chances of a top result. Ginia Caluori was the last rider standing in the way of the win. Ginia Caluori couldn't match the downhill speed of the leader and a gap begun to grow that could not be closed, it would build to 30 seconds by the finish line.
The next morning and with conditions still dry and dusty, for now, it was the turn of the Elite Women to tackle the Czech roots and rocks. In the early stages of the race Evie Richards looked dominant building a lead of around 10 seconds after the second full lap. Sadly it was not the British rider's big day as she flatted just short of the tech zone and a long pit stop ruined any chance at joining back with the leading riders. With Evie Richards off the front of the race, it was down to world champion Pauline Ferrand Prevot and the young multi-discipline talent of Puck Pieterse. The story of the race was set as the two leading riders played a dramatic game of cat and mouse across the closing laps. As the race entered its final lap, it looked like Pauline Ferrand Prevot would take it holding an advantage of sevens seconds, but a big push from Puck Pieterse saw this disappear. Not wanting to go into the finish area alongside the current world champion Puck Pieterse launched an all-out attack into the Cannondale BMX section and was able to hold a small lead into the finish area and take a huge first elite XCO victory.
Ensuring that things were not easy for the Elite Men the predicted wet weather rolled in just in time to soak the course making the already slippery rock and roots just a little bit harder. With wins the past two times he has raced the XCO at Nove Mesto all eyes were on Tom Pidcock, this was very much his race to lose after coming from last to first in the XCC racing. Although Tom Pidcock was now starting on the front row, his fellow riders did not make this an easy win. After an incredibly fast start from Luca Schwarzbauer, it only took the start loop and first lap for Tom Pidcock to take his place at the front.
With the rain continuing to fall, Tom Pidcock and Joshua Dubau made the most of the chasing group struggling to stay upright on the rocky Shimano Expert Climb. The pair pushed hard to open up a sizeable gap of 15 seconds after lap two. From here it was very much a battle between these two as Joshua Dubau put down a flawless ride against Tom Pidcock who continued to make mistakes on the wet course and even crashed after taking the wrong line through a corner. For a while, it looked like Joshua Dubau could hold the gap created by the crash, but the Olympic champion caught the leader with two laps to go. In a nail-biting conclusion, Tom Pidcock waited right until the entrance to the final singletrack section to launch an attack and creating a small gap to the line and take his third consecutive win in Nove Mesto.
The XC World Cup season heads onto Lenzerheide next although it will be without round one winner Tom Pidcock as he shifts his focus away from MTB for a while. Tom Pidcock has said he will be at more World Cups this season and the XC World Championships are one of his big aims for the year.
[PI=24772423width=window]Oliver Vedersø Sølvhøj had a good first XCC experience earlier in the week and was about to top that.[/PI]