The Kiwi national champion proved his place among the best riders in the world
Anton Cooper came into Albstadt as a wild card rider. While most of the primarily European field had faced each other at smaller races this season, Cooper did his warmups in his native New Zealand, away from XC’s spotlights.
With a sixth place finish in the first World Cup race of the year — 43 seconds ahead of seventh place Mathieu van der Poel and one second behind Tom Pidcock — Cooper will be a marked man going forward. He was just seven seconds out of a podium place.
“I’m very happy with how I felt and my pacing throughout the race,” Cooper said afterwards. “It was my first XCO race since National Champs back in February and also since arriving in Europe, so to come out of the blocks so strongly gives me a lot of confidence for the races to come and the season ahead.”
The Albstadt course was a stiff test of fitness with two long climbs. Cooper started Sunday’s race in the second row after finishing 11th in the short track competition. He proved particularly adept at the longer format, riding at a steady pace as the pack of 151 starters gradually winnowed away.
At the start of the fifth of seven laps, he found himself just behind a selection of four riders — Ondřej Cink, Mathias Flückiger, Nino Schurter and eventual winner Victor Koretzky — chasing with Pidcock for a chance at a medal.
Cooper and Pidcock would spend the last three laps taking swings at one another. On the second to last lap, Cooper threatened to drop the young Brit for good, gaining a gap of roughly 15 seconds after the hills, and heading into the last lap seven seconds ahead of Pidcock (and 17 seconds behind the race leader).
Pidcock clawed his way back, and had a wheel up on Cooper heading into the paved finale, where he narrowly took fifth place. Cooper would have liked to win the duel, but he left Albstadt encouraged. He passed his first major test of the season, and enters next weekend’s World Cup race in Nové Město hungry for more.
“A shame to come so close to the podium and just fall back with half a lap to go,” Cooper wrote on Instagram, “but I’m already looking forward to next weekend and the chance to race again!”
Young Trek riders shine
Saturday was dedicated to XC’s young guns, and 20-year-old Hattie Harnden and 19-year-old Riley Amos held their own in the Under-23 events, finishing eighth and fifth in the women’s and men’s races, respectively.
Harnden is one of Trek Factory Racing’s most versatile riders, also competing in cyclocross and enduro. She caught a glimpse of the podium after entering the fourth of five laps just 24 seconds out of a medal. Though she would eventually fall back, the performance was eye-opening for her, especially on a difficult course for her skillset.
“Being my first race, I had no idea how I would fair against everyone else. So I set my eyes on a top 20, as I know that Albstadt’s savage climbs are not one of my strengths,” Harnden said. “You can imagine I was surprised when the podium was in sight the first half of the race, but I’m still more than happy to finish eighth in the end! I’m all fired up for the next round in Nové Město next weekend.”
(Trek Vaude’s Mona Mitterwallner would go on to dominate the race, winning by 2:38. Click here to learn more about her and her team.)
Amos races for Bear Devo, a development team in California that partners with Trek and has been one of the most successful programs in the country. The 2020 junior world champion wore a combination Bear/TFR kit to acknowledge his growth as a rider, and he did the colors proud. Through five laps, he rode within a winnowing lead group, only losing contact in the final loop.
“Albstadt went just about as good as it could for me,” Amos said. “I had a fifth row call up which obviously isn’t ideal, but I came in with a plan for how to move up quick, and with some good legs and a whole lot of luck I was able to go to make the top 10 group by the end of the start loop. From there it was just everything I could do to hang onto the group.
“I’m beyond stoked to start the World Cup season better than expected, and I’m planning to finish the year even stronger than I start it.”
A chance to bounce back in Nové Město
The women’s elite race didn’t go as planned for Evie Richards and Jolanda Neff. Both are accustomed to competing for World Cup podiums, but they struggled to find their legs over the weekend.
Neff finished 13th in both the short track and XCO races, and said on Instagram after the race that she was battling hay fever. Richards finished 25th during Sunday’s race after entering the weekend confident in her form.
“I’m obviously disappointed with my results this weekend, but sometimes that’s just racing,” Richards said. “I have trained incredibly hard at home so I hope that will shine through in the coming weeks. It was amazing being back with the team and it’s very exciting to be back traveling on my bike.”
Both riders — along with TFR’s Stéphane Tempier, who had to pull out of the men’s race — will be looking to bounce back in Nové Město, which features a very different profile from Albstadt: flatter, and much more punishing terrain. With four days until Friday’s short track start, they won’t have to wait long for a chance at redemption.