Inside an absolute drag race for Trek Factory Racing
Short track racing is always intense, but a fast track at altitude provides even less respite than usual. Even Jolanda Neff, who had a brilliant race in Lenzerheide on Friday to take third in her home country of Switzerland, was stunned by the relentlessness of the competition.
“I suffered a lot but I’m really happy with the result,” Neff said after the race. “The races here in Lenzerheide are always hard. Like really hard. You’re so gassed. It’s a little bit of altitude, so once you’re hurting, you’re really hurting.”
Unlike Neff, Vlad Dascalu and Anton Cooper struggled to find their legs, taking eighth and 11th in the men’s race, respectively. Both races unfolded in similar fashion: Every lap, what had started as a large lead group slowly winnowed away, leaving a sole survivor at the front. In the women’s race, it was Jenny Rissveds, who made a solo move with just a handful of laps to go and held on for dear life as Neff and Alessandra Keller charged back on the last lap. In the men’s race, it was Filippo Colombo, who beat back Mathias Flückiger and Alan Hatherly in an uphill sprint.
Dascalu entered the race having taken top four in the last seven XCC and XCO World Cup races he finished. He didn’t quite have the legs to keep ahead of the fray created by high speeds and tight corners, however, and found himself trying to make up ground from what has become an unaccustomed position outside the top five riders on the track.
“In one corner, the group was about to get bigger, and a lot of riders just took my front,” Dascalu said. “Then I was trying to recover my position. So it was a hard one. The legs were not super good, but I think I’m in good shape for Sunday. First row, and I’m looking forward to it.”
A damaged chain link put Cooper in a chasing position early in the race, but he muscled his way to a respectable finish anyway, and gave himself reason to be confident for Sunday’s main event.
“I’ve kind of struggled here in the past,” Cooper said. “But I still rode decently and managed to bring it home. Second row is not too bad for Sunday.
“It’s really tough in short track because there’s no let-up. If someone at the front is not feeling good, someone else is, and they’re always pushing. And as soon as that person feels a bit tired, the next person goes up and pushes. So the pace is always on.”
All three Trek Factory Racing riders are looking forward to an XCO event that should feel different from Friday’s drag racing. Each lap will be four times longer, and at 242 meters of climbing per loop, any riders who simply stomps on the gas will quickly find themselves falling off the back.
For better or worse, Friday’s racing may not have told us much about what will happen Sunday. The good news is that all three elite TFR riders racing this weekend have reason to feel optimistic.
“It’s funny because I’ve had good short tracks before and then really crap cross country races,” Neff laughed. “In a sense, it doesn’t always relate. But I also feel that in training, my shape has been step by step coming back together. So I really hope I can carry some good shape into Sunday and have a really good race at this track.”