Inside Trek Factory Racing's big team effort in Nové Město
The second round of the XC World Cup in Nove Mesto tested riders in every way, from slippery, rooty climbs to technical, rocky descents. The Trek Factory Racing XC team was pushed to their physical and mental limits, but when the dust (err, mud) settled, they came away with five top 8 performances and two podiums.
From top to bottom, the team rose to the occasion and affirmatively answered some of the biggest questions facing them at one of the highest stakes races of the year.
Evie Richards and Jolanda Neff rejuvenate their seasons
Evie Richard’s fifth place was her best Olympic distance result yet at a World Cup. She has historically excelled in the short track format, winning twice at Nove Mesto in 2020. Sunday was the first time she was able to stand on a World Cup XCO podium, however (though she has come close before). She did it with a well-paced, grinding effort, staying at roughly fifth position from the start, with fourth-place Pauline Ferrand Prevot and sixth-place Linda Indergand in close proximity throughout.
Richards’ teammate, Jolanda Neff, had a reinvigorating ride after several weeks of disappointments for the 2017 World Champion. She started the race from the fourth row after finishing 35th in the short track race Friday, a massive disadvantage during a race that featured a momentum-eating climb in the first kilometer that created a series of pile-ups. But Neff overcame the early slowdowns and picked her way through the pack. Her times across the final three laps, after the group of riders around her had thinned out, would have put her among the podium contenders.
The race was pivotal to both riders’ Olympic hopes. Both made strong arguments that they belong in Tokyo. Richards was the top placed British rider, coming in more than three minutes ahead of Annie Last. Neff was third among five Swiss riders who finished in the top 12, just 49 seconds behind Indergand.
Both riders have had ups and downs this year, but after Sunday, they should feel good about their current trajectories.
Anton Cooper defines hard-nosed
Anton Cooper is becoming Captain Consistency.
After taking sixth place in both the short track and XCO races in Albstadt last weekend, he finished seventh and eight in short track and XCO, respectively, in Nove Mesto. On Sunday, he showed off impressive fitness with the fourth-fastest final lap time in the field.
The men’s elite race got off to a blistering start thanks to road and cyclocross star Mathieu van der Poel, who forced the field to split with a big early acceleration. Cooper was in 13th place, 1:07 off the lead, at the start of the second lap, but maintained his composure and plugged his way past competitors. He measured his capacity well, posting negative splits across the final three of seven laps.
“I struggled with the pace on the start loop and had to button off a little on the first full lap to make sure I didn’t blow,” Cooper said after the race. “I was able to settle into a rhythm and tick off some good, mistake-free laps, which was very important on such a muddy and challenging course. I was happy to back up my strong XCO result in Albstadt the week before with an eighth place and prove that I belong in the mix with the top riders.”
Cooper is off to one of the best starts of his career. He’s ready to make his presence felt in every race he enters.
TFR's youngest riders outdo themselves once again
In an interview before his first ever World Cup race in Albstadt, Riley Amos said he’d be happy if he could be the second or third highest-placed 19-year-old in the men’s U23 race. On Saturday, he was the second fastest rider overall, taking the silver medal spot on the podium ahead of dozens of riders who were three or four years older than him.
“There are good days, days you want to forget, and then there are the ones you will remember forever,” Amos wrote after the race. “Second race, second place for me today in Nove Mesto. I never thought I would be spraying champagne on a World Cup podium so soon. Some laps were a bit rougher than others but somehow kept it together where it counted to bring it home.”
Twenty-year-old Hattie Harnden, whose primary discipline is enduro, said after her eighth-place finish in Albstadt that she came into the race simply hoping to finish top 20, in part because she didn’t feel well-suited to the course’s long climbs. In that regard, Nove Mesto should have also been difficult for her, but she improved to fifth place.
Both riders are racing well beyond their years. Whatever happens from here on out, Amos and Harnden have proven that they clearly aren’t rattled by the big stage.