Vlad Dascalu and Anton Cooper were a powerful duo on a mean course in Leogang
Leogang was easily the stiffest test of the year for Trek Factory Racing. The relatively young XC course is also one of the most punishing on the World Cup circuit, and a healthy amount of rain before the weekend made the terrain slick and rutted.
Despite the difficult conditions, the Trek Factory Racing XC squad thrived, led by men’s elite teammates Vlad Dascalu and Anton Cooper. Dascalu took fourth to finish on his fifth straight World Cup XCO podium, extending a streak that began when he took second in Snowshoe last September. Cooper took seventh for another strong result after finishing fourth in Nové Město. For their efforts, TFR was awarded Best Men’s Team honors at the end of the weekend.
“That was amazing,” Dascalu said after the race. “Everybody deserves it so much. Everybody on the team works really, really hard. They help us just do our job. Everyone deserves that podium for sure.”
TFR also took Best Men’s Team in Nové Město, where Dascalu and Cooper finished second and fourth, respectively. Dascalu is now second on the overall standings and Cooper is eighth, making them arguably the strongest pair of teammates in their classification at the moment.
The team accolades are especially sweet because of how they were earned. Sunday’s Olympic-distance course had dried out significantly since a sloppy short track race on Friday (where Dascalu finished second!), but in place of the wet, a searing heat set in. Both Cooper and Dascalu had strong starts, both among the top five riders after the start loop and first lap. That proved pivotal on a course with two major climbs that strung riders out and created momentum-killing bunch-ups back in the field.
“[A fast start] makes a big difference on a course like this, because as soon as you get out into that top 10, there’s gaps that start opening up, and people are making mistakes.” Cooper said after the race. “When you’re in that front four or five it’s a lot cleaner. You almost save energy just by staying out of trouble.”
Dascalu and Cooper hung on for dear life as eventual winner Mathias Flückiger launched a huge attack on Lap 2 that only Nino Schurter was strong enough to mark. Dascalu and Cooper had to quickly find steady rhythms on a course filled with constantly shifting gradient and terrain. Dascalu called the race “maybe the hardest one of the season.”
“I was feeling good, but then I realized I didn’t have the best legs, so I was just trying to be careful about the effort I was putting in,” Dascalu said. “On the second lap, Mathias did a really hard attack. I tried to follow him, but then I just blew up.
“I’m really happy with my fourth place, and also second place in short track. I secured my second place in the overall. It was good points.”
In just less than a month, Dascalu and Cooper will be back in action for the next World Cup race in Lenzerheide. Their fight to keep the Best Men’s Team streak alive is another exciting subplot to an already eventful season.
Jolanda Neff and Maddie Munro battle through struggling legs
After finishing 12th in Friday’s short track race, Jolanda Neff wrote on Instagram that she had “nothing in me tonight.” The Tokyo Olympic champion is accustomed to an incredibly high standard of performance. And after finishing eighth in Sunday’s women’s XCO event, she could feel her juice coming back.
“I’m super happy with how I raced,” Neff said Sunday. “I finally felt like I was racing again, like I could really push. I felt good, and I could push the whole time.”
Neff led the field after the start lap, but struggled to maintain her pace with a ferocious set of competitors on her heels. But after getting passed early, she established a good, steady rhythm.
“In the beginning I dropped a lot of places, but that happened in the short track as well,” Neff said. “But I knew this was coming, so I thought I’d just do a good start and keep pushing.”
Maddie Munro took 19th in the U23 women’s event. She, too, didn’t have the legs she hoped she would during the event, but for the 20-year-old rider, there were plenty of positive takeaways from the experience.
“The start was definitely a positive,” Munro said Sunday. “I was in the top 10 on the first start lap, and I was starting from the third row, so I think that was a really positive thing to take away for the rest of the season. I’m still working on pacing, and building up fitness to keep pushing with those girls in the front throughout the whole race. And then also some technical work, too, especially for those steep descents.”
Both Neff and Munro admit that they wanted better results. The good news is they have four weeks to rest up and build on the positives from Leogang. Lenzerheide will be a fresh chance to show off their capabilities.