Inside Vlad Dascalu's inspiring, but heartbreaking, ride on his 'home' course
Bike racing is cruel. The conditions were maximally brutal at the sixth round of the XC World Cup in Vallnord, Andorra: High altitude, blasting heat and blinding dust. If that were all riders had to contend with, it would be more than enough.
But riders are also at the whims of their bodies, their equipment and dumb luck. Case in point: Vlad Dascalu has been chasing his first World Cup win ever since his breakthrough second-place finish in Snowshoe last season, but misfortune struck him once again at the worst possible time in Andorra.
Dascalu put in a major acceleration at the start of the last lap after already establishing a gap at the front of the race. It appeared to be a winning move — his four-second lead quickly ballooned, unofficially, to around 12 seconds on the first early climb of the lap. One of the race’s big favorites, seven-time World Cup overall winner Nino Schurter, was having a relative off day. At the time, it didn’t seem anyone could stick with the Romanian.
But then suddenly he was caught, first by eventual winner Luca Braidot, then by David Valero Serrano, then by Schurter. Cameras caught Dascalu repeatedly looking at his back wheel. He had an issue with his shifter. A potential historic day for Dascalu — he would have been the first Romanian rider to win a World Cup — suddenly became a battle to salvage a podium. He eventually finished fourth, 38 seconds from the top step.
“In the forest I had a mechanical. I had to stop to put my shifter in the right position. And my wheel was like this, touching on the frame,” Dascalu said after the race. “It’s so hard to accept this one because I was really close to the win. The legs were there, I was feeling great on the track, the crowd was great. So many people from where I live. My friends were here. It’s a shame I couldn’t get the win for them.”
Dascalu has had a bout of bad luck at almost every World Cup race so far this season. In Brazil, he missed the short track race due to illness, and was forced to start Sunday’s Olympic-distance event from the fourth row. In Albstadt, a snapped chain forced him to DNF the short track, and once again stuck him at the back of the pack on Sunday. Last weekend in Lenzerheide, a scary crash interrupted what might have been a podium pace.
Despite those setbacks, he has been one of the best and most consistent riders in his discipline. He has missed the podium only once in an XCO race thanks to an uncommon determination to race his hardest even when his chips are down. Sunday was no exception.
“I thought it was going to be way slower to stop at the pit to change the wheel, so I just kept going, trying as hard as I could to keep the podium position,” Dascalu said. “It’s hard to accept this one because the shape was there, the legs were there, the motivation, everything was coming together. But it was not the day, so we’ll keep trying.”
After back-to-back high-altitude races, Dascalu and the rest of the Trek Factory Racing squad will get to rest next weekend before heading to the United States for Round 7 in Snowshoe. It’s only a matter of time before Dascalu finally gets that first win. In the mean time, he continues to rack up podiums and suck up points. With his fourth-place finish, he jumped up to second place on the overall World Cup standings.
Even when things don’t fully go his way, Dascalu fights for every last second. With that mentality, his day is coming sooner than later.
Riley Amos gets third!
If Dascalu needs some reassurance that sometimes things go right, he can look towards his teammate. Riley Amos had a strong start and rode hard on the final lap to hold onto third place and a spot on the box. It was his best result since winning in Leogang last June.
“It was a great race today. I finally nailed the start. I’ve been struggling to get a good start this season and I had a perfect start, top five, into the first singletrack section,” Amos said after the race. “Great equipment. The bike was running flawlessly. Perfect track out there. It felt like home — super loose, dusty. It was a great confidence builder for the next couple races.”
The Durango native established himself in a lead group of three riders with eventual winner Carter Woods and previously undefeated Martin Vidaurre Kossmann. Then on the fourth lap, Amos upped the pace after sensing that Luca Martin was about the bridge, and in the process he cracked Vidaurre for the first time this season. At that point, Amos said that the race felt like “anybody’s game.”
Amos may have paid for his efforts — he couldn’t quite hang with Woods and Martin on the final two laps — but he ultimately won a hard-earned podium on a difficult track.
“I just focused on riding my own race, staying consistent, not going too hard to follow the wheel, still really trying to push every climb well, but then also recover well to not fully explode and not get rid of the awesome race I had ridden,” Amos said.
The result is a major confidence builder ahead of the last three World Cup races of the season, not to mention U.S. Nationals next weekend, where Amos will be racing as an elite for the first time in his career. Amos has struggled at times to find the form he is used to, particularly last weekend when he struggled to push as hard as he wanted in Lenzerheide and finished 12th.
“I definitely lacked a couple percent the last couple races, whether it be luck, mechanicals or legs,” Amos said. “Today, we checked all the boxes and had a really good, solid, consistent race, and showed that we are doing things right. The preparation has been good up to this point. We have the confidence now, and it’s time to put on the finishing touches for the end of the season.”