Before they set off to prepare for this weekend's UCI World Cup XCO in La Bresse, Richard Cunynghame caught up with a few of the competitors in Nove Mesto Na Morave as they pondered their peformances.
Brian Lopes is someone I’ve known through both our years on the gravity circuit and is always a determined biker. He won the first round of the new eliminator discipline in Houffalize, but didn't even progress from the first round in Nove Mesto Na Morave.
“I wasn’t too impressed with the course. It was about 90 per cent pavement, 10 per cent dirt and about 3 per cent technical. It provided exciting racing for the people watching, I guess, but it doesn’t seem like a ‘cross-country’ eliminator, but more like a road bike eliminator. I thought elevation gain and loss here was good and I liked how wide the course was, it just wasn't technical.”
After that disappointment he had a blast in the big race on Sunday. “It was hard, I always know it’s going to be painful. It’s always good to do them to be reminded just how bad ass those dudes are. I beat Julian Absalon,” he says laughing, “I made it a few more laps than he did, but I guess he wasn’t feeling well. No disrespect to that guy, he’s one of the baddest cross-country dudes ever.”
Nino Schurter is another "bad ass," as Brian would put it, and was the big winner in the XCO. His manager (and my commentary budd), Thomas Frischknecht, introduced me. It was Nino’s fifth win in seven races.
“It was awesome to win on my birthday. My form is great at the moment and I hope I can continue like this. I did the same schecule over the winter, it’s just that I’m in a good mood and everything is working great.”
Bart Brentjens, who is as much of a legend as Frischknecht is, also joined me in the commentary box on Sunday. We discussed how the length of the races has changed since his day, when they were between two to three hours.
“It’s more exciting when the gaps are small, like today, rather than the leader having a three-minute gap like in my day. Now races are decided by a few seconds and that’s better, that’s why people stay in front of the TV and watch it to the finish line.”
One man who is loving this shorter cross-country format is Marco Fontana. I know his fellow Italian mechanic Giacomo Angeli from his years on the downhill circuit. We were chatting in the pit when Marco affably introduced himself.
“I felt so good during the weekend. I thought, 'today’s my day’. We did most of the race in a group, attacking each other. But with one and a half laps to go the speed increased and I thought it better not to push over my limit otherwise I'd risk my podium spot."
“I had a lot of fun. I love the dirt and the rain. You know there's dirt coming up when you drift a little, and you can hit some corners really hard. I hope people watching at home enjoyed it because we’re pushing our sport out there and we want to show that cross-country is pretty cool. I’m pretty sure that at some point you’ll be here talking to the guy that won the race.”
I hope we do see Marco on the top step soon. He's the coolest cat I’ve met on the circuit and this flamboyant Cannondale rider embodies just how lively cross-country is.
Watch the live XCO action from La Bresse on redbull.tv on Sunday May 20, from 10.20am CET.