In the women’s race, reigning overall title holder Jolanda Neff and the defending UCI World Champion Kate Courtney battled it out from the start. An out of character crash from Neff lead to Courtney putting on the pressure and pushing hard at the front.
And the American, 23, was left to celebrate her first elite XC World Cup victory and America’s first elite women’s XCO win in 20 years. Neff was second while 2017 overall winner, Yana Belomoina, started from the fourth row of the grid but fought her way back to finish third.
Courtney said: “It means everything, last year at the World Championships was a huge surprise and a sign that I could make it to the top. I am happy to start the season with a strong ride and hopefully I can stay up near the front for the rest of the year. I hope to carry the momentum forward.”
In the elite men’s race, a torrential downpour filled the tyre tracks with mini rivers as one of the toughest set of conditions the XCO pack had seen in years began to unfold.
Reigning champion Nino Schurter attacked early alongside his teammate Lars Forster who eventually had to be carried from the track and has since travelled to hospital for scans on his knee.
Schurter was reined back in by the pack and it was his compatriot Flückiger who rode himself into first position. Flückiger held on for his second career win in front of cyclo-cross sensation Mathieu van der Poel, who leaves Albstadt with the points leader’s jersey. Jordan Sarou completed the podium.
Flückiger said: “I had a bad start and my chain broke after 50 metres. I didn’t go on the limit at the start and I could ride my rhythm. I never had to go over my limit, just always on the edge. It was really crazy! I had a lot of patience, which was probably the key, I am so happy for this win.”
The small town in the Swabian Alb had been under the microscope in the weeks leading up to the event with some riders voicing concern about track changes made in the run up to the event.
A deluge the night before racing got underway had turned the re-surfaced track into a tricky maze of vastly differing traction levels. Treacherously slick dark mud was being pulled onto the new wooden sections ensuring it was a brutal weekend for all riders involved.
The series moves on to Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic on May 24.
1. Kate Courtney USA 1:26:03
2. Jolanda Neff SUI 1:26:52
3. Yana Belomoina UKR 1:27:34
Men’s elite XCO result:
1. Mathias Flückiger SUI 1:23:54
2. Mathieu van der Poel NED 1:24:26
3. Jordan Sarrou FRA 1:24:27