On a gloriously sunny day in the Aveyron, Swiss star Jolanda Neff and Portuguese powerhouse Tiago Ferreira won the 2016 UCI XCM World Championships, raced on a hilly, technical course that started and finished in Laissac, France.
The elite women started first as the morning had barely hit 10 degrees. Men would start 25 minutes later. The venue was pretty quiet and still, but by 7:30am there was barely a parking space to be found in Laissac, as supporters made sure they weren’t parked in, riders buzzed around warming up, and team managers pored over final map details.
I drove to Trebosc, for TF 1/3 (tech/feed zone), meaning I could park up for a little while.
Stationed at Tech/Feed one, the motorbikes announced the arrival of the women’s race leader, and it was Jolanda Neff who arrived clear of everyone else, receiving a bottle from her Dad without missing a beat. Next in was Annika Langvad with the likes of Sally Bigham and Ariane Kleinhans right behind. But Langvad had a problem with her rear wheel, and her chain had fallen off as she went to leave the feed zone.
Still, the gap was growing from front to back, and soon enough more riders were coming through, with a strong group of Spanish and French, and not long after Imogen Smith followed – needing a wheel change. Jenni King soon arrived and then Anna Beck and Briony Mattocks.
We awaited the men and Jaroslav Kulhavy monstered in with Kristian Hynek on his wheel. Kulhavy also needed a wheel, and the front group also contained Paez, Ferreira and others. Lakata was just behind.
And then we waited. Neff passed again but her gap had grown, as Langvad had reportedly gone off course. Bigham was through next close to rival Enaux, and over two minutes behind. Could Neff have it??
Imogen Smith had moved to about 23rd, with Beck about a minute back then King and after her Mattocks. Their compatriot Chris Hellman was holding inside the top 100 for men at the time.
But TF5 (women’s) awaited, as did the drive to the technical zone.
Arriving into a reception black hole, Topeak-Ergon and Specialized were setup, but few others. Good timing then. Neff came through in the lead but Bigham was just 1:20 back. Enaux followed then Kleinhans and Fumagalli.
Smith came in around 22nd, with Beck close behind as well as King.
I had to leave ahead of the men, but reports were that Kulhavy lead a group of 5 that had Lakata, Paez, Ferriera and Hynek.
The final 20km had two major descents, a major climb and some pinch climbs. As Topeak-Ergon road manager David Padfield said – it was turning into a marathon riders course at the end.
Arriving at the finish, it was Jolanda Neff who crossed the line first, disbelieving that she had won! She though she was in 2nd palce and chasing 1st. Bigham secured 2nd place and it was France’s Sabrina Enaux in 3rd. Kleinhans was 4th and Mara Fumagalli in 5th. Elite riders continued to roll in, but the gap the leading women had was immense.
Imogen Smith crossed just as the men’s race was won – coming in 20th and finishing in the confetti. Beck was 28th, King 34th and Mattocks 41st. Full results are online.
Part of the mystery of marathon racing is that in general, it’s hard to know exactly what happens out there. Coverage of the sport is rarely live and televised. But it’s clear that Ferreira got away in the final, and while Alban Lakata chased super hard, it was Ferreira who triggered the confetti gun in town. Lakata was clearly frustrated for the race to be so close, but was fast to pass on his congratulations, and be happy for such a good race. Kristian Hynek finished 3rd.