McConnell, Gaze take short track gold in Albstadt MTB World Cup

A month after winning her first World Cup cross-country (XCO) in Brazil, Australian champion Rebecca McConnell (Primaflora Mondraker Genuins) won the first Short Track (XCC) of her career on Friday at Round 2 in Albstadt, Germany. It was the first XCC win ever for an Australian rider. McConnell out-sprinted Pauline Ferrand Prevot (BMC MTB Racing), winner of the first round XCC, for the win, although the French rider continues to lead the overall standings.

Rain in the days leading up to the race led to a wet and slippery circuit. Eva Lechner (Trinix Factory) got the holeshot, but the race turned into one of attrition, with different riders taking turns at the front keeping the pace high. 2016 Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds (Team 31 Ibis Cycles) and Alessandra Keller (Thomus Maxon) were both aggressive in the early laps of the seven lap race, with Ferrand Prevot having to work her way back to the front group after missing a pedal at the start.

On the penultimate sixth lap McConnell upped the pace, splitting the field, but Rissveds regained the front as they started the final lap. McConnell and Prevot Ferrand were both able to rejoin her at the front, with McConnell then attacking hard on a long uphill section. Only Ferrand Prevot was able to match her pace and the two came out of the final corner onto the paved finishing straight 1-2, with a gap on the rest of the leaders. Prevot Ferrand was overtaking McConnell, but ran out of course, with Rissveds taking third just ahead of Keller.

Ferrand Prevot continues to lead the XCC overall standings with 450 points, 50 ahead of McConnell.

"That was crazy, I'm definitely not a sprinter," said McConnell. "I don't know where that came from; I didn't even know we had a gap. I felt really good again today. It was a bit frustrating because the bunch was so big and I kept getting stuck [behind other riders]. But I had the legs; when I made the move [on the climb] I didn't know that it had stuck and should have pushed on so I didn't leave it to a sprint. But everything is really coming together and I'm so happy with that."

Ferrand Prevot admitted, "I think I was too confident about beating Rebecca in the sprint and I was a bit short. I tried to clip in at the start and [missed my pedal], so I was close to the last one at the beginning of the race, and I had to come back. When I got [to the front] I just tried to stay on wheels and recover. I think I should have passed [McConnell] before the last corner, but I'm still happy with second place."

Men's report to below.

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After struggling with injuries for the past couple of years, New Zealand's Sam Gaze (Alpecin Fenix) proved he is back as a contender in the Mountain Bike World Cup with an emphatic win in the Short Track (XCC) on Friday in Albstadt, Germany. On the same day his teammate Mathieu van der Poel was donning the Pink Jersey at the Giro d'Italia, Gaze cruised across the finish line well ahead of Jordan Sarrou (Specialized Factory), who outsprinted XCO World Cup leader Nino Schurter (Scott-SRAM).

A noticeable headwind down the long paved start-finish stretch discouraged any long breakaway attempts, although the pace in the opening laps kept the 40 rider field stretched out. Van der Poel had won the three previous XCCs held on the track, so there was going to be a new winner. Sebastian Carstensen (KMC-Orbea) was the most aggressive in the opening laps, but Schurter, Gaze and Olympic XCO champion Thomas Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) were always lurking near the front.

Local German hope Luca Schwarzbauer (Canyon CLLCTV) took charge mid-race and led for much of the second half of the race, as a few riders tried probing attacks on the climbs, only to drop back before the headwind section. On the final lap, Gaze attacked on the first climbing section, opening a small gap, and then again harder on the second climb, riding everyone off his wheel. Coming out of the final corner onto the final paved 100 metre section, Gaze looked over his shoulder, accelerated, looked again and then sat up to cruise across the finish line with an arm in the air. Schurter looked to have second, but Sarrou just pipped him at the line.

Round 1 winner Alan Hatherly (Cannondale Factory) finished ninth, enough to keep him in the leader's jersey with 350 points to Schurter's 300.

Gaze admitted it had been a long time coming, after two years of injuries, including double knee surgery. "What can I say, it's taken a long time to get back here ... I've learned a lot about myself and I'm not the same guy I was when I went out in 2018. It was only two or three days before [Round 1] in Brazil that I could actually stick on the bike after five weeks off with double knee surgery. It was short notice, and I didn't know what to expect coming here. I'd like to think that it was the years of crawling back through the trenches that made me able to persevere for this one."

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