A wet and slippery track brought about the expected carnage with most pre-race favourites including New Zealand champion Anton Cooper, unable to make an impact in the cross-country at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Austria.
The Trek Factory rider from Christchurch had to be content with 41st place, eight minutes behind surprise winner Jordan Sarrou (FRA) while Alpecin Fenix professional Sam Gaze (Cambridge) was 65th from the 90-strong starters.
While the forecast heavy rain and potential snow held off at the mountain resort of Leogang, the track conditions remained muddy to challenge the field, with a number of pre-race favourites including defending champion Nino Schurter and last week’s world cup winner Henrique Avancini opting for heavy full suspension bikes.
However Sarrou slipped off the front at the end of the opening full lap and was never headed, winning by 45 seconds with three Frenchman in the top five, while Shurter and Avancini were ninth and 10th respectively 2m40s behind.
Cooper rode with the leaders for the opening short lap but was unable to match their speed in the thick and slick conditions, to eventually finish eight minutes back, while Gaze pushed through the field early but finished two laps down.
It was a disappointment for Cooper who had shown encouraging top-10 form in the back-to-back world cups last week in the hastily re-arranged international season squeezed into two weeks.
By evening the forecasted snow arrived in Leogang with crews working to clear tracks for the riders including the Altherm New Zealand team, in order to compete in the downhill race tomorrow.
It would be an extreme disappointment, given the hard work of organisers, strict coronavirus protocols undertaken by professional teams and the commitment of riders if they are unable to race.
The downhill race featuring the Altherm New Zealand team of Ed Masters, George Brannigan, Brook MacDonald and Wyn Masters, is live on SKY TV.
Results, elite male: Jordan Sarrou (FRA) 1:25.37, 1; Mathias Flueckiger (SUI) at 45s, 2; Titouan Carrod (FRA) at 55s, 3. Also: Anton Cooper (NZL) at 8:03, 41; Sam Gaze (NZL) at 2 laps, 65.
Caption: Anton Cooper in action at Leongang. (Photo: Robert Jones)