Austria and host nation Australia took the first XCO titles of the 2017 Mountain Bike World Championships on Thursday, in Cairns, Australia. Laura Stigger of Austria won the Junior women's title, while Cameron Wright of Australia took the Junior men's.
The 4.3 kilometre circuit through the Smithfield Park rain forest features a long switchback climb and a technical descent. Heat and dust are proving to be the primary difficulties riders face. Each category did a start loop, with the women then racing four laps and the men five laps.
Stigger has been the dominant rider all season in Europe, winning the European title and UCI Junior series races. Her usual opponent is Loana Lecomte of France, and it was the same at the world championships, with the pair dropping the rest of the field by the end of the first lap. Stigger and Lecomte rode together for the first half of the race until Stigger attacked on the third lap, opening a small 15 second gap that she held to the finish line. Nadia Grod of Switzerland took the bronze medal, 1:41 back.
"I've had a great season so far," agreed Stigger. "I liked this course very much and I just went full gas. At the beginning Loana pushed very hard and I had to fight to be with her."
Wright has been dominant in Oceania, but was a bit of an unknown quantity to the rest of the world. He left little doubt of his strength, opening a five second gap on the start loop and steadily extended it to a maximum of 43 seconds as he started the last lap. His gap fell slightly to 35 seconds at the finish, but he was never in danger of getting caught. Behind, the chase quickly came down to two riders - Joel Roth of Switzerland, a member of the Team Relay world champion squad, and Holden Jones of Canada. The pair had dropped the rest of the chasers by the end of the first lap and rode together until the final half lap, when Roth attacked to open a nine second gap on Jones and win the silver medal.
"I'm at a loss for words," admitted Wright, "doing it in front of my home crowd is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It was a hard race, but it paid off in the end. Initially, my plan was to stay in the front group for the start loop and attack before the singletrack, but I felt really, really good so I went straight away. I saw the gap and thought 'keep it consistent and go from there'. I think they [Roth and Jones] were catching me a bit on the climb and I was getting it back on the descent.”