Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) proved there was no 'rainbow curse' on him as he swapped his world champion's jersey for the World Cup leader's one at the opening cross-country round in Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire this weekend.
The Swiss rider won the men's 43km race in a finish very similar to last year's world championships, when he outsprinted Olympic champion Julien Absalon (Orbea). Again, it came down to a sprint between the two, with Schurter winning by less than a wheel length. Burry Stander (Specialized) of South Africa took third, 14 seconds behind the front two.
The six-lap men's race started very fast, with eight riders initially making the selection at the front, but by the fourth lap that was whittled down to just Schurter, Absalon and Stander. The South African looked to be the strongest, but he made a mistake on the last lap, allowing the other two to get away.
Absalon took the lead, setting the pace, but could not shake Schurter, and when they turned onto the gravel finishing straight, the Swiss rider came up alongside his French rival and pulled ahead in the final 10 metres to take the win.
"This is an incredible victory, to win the World Cup and take the leader's jersey is very special," said Schurter. "I hoped to do well here, but there was a very, very strong field, so I was only looking to make the podium. I was dying out there, to stay with Julien, but I knew that if it came to a sprint I was a little bit faster."
Absalon, for his part, revealed that he was quite content with second. "I've been sick this week, so I didn't know if I could race," he said. "But each day I got a little bit better, and by Saturday I was okay again. I didn't know how strong I was going to be, and I was just hoping to get on the podium.
"But it was good for me when the three of us went away, because I was able to rest a bit at the back. I think Stander was the strongest, but maybe he did too much work, and then made a little mistake that allowed Nino and I to get away. At the finish I tried to control it, but Nino was just to strong."
The race was disappointing for home riders, with the top placed Brit being Oli Beckingsale (Giant Factory Team) who finished 37th, more than seven minutes off the pace (0:07:06).
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