The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup rolls on this weekend with more cross-country racing in Nové Město na Moravě in the Czech Republic. The course in Nove Mesto is emblematic of the modern style of XCO racing, with multiple climbs and descents being punctuated with difficult technical sections. The race takes on more significance as it's one of the final chances for riders to secure a spot at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Last weekend, Loana Lecomte dominated the women's field as she broke away from the pack on the first lap and stayed away for the win. The men's field saw multiple lead changes throughout the race. Nino Schurter put in a huge attack during the last lap, but Victor Koretzky clawed back and outsprinted the reigning Olympic Champion to the line.
We now have some real-world race data to see who's come into the season fit, so here's our round-up of who's on form and who might sneak up the results sheet.
In Albstadt, Lecomte proved that she had the legs for a solo breakaway that the field couldn't match. While the climbs in Nove Mesto are shorter, Lecomte also won there last year, so she's a big favorite heading into the weekend.
Ferrand-Prévot won the short track last weekend but struggled to match Lecomte's pace in the XCO race. The World Champion will certainly be hoping to tick off her first World Cup XCO victory of the season on the steep Czech climbs and descents.
One of the big revelations in Albstadt was a breakout ride from Batten. The young American rode to a third-place finish in her first elite World Cup XCO race, besting fellow countrywoman Kate Courtney. If Batten reaches the podium again in Nove Mesto, she could secure a spot at the Olympics.
After a sub-par 2020 season, Courtney is back in the top five. She already has an automatic selection on Team USA's Olympic team, but she'll be looking for another trip to the podium to keep her name toward the top of the World Cup overall standings.
Neff won at Nove Mesto in 2015, which is why we're listing her as a favorite here. She came 13th last weekend, which was a bit off the pace. However, she's familiar with the Czech track, and winning memories could boost her confidence and help her find her legs.
In Albstadt, Pidcock worked his way up from starting in 93rd to a fifth-place finish. The impressive performance proved that he has the legs and skills to stay at the front of an elite Word Cup race. If he can secure a better start position this weekend (based on Friday's short track results), the Ineos Grenadiers racer will certainly be a favorite.
Koretzky raced smart in Albstadt, biding his time until the fireworks started on the last lap. Taking his first World Cup win, the Frenchman showed the world that he can keep up with Schurter's attacks and outsprint him.
Cink came fourth last weekend after setting the pace at the front during the middle of the race. Cink is Czech, so he'll go into this weekend with "home course" confidence as well as a recent top-five result.
In previous years, Shurter's last lap attacks have been unbeatable, but that's not what happened in Albstadt. It's yet to be seen if the Swiss racer has developed a fatal flaw, but the rest of the men's field will be watching him closely.
Flückiger looked to be one of the strongest racers on the hilly course in Albstadt, riding at the front and putting in attacks. However, he suffered from a mechanical problem with his dropper post. If he brings the same form to Nove Mesto and his bike is tuned to perfection, he could wind up on the podium.
Yana Belomoina came fifth in the women's field last weekend, and the Ukrainian will be hoping for a spot on the podium after missing out at last year's World Cups. Rio Olympic Champion Jenny Rissveds placed ninth, showing that she's on form after mental health struggles in past years. In 15th, Erin Huck was the third-best American and will be looking to secure a spot on Team USA's Olympic squad.
Despite dominating the short track race, Mathieu van der Poel struggled in last weekend's XCO race. This weekend should give us a better indication of the Dutchman's overall MTB form. Simon Andreassen had a disappointing result, however, he won in Nove Mesto last year so we won't count him out. In 13th, Christopher Blevins rode to an impressive result as the top American in the men's elite field, and the talented bike handler will have an advantage in Nove Mesto's rock gardens.
The short track race starts on Friday at 18:00 CEST, with the women going off first, and the men following shortly after. The women's XCO is on Sunday at 11:20 CEST and the men race at 15:20. The races can be watched for free on Red Bull TV.