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COURDURIER EDGES OUT HARNDEN IN THRILLER WHILE MURRAY BREAKS POLISH HEARTS AT THE UCI ENDURO WORLD CUP IN BIELSKO-BIAŁA

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COURDURIER EDGES OUT HARNDEN IN THRILLER WHILE MURRAY BREAKS POLISH HEARTS AT THE UCI ENDURO WORLD CUP IN BIELSKO-BIAŁA

1 month ago

The WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series made its Polish debut with the opening race of this weekend’s Bielsko-Biała UCI World Cups. Enduro got the action underway at the Beskid Mountain’s venue, and athletes were tasked with five technical, twisting stages that took in 36.5km of trails and 2,074m of descent. Unlike last weekend’s race in Finale Outdoor Region, it would be a new experience for most riders who would have to adapt quickly and learn fast on the constantly changing course.



STAGE 1: KAMIENIOŁOM
The opener saw riders take on Kamieniołom, a 2km bike park stage that featured one black and two red-grade trails and 275m of descent on a technical, rocky course. The local crowd was out in full force, experiencing professional riders on their home trails for the first time.

Cannondale’s Ella Conolly was the first to seize the initiative in the women’s field, the British rider clocking a 4:42 to take an early lead. It could have been a completely different story had Isabeau Courdurier (Lapierre Zipp Collective) not crashed, the reigning overall champion having regained her composure to limit her loses to just 2.8 seconds. Last week’s UCI Enduro World Cup winner, Harriet Harnden (Trek Factory Racing Gravity) showed that her result in Finale was no fluke, finishing third, 4.2 seconds down on Conolly.

Only a second could split the top four in the men’s competition, Richie Rude (Yeti/Fox Factory Race Team) coming out on top and carrying some solid form after his win last weekend. Jack Moir (YT Mob) was just 0.134 seconds behind the American – the Australian fully recovered after an injury that ruled him out in Finale. The biggest cheer of the stage though went to Lukasik Slawomir (Yeti/Fox Factory Race Team) – a partisan home crowd willing him on to improve on fifth last time out.

Early casualties on stage one included Dimitri Tordo (Commencal Enduro Project), who was left battered, bruised and in 42nd place, and Martin Maes (Orbea Fox Factory), who was forced to abandon after he was unable to fix a puncture that he suffered at the bottom of the stage.

Midway through saw the first drops of rain, which would go on to play a crucial role in the rest of the race.

STAGE 2: DZIABAR

The rain had come down hard by the time riders reached the second and longest stage of the day – a 3.7km trail with 524m of descent – and it caused carnage, with Noga Korem, Harnden, Courdurier and Morganne Charre (Pivot Factory Racing) all crashing. It became about damage limitation, and Chloe Taylor managed her ride the best – a 7:41 enough to send her from eighth to first. Estelle Charles (Specialized Enduro Team) finished the stage second, more than 12 seconds back on the Brit on the stage, while Courdurier showed her championship-winning resilience to rescue third.

The treacherous conditions continued during the men’s tackling of the stage, but the racing remained just as tight – Charles Murray (Specialized Enduro Team) taking the stage win and overcoming Richie Rude’s stage one advantage to lead the American by 0.4 seconds.

STAGE 3: DEBOWIEC

The crashes continued as the riders rolled into Debowiec, a 2.5km stage with 336m descent, and early race leader Conolly, Christian Textor (YT Mob) and Jack Menzies (Canyon CLLCTV Factory Enduro Team) all suffered offs as the persistent rain shifted the terrain under the tyres.

Harnden hung on to take her first stage win of the day, but it was only enough to take last week’s UCI World Cup winner up to second place. It was Courdurier who sat at the top of the pile, three-hundredths of a second faster overall, while Taylor found herself in third, 0.94 seconds back. With two stages remaining, it was clear that we were looking at one of our winners, and it would probably come down to who could stay upright.

After a disappointing second stage (where he went eighth fastest), Slawomir put all his local knowledge to use in stage three, recording the fastest time (a 4:50) to leapfrog Moir and Jesse Melamed (Canyon CLLCTV Factory Enduro Team) into third place. Above him sat Rude and Murray, but the Polish rider looked calm and focused in the chaotic conditions.

STAGE 4: CYGAN

Although significantly shorter than last weekend’s race overall, the long liaison gave riders a chance to reset and take stock between Debowiec and Cygan. But they’d need to be switched on in the start gate. Littered with roots and other natural obstacles, the flowing, winding 2.5km stage would be even more difficult after the rain, and would come down to line choice.

Harnden showed that she thrives in these conditions, recording her second consecutive stage win to take a 2.2-second lead over Courdurier going into the final stage. The Frenchwoman was the only elite woman to take a particular high line on the stage, but it wasn’t enough to outride the 23-year-old Brit. Taylor was still hanging on in third, 3.6 seconds back, with the trio opening a significant gap on the rest of the field.

It was the same story in the men’s, Slawomir making it back-to-back stage wins, but it was Murray who still had the advantage – the New Zealander making a massive save to avoid a washout and finish the stage with a 2.7-second lead intact.

 

STAGE 5: DH+

If the tension wasn’t already high enough, a red flag meant riders were forced to wait before they could get underway with the final stage, DH+ – a steep, stony, uneven trail including 283m of descent in just 1.8km.

Unlike last week, where Harnden had enough of an advantage to take it easy on the final stage, the gloves were off in Bielsko-Biała, and riders threw caution to the wind. It was Courdurier who landed the winning blow, the experienced rider showing why she won four of last season’s seven UCI Enduro World Cups and improving on her second place in Finale. It wasn’t to be two-from-two for Harnden, who lost more than two seconds to Courdurier on the stage to finish just 0.236 seconds behind in the overall, while Taylor settled for third, Charles fourth and Conolly fifth.

Speaking after the race, Isabeau Courdurier said: “It’s quite crazy because it’s redemption from this morning where I struggled so much and couldn’t ride like I wanted to. It was a real surprise because I didn’t look at the time and I thought I was quite far away. In the end, it’s so tight, it’s basically like finishing the race at the exact same point after going through so many slippery roots, technical bits, and flat sections. I have no idea how we did this. I’m super happy about it.”

The men’s race would finish even closer, and it would be heartbreak for Slawomir, who won his third straight stage but missed out on his first UCI Enduro World Cup win by 0.095 seconds. Murray was the man to break the local’s hearts, retaining the position he’d held since stage two and just doing enough with his fourth place on the final stage to take his first UCI Enduro World Cup. Last year’s overall champion Rude would go second fastest on the stage to finish third overall, with Moir (4th) and Melamed (5th) completing the podium.

Speaking after the race, Charles Murray said:Managing to keep it upright was the main thing – pedal where I could but just be smart because there were so many slippery roots out there. Last week, I was a bit surprised because you never know where your form is coming into the season and then to back it up with the win was too good to be true”.

CHRISTIE MAKES IT TWO FROM TWO WHILE KUCHYNKOVA SHOWS DOWNHILL SKILLS IN UNDER-21 EVENTS

After a fast start, Slovakia’s Simona Kuchynkova left it late but did enough to unseat Lily Planquart (Lapierre Zipp Collective) to win the women’s under-21s by 2.7 seconds. Third place was Elly Hoskin of Canada.

In the men’s under-21 event, Australian Bailey Christie (Theory Racing) was even more dominant than in Finale Outdoor Region, winning the first three stages and finishing 2nd  and 4th in the remaining two.

In the open racing categories, 209 amateurs raced four of the same stages as the professionals.

Saturday sees the UCI E-Enduro World Cup riders take to the Bielsko-Biała course, completing two loops and nine unique stages. Britain’s Tracy Moseley and Florencia Espiñeira (Orbea Fox Enduro Team) are set to battle it out again, while Ryan Gilchrist (Yeti/Fox Factory Race Team) will be looking to dominate in the men’s competition.

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