Annika Langvad shook off the pressure she had put on herself ahead of the opening leg of the UCI Mercedes-Benz MTB World Cup in Stellenbosch on Saturday, to win after a dramatic and tense battle with Pauline Ferrand Prevot of France.
The Dane continued an amazing run of consecutive wins in the opening race of the UCI XCO World Cup series that stretches back to 2016, when she took victory in Cairns, Australia. The race on the Coetzenburg course on Saturday could have gone either way, with the two swapping the lead throughout. Langvad took the lead for the final time on the fifth lap, beating Ferrand Prevot by a narrow 13 seconds after a race that lasted 1:33;14.
Anne Tauber of the Netherlands was a lone warrior in third place, holding off a charging group of Germany’s Helen Grobert (fourth), Pole Maja Wloszczowska (fifth) and World Champion Jolanda Neff (sixth). Neff’s performance was all the more impressive considering she broke her collarbone in a crash during a cyclo-cross race in January, when she and Ferrand Prevot came down hard together.
Langvad had taken the lead on the first lap, before the Frenchwoman took over at the front for two laps. Langvad lost time after she was forced to dismount when she lost momentum going into the climb shortly after the technical area on lap four and was 12 seconds behind just before the Howzit section. She slowly worked her way back to the wheel of Ferrand Prevot and moved to the front on the fifth lap, a position she would never give up.
South Africa’s top performer on the day was Mariske Strauss, who finished in a 28th position she believes was fated to be. “My race number is 28, I started 28th and my hotel room number this week is 28,” smiled Strauss. “I got stuck in the first couple of crashes. Someone stalled in front of me, so I had to get off and run. The atmosphere was amazing. I was thinking so this is what it is like when Europeans ride at home. Around every corner, someone was shouting my name. It was a beautiful day to be a South African. I can’t thank the organisers enough for bringing the race to Stellenbosch.”