Koretzky, Lecomte give France sweep of mountain bike World Cup opener

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ALBSTADT, Germany — Victor Koretzky and Loana Lecomte gave France a sweep of the first men’s and women’s World Cup mountain bike races of the season, giving them a big boost of confidence heading toward the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Koretzky broke free of a group of four riders on the final lap of the course in Albstadt, finally passing reigning Olympic gold medalist Nino Schurter on the final turns before the cross country race hit the road. Then, the Frenchman used a superior finishing sprint to hold off the Swiss mountain biking star for the win.

“In the warmup I didn’t feel like I was in my best shape,” Koretzky said, “but after the first two laps it got better and better.”

Mathias Flueckiger of Switzerland and Ondrej Cink of the Czech Republic were the other two riders in the four-man break, but Flueckiger had a mechanical problem on the penultimate lap that forced him to remain standing. He wound up taking the bronze medal ahead of Cink, who faded over the final mile of the race.

“This was really hard, and all I could do was fight for third place,” Flueckiger said. “Bad luck happens some times, so I’m very happy to get third place in this situation.”

Thomas Pidcock and Mathieu van der Poel, who won the short course race, pushed the tempo on the opening laps before falling off the pace and finishing in the top 10. But it was still a strong ride for the British and Dutch riders, who often compete in cyclocross and road racing but have their eyes on mountain biking at the Tokyo Games.

The women’s race wasn’t nearly as close as the sprint to the finish in the men’s race.

Lecomte surged away from the entire field on the opening loop, quickly opening up an 18-second gap before the first of the two major climbs on each lap. She eventually built her lead to more than a minute before cruising to the finish.

Her countrywoman and the reigning world champ, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, finished second to cap a banner day for the French mountain bike team. Ferrand-Prevot won the short course race on Friday night.

“It was my goal for today,” Lecomte said, “but I didn’t know if I could do it.”

Haley Batten edged American teammate Kate Courtney to round out the podium in Germany.

After dealing with the difficult, climb-heavy course in Albstadt, riders head to Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, next weekend for the second race on the World Cup circuit. It’s also the last race before a long break over the summer, which means it’s also the last qualification race for riders trying to earn a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

“To start the season like this is pretty incredible,” Batten said. “I’ve had a couple of hard races here in the past, in junior and U-23, so to just race so strong and so smooth from start to finish is not something I would have expected previously. I’m not sure how much this counts towards Olympic criteria, but Nove Mesto does, so this is a really good sign.”

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”