The last week have been a big one on the road, with the Giro and Tour of California capturing much of the cycling world’s attention. This weekend, the two UCI stage races share the stage with the mountain bikers. The second stop of the XCO UCI World Cup is this Sunday and the second of the four Epic Rides Off-Road Series races is in Grand Junction, CO. As always, both wide, knobby tire races feature a number of familiar cyclocross faces.

Albstadt UCI World Cup

After an early March start in South Africa, the XCO UCI Mountain World Cup returns this weekend in Albstadt, Germany. The race is the second stop of the seven-race World Cup series.

Elite Women’s Race

The race in Albstadt marks the World Cup debut for new Trek Factory Racing rider Ellen Noble. Noble has raced in a few U.S. UCI events, but as she said when we talked to her earlier this year, the World Cups are big target races for her. One aspect of the race that will be new for Noble is her starting spot. Staging for the World Cups is based on World Cup points and UCI points, so Noble faces the unfamiliar prospect of starting from the last row of the 80-woman field.

Ellen Noble is racing her first XCO UCI World Cup with Trek Factory racing this weekend in Germany. photo: Trek Bicycles

Ellen Noble is racing her first XCO UCI World Cup with Trek Factory racing this weekend in Germany. photo: Trek Bicycles

Denmark’s Annika Langvad (Specialized) is back looking to add another win to her 2018 palmares. Langvad took the win in Stellenbosch, won the Cape Epic with American teammate Kate Courtney (Specialized) and won the XCO race at the Sea Otter Classic. Not a bad start for the former world champion.

Perhaps the most impressive ride in Stellenbosch was by the current world champion Jolanda Neff (Kross Racing), who returned to race the mountain bike race just six weeks after her horrific crash at the Hoogerheide Cyclocross World Cup. Neff finished sixth in Stellenbosch and now returns with two more good months of healing.

The other survivor of that crash, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon Factory Racing XC), will also be starting on the first row and looking to pick up the slack for one of cycling’s power couples after her partner Julien Absalon announced his retirement from racing this week.

In the Women’s U23 race, defending U23 cyclocross World Champion Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing) continues her World Cup campaign after taking third at the season-opening race.

Elite Men’s Race

Last year, a little known rider (at least in the mountain bike world) named Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) came out of nowhere at Albstadt and gave Nino Schurter a tough battle before ultimately finishing second. Cyclocross fans have been familiar with Van der Poel for years, but his performance in Germany last year was head-turning for much of the larger cycling world. According to recent interviews, Van der Poel still has a ways to go before everyone learns his name.

This year, even if Peter Sagan doesn’t know who he is, the athletes at the line in Albstadt will. Van der Poel finished fourth in the series-opening Stellenbosch and starts on the front row on Sunday.

If anything is going to slow Van der Poel down, it might be the broken wrist he suffered last weekend during a three-day stage race in Spain. The Dutch phenom crashed on the first day and then went on to win all three days with a fractured scaphoid. He had surgery to put a stabilizing screw in his wrist and will be racing at Albstadt, albeit with some extra pain.

The biggest story of the Stellenbosch World Cup was that defending World Champion Nino Schurter (Scott-SRAM MTB Racing) did not win. Not only did Schurter win XCO Worlds last year, but he also won every single World Cup, so yeah, it was a bit surprising that young gun Samuel Gaze (Specialized) of New Zealand hung with him and then outsprinted the champ to take the season-opening win. The two will be starting on the front row of the 147-rider Elite Men’s field.

Sam Gaze beat Nino Schurter in a thrilling finish in South Africa. photo: YouTube screen capture

Sam Gaze beat Nino Schurter in a thrilling finish in South Africa. photo: YouTube screen capture

See below for the full start list.

How to Watch

As always, the XCO World Cup Elite races stream online at The Women’s race starts at 5:20 a.m. EDT and the Men’s race at 8:35 a.m. EDT.

Albstadt has received a decent amount of rain in the week before the race. This preview video from CXHairs Media mountain bike correspondent Bill Shiecken shows conditions are slick and ’cross-like. Shiecken’s Van der Wrist update suggests conditions may clear up by Sunday, so tune in to see if the mountain bike-sters get the drier, faster conditions they are used to.

Grand Junction Epic Rides Off-Road Series

Back stateside, the big mountain bike race this weekend is the second of the four Epic Rides Off-Road Series races in Grand Junction, Colorado. The Epic Rides races are long races that eschew the lap-based format of XCO racing for a long backcountry course with singletrack, doubletrack and usually, plenty of climbing. The 40-mile Grand Junction course includes one massive climb that totals almost 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Of course, for every climb up, there’s a (typically) more fun descent down.

Prize purses for the Grand Junction race give $5,000 to both the Women’s and Men’s winners, so many pros not in Germany will be at the race. One of the top names on the Women’s start list is Sofia Gomez-Villafane (Stan’s Pivot Pro Team), who has put together an impressive 2018 campaign thus far. Gomez Villafane finished sixth in the opening Epic Rides Off-Road in Arizona and podiumed at the Soldier Hollow UCI XCO race. Also at the top of the start list is Larissa Connors, who turned in a dominant win at the Belgian Waffle Ride gravel race last month.

On the Men’s side, Geoff Kabush continues his Dirty Kanza 200 training by racing pretty much wherever, whenever. Last week it was the Sagan Fondo gravel race, this week it’s a 40-mile backcountry mountain bike race. Also on the start list is one Todd Wells, whom we have heard a thing or two about around these parts.

The full pro roster as of May 16 is below.

Unfortunately, TV coverage of the backcountry race is difficult to come by. Stay tuned for results next week.

XCO UCI World Cup Start Lists

2018 Albstadt, Germany XCO UCI World Cup Start List

Grand Junction Epic Rides Off-Road Start Lists

2018 Grand Junction Epic Rides Off-Road Start List