In sharp contrast to the dry, dusty practice sessions during the lead-up, race-day saw a muddy, slippery Lenzerheide course, thanks to overnight rain.
Alan Hatherly was up first in the U23 men's race. With a front row start (sixth) thanks to his superb second place in Andorra the previous weekend, he was in the mix from the first climb – a tough tow-minute effort to the top. He managed to drop into the singletrack descent in fourth and through the first tech zone had moved into third.
"I locked onto Simon (Simon Andreassen's) wheel and by the end of the first lap we were riding pretty fast had a good gap to the rest of the field," Hatherly said, explaining how the pace got super hot up front into the second lap. "The guys went very hard up the tar climb and I remembered the feeling from last weekend to stay just below that maximal effort, so I dropped off a bit to try pace myself for the next three laps. I knew being consistent would be more important than going all-in, and then fading at the end, because our race was seven laps long - 15 minutes longer finish-time than normal."
By the third lap the leaders had 20 seconds on Hatherly, but late in the fourth lap this had shrunk to around eight. "I could see my tactics were paying off, but as I started chasing hard toward the latter part to close the gap, my fork seal blew off on the air side, which meant I lost all pressure." Hatherly battled on regardless, but because his fork was now deflated it changed his body position on the bike, which meant his back and quads took serious strain towards the end, he also had almost no control in the technical sections. "I held onto sixth for about two laps but the technical sections were simply too dangerous – every time I hit a root or a rock the wheel would just decide which way it wanted to go so I had to play it cautiously," he said.
Hatherly eventually crossed the line just outside of the top 10, but was philosophic about the setback. "On the whole I'm still relatively happy," he said. "What happened today was really bad luck, but 11th is still a fair result and on the overall for the world series I'm still 6th overall, which means for Mont Saint Anne I'll be on the front row again."
Hatherly now returns to South Africa and sets his focus on SA National Champs in two weeks' time. "I'll most likely be racing Elite – go for the title that has been eluding me for three years."
For Ariane Lüthi it was something of a home race and she was excited and motivated to do it justice despite still recovering from World Marathon Champs and a mid-season dip in form.
"Just to hear your name being shouted is super motivating, plus I really like the course – I think it is really entertaining, even though you have to be focussed all the time, especially today, as it was wet and slippery," she commented afterward.
"Off the start I tried to push a bit harder than last weekend, where I perhaps took it a little bit too conservative," she said.
However, according toe Lüthi, the margin (between staying in touch and pushing it too far in terms of effort) is so small at this level, that it is all about management. "If you are a little bit over-cooking you go into the technical sections shaky – which is not ideal – so it is quite difficult to find the right rhythm."
Lüthi did click onto a good rhythm and rode strong through the middle few laps. "But maybe pushed it too hard and then paid for it in the second last lap where I just made a silly mistake and, lost a bit of rhythm."
"To take some positives away: I'm glad to finish a World Cup without being lapped and to have had the super smooth Specialized Epic on this course – it really was a dual suspension course. Also, big thanks to JP (Jacobs) and Tim (Bassingthwaighte) for their support. This was the first international trip with the full Team Spur in tow and it was great."
Lüthi concluded how good it was to have a new world cup winner in Annie Last. "She is a very cool girl. I raced against her at the Epic and so good to see her right in front on the top step."