What does the first round tell us about the rest of the year?

The dust has settled after a bruising and spectacular first round of the 2018 XCO World Cup. What have we learned and what predictions can we make?

Schurter finally beaten in Stellenbosch. Photo: UCI

1. Nino Schurter can be beaten

Spoiler Alert! Nino Schurter’s (Scott-SRAM) perfect run of winning every round of the World Cup in 2017 looked set to continue at Stellenbosch, as he came to the race as the out and out favourite.

But it seems the competition – and Nino’s pedals – hadn’t read the script as a rampant Samuel Gaze (Specialized Racing) achieved the seemingly impossible and bested the world champ in one of the most exciting and close races in recent history.

And with Cannondale’s Maxime Marotte finishing just two seconds back and cyclocross wünderkind Mathieu van der Poel showing the strength that Schurter was worried about, it looks like 2018 is hotting up to be the most competitive and exciting season in a long time.

How fun does this look? Photo: UCI

2. Courses are super technical and look like a lot of fun

If you were expecting the World Cup XCO races to be held on boring, safe courses then watch the highlights of Stellenbosch and prepare to be stunned. This year’s courses look like the bastard child of XC, Enduro and Downhill. Stellenbosch had tech climbs, North Shore chutes, big drops, massive log sections, rock gardens and even a huge section of dirt jumps.

Almost everyone who rode the course had massive grins (when they weren’t racing). I don’t know about you but I want to ride it so badly! More so than ever it proves that the top XC racers in the world could probably put a lot of enduro and DH racers to task.

Annika Langvad (Specialized Racing) wins the opening round for the third time. Photo: UCI

3. Annika Langvad is nothing if not consistent

Stellenbosch saw Specialized Racing’s Danish powerhouse win the opening round of the 2018 Elite Women’s XCO. Making it a hat-trick of opening round wins with victories at Cairns in 2016 and at Nove Mesto in 2017.

This consistency also won her the overall series in 2016 and with a world champs jersey in her palmares she looks to be a threat again this year.

France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prevot on what looks like an all-new Canyon full suspension XC race machine. Photo: UCI

4. Full suspension wins the day

Full suspension won both elite categories and U23 men’s at Stellenbosch. In fact you have to look outside the top 5 in the Elite men’s category and third in the women’s to find the first hardtail.

With courses getting more technical and suspension technology improving to narrow the weight and efficiency gaps, will we see less and less hardtails on the podiums?

Evie Richards took a fantastic third at the opening round. Photo: UCI

5. A British woman will win a World Cup round this year

It’s great to see British women’s cross country in such rude health thanks to Annie Last and Evie Richards. Annie, the first British winner of a World Cup race last year in Lenzerheide, started her 2018 campaign with a solid 11th place. Racing for her new BH/SRSuntour team, will not be too happy with that so we’re sure it will be improved as the season progresses.

In the U23 women’s Evie, current U23 women’s cyclocross world champ and now racing for Trek Factory Racing, took an impressive third place. Coming in less than a minute down on the race winner. It won’t be long before we’re celebrating with one of them on the top step.