Brian Lopes (Ibis) dominated in Houffalize (Rob Jones)

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Houffalize, Belgium was the setting for the first ever round of the new UCI World Cup XC Eliminator this weekend, with Brian Lopes and Annie Last triumphant in the men’s and women’s competitions.

The eliminator was introduced last year as a test event and this year
becomes a fully-fledged World Cup series, with three races and a world
title on the line. The top 32 qualifiers from a timed lap of the circuit
move onto the main competition: single lap races by heats of four riders, with the top two moving on to the next round. The course at Houffalize was 530m long and with much steeper climbs than last year’s test event, explosive power was the order of the day.

American Lopes (Ibis) took a convincing win in the men’s race, giving him World Cup
victories in three disciplines – dual slalom, four cross and now
eliminator. He was untouchable, bursting down the start ramp and opening bike lengths before the riders even hit the climb. He qualified first and then won every heat. He
would lose ground a bit on the climb, but then open it back up on the

Two favourites that did not make through qualifying were the
Cannondale Factory team duo of Manuel Fumic and Marco Fontana. Fumic
crashed on the descent, while Fontana slipped out of his pedal early on
the climb, landing on his top tube.

For the final, Lopes was joined by three relatively unknown riders –
Daniel Federspiel (, Simon Gegenheimer (Ultra
Sports Rose) and Severin Disch (Thoemus Racing). Again Lopes got a
strong start, however, he lost some ground on the first corner of the
climb when he had to put his foot down. It made no difference, as he
soon opened up a gap again to cruise to the win, followed by Federspiel,
Gegenheimer and Disch.

“Oh, I am just happy,” said Lopes. “I have been training a few months
for these things and it is nice when you put in a lot of hard work and
it pays off. I didn’t think at 40 years old I’d be racing World Cups
again, but I’m back. It’s nice to get a victory.

“I’ve been racing BMX, four cross and so on since I was four years
old and my speciality has always been getting a good start, getting out
in front. I gotta be honest, I was a little worried with this course, a
lot of climbing, a lot more climbing in it than I was training for and a
lot different than the previous test events. So when I got a little
tweet message from [cross country rider] Todd Wells a few days ago, he
was like ‘I hope you lost some weight, cuz your gonna have to do a lotta
climbing on this course’, and I was like ‘Whooo, we’ll see. Hope I lost
enough weight for yah buddy!’”

Last takes victory in women’s race

Last leads up the climb in the final

The women’s race was won in similarly convincing fashion by Annie Last (Milka Brentjens). Despite only qualifying seventh fastest, once racing started, her skills and strength secured her passage through to the final four. 

She was joined in the final by pre-race co-favourite Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol), Anne Terpstra (MPL Specialized) and Jenny Rissveds (Team
Sweden). Last got the holeshot out of the start, with Lechner having an
uncharacteristically bad start and dropping to fourth at the bottom of
the climb. By the top, Lechner was into second, but there was nowhere to
pass on the narrow, twisting descent. The Italian did try a last ditch
pass in the final corner, but caught her bars on Last, taking both
riders down.

Last was first to regain her feet, and took the win. Rissveds took
third, followed by Terpstra, who had also crashed in an attempted pass
of Lechner earlier in the heat.

“I am really pleased with this,” said Last. “It is a really, really
tough course. The steep ups and downs mean you have to get a good start,
or people can come around you on the hill. Getting the lead after the
start makes a massive difference, it means you have a bit more control
of the race. You come out of the corner with a bit more speed. That one
climb on the back you have to really jive.

“I almost lost it on the last corner. Eva tried to go to the inside,
and we both went down. It was ok, ‘cuz where it was was ok, no one else
was there to come around.”

“I had a very bad start on the final and was last for the climb,”
said Lechner. “I tried to get to the front before the downhill but could
only get to second. Then, I tried to pass in the final corner, but
there was not enough space and I crashed. I’m happy with second, I tried
for the win.”

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