Looking ahead at the final race, Balanche said: “It’s going to be really tough on the body to race this one again because we have no rest day, so we’ll see how that goes. Mentally it’s hard to focus every day. The track is fun though, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Rounding out a successful day in the Elite Women race, Cabirou from Millau, France, followed closely on Balanche’s heels. When all was said and done, the 24-year-old claimed third place with a 3:45.928 finish.
“I’m pretty excited, I’m happy to be on the box today and really looking forward to the second race. I really like this track, it’s pretty cool but if you make any mistakes, you lose a lot of time, so it isn’t easy to race,” said Marine Cabirou.
The result boosts Cabirou into seventh place at 491 points after a challenging season that included second place at the 2021 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy. Speaking on the upcoming finals, Cabirou said: “I think for the next one I’ll just push a little bit harder and go a little bit faster and hope it works out!”
In the Elite Men division, Vergier came in as a favorite after back-to-back victories at World Cup races in Maribor, Slovenia, and Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The newly minted European Champion attacked the course in signature ‘Flying Frenchman’ style and secured third place with a 3:10.646 total time, 0.580 seconds behind first place.
“I’m really happy. I think it was a good day for the team and everyone really. No one got injured and the track was running super-fast, and everyone was so close to the fastest time. The sport is crazy these days!” said Vergier. “I had a good day, and this week was a struggle so I’m happy to be on the podium, I had a couple of crashes so. It’s so tough to push because some sections are really tight, and then some are so fast; it’s hard to find that flow. It feels great to be on the podium.”
Also claiming a podium spot was 26-year-old Mark Wallace from Canada in fifth place on the strength of a 3:11.398 finish, only 1.332 off of the lead. “I’m very excited! I’ve been trying to get one of these for a while, so I’m stoked to get it done. I like this track enough that I’m not upset to have to race it again in three days.”
The biggest upset of the race was Monster Energy rider and current season leader Thibaut Dapréla breaking a front wheel and losing out on valuable season points. The 20-year-old from France still retains the leader’s jersey, but his lead has shrunk significantly: Holding on to first place at 752 points, Dapréla is now only 46 points ahead of Vergier in second place.
As Vergier calls it: “The second race is going to be decisive. I’m 46 points back so it’s doable but everything is there to lose or win. We’ll see!”
With that said, anything can happen in Saturday’s final race in Snowshoe! The World Cup finals will once again come down to the last race of the year here in Snowshoe, as they did in 2019. First place in the Elite Men and Elite Women divisions will net 250 points, respectively. The final battle in the Men’s division will unfold between main contenders Dapréla and Vergier – with Loic Brun also still having a shot. Also watch for Balanche versus Myriam Nicole in Women’s, not counting out Vali Holl currently in third. Stay tuned for the grand finale at Snowshoe!
One more thing: For another top-three finish in Snowshoe, Monster Army rider Tristan Lemire took home a strong third place in the Junior Men division. Holding his own in a field of talented upstarts, the 17-year-old from Quebec, Canada, finished the track in 3:22.191 total.