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Langvad wins Elite Ladies' cat and mouse battle

Annika Langvad celebrates after winning her third straight UCI World Cup season-opener in Stellenbosch, runner-up Pauline Ferrand Prevot is to her left and third-placed Anne Tauber to her right. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

Annika Langvad arrived in South Africa with all the expectation on her shoulders and she delivered by winning the opening leg of the UCI MTB World Cup in Stellenbosch on Saturday.

The Dane, who rides for Specialized Racing, beat Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Canyon Factory Racing XC) of France to continue an amazing run of consecutive wins in the opening race of the UCI's premier cross-country mountain bike series that stretches back to 2016.

This race on the short Coetzenburg course could have gone either way, with the two swapping the lead throughout the early laps - Langvad initially, then Ferrand Prevot for two laps following a technical issue for the Dane. However, Langvad took the lead decisively on the fifth lap, and went on to beat Ferrand Prevot by a narrow 13 seconds after a race that lasted 1:33;14.

"I have no idea what it is with me and the opening race of the World Cup," said Langvad. "It was a really good day for me, amazingly so, because I struggled a lot this week. I was putting so much pressure on myself because I wasn't feeling good at the moment. Then I got fed up with putting pressure on myself and went out there and smashed it."

"I kept it calm. It was such an intense course, it was so easy to make small mistakes. I had a stick in my wheel. I had to unclip and run. I am satisfied with myself because I always managed to come back. Near the end, I thought, what the hell. If she is going to catch me then she must catch me."

Anne Tauber (CST Sandd American Eagle MTB Racing Team) of the Netherlands finished alone in third place, staying ahead of charging group of Germany's Helen Grobert (Cannondale Factory Racing XC), and the Kross Racing pair of Maja Wloszczowska and World Champion Jolanda Neff.

Neff missed out on a podium place to her Polish teammate but her performance was all the more impressive considering she broke her collarbone in a crash during a cyclo-cross race in January, when she and Ferrand Prevot came down hard together.