Posted by Editoress on 05/2/10
Round Two of the Cross-country World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium saw the overall series leads change in both the men's and women's categories, with Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida) taking a come-from-behind victory in the men's cross-country and grabbing the leader's jersey, while Eva Lechner (Colnago Arreghini Sudtirol) became the first Italian woman to win a World Cup since Annabella Stropparo in 2002. With her back-to-back second places, American Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher) became the first American since Alison Dunlap to claim the World Cup leader's jersey (also in 2002). Catharine Pendrel (Luna) was the only Canadian to make the podium, in fifth place; the same position she holds in the series standings. Emily Batty (Trek World Team) sits third in the Under-23 standings after two events.
The women's four lap race (plus a start loop) split up quickly, with Lechner, Koerber, 2009 World Cup champion Elisabeth Osl (Central Post) and defending Houffalize champion Marga Fullana (Massi Team) moving to the front. Lechner fell off the pace mid race with a flat tire, but quickly rejoined the leaders, and then charged off the front, with only Koerber able to match her pace. On the last lap, Koerber touched wheels with Lechner and had to stop and put her foot down, allowing Lechner to open a gap she held to the finish line. The American came in second, followed by Osl, and then the leading Under-23 rider, Julie Bresset (BH-Suntour).
"Mentally, I had a problem last week which held me back," Lechner explained. "But I was able to 'reset' myself during this week, and I came into this race at the top both mentally and physically. This win is incredible, maybe the biggest I have ever had."
"It was my own fault," admitted Koerber, who equalled her best World Cup showing from a week earlier at Dalby Forest with her second place. "We were so close, going back and forth, but when I was following her on the final climb my front wheel touched her back wheel, and I had to stop and put my foot down. She gained a few seconds on me there, and that was it."
Pendrel had a much better start than Dalby Forest, but could not match the pace of the leaders, battling with Bresset all race for fourth, before falling back in the final lap.
"My fitness is definitely at the proper level, but I just didn't have the fire that I had last week," said Pendrel.
Marie-Hélène Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) also had a strong start, riding ahead of Pendrel in the early going. But she suffered a flat late in the start loop, losing over 30 places and eventually abandoning. Batty fought for third in the Under-23 race until the final lap, when she faded to finish fifth (28th overall).
Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon), the world champion and winner of round one, fell to third overall after struggling to finish 13th at Houffalize, a victim of "dead legs".
The men's six lap race saw a series of upsets, with eventually fourth place finisher Jaroslav Kulhavy (Rubena-Birell-Specialized) crashing on the start line, blocking many of the top riders on the left side of the road, including Canadians Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Derek Zandstra (Canadian National).
Manuel Fumic (Cannondale Factory) was one rider who wasn't blocked, and he immediately opened a 25 second-plus gap on chasers Julien Absalon (Orbea), Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak-Ergon) and top Under-23 rider Matthias Flückiger (Trek World Racing).
The chase received a blow when Absalon flatted late in the first lap. The defending Houffalize champion had to run for almost half a lap to the tech zone, dropping into the 30's before he began an impressive chase back to finish seventh. The Under-23 world champion, Burry Stander (Specialized), also flatted, eventually finishing 17th.
Meanwhile, Fumic was continuing to hold down the lead lap after lap, as Kurschat and Flückiger couldn't close the gap without Absalon. It took Hermida, coming back from the mid-teens after having been caught by the start crash, to finally catch the chasers and then Fumic as he started the final lap. After that, it was just a matter of time before the 2007 Houffalize winner was able to pull away from his rival to win the sixth World Cup of his career.
"After the start problem, I knew that I just had to be patient," explained Hermida. "I did not know who was in front, but once I caught him, I knew, that on this course I could not be beaten. I'm extremely happy to have won here in Houffalize for a second time. Houffalize is considered as mountain biking’s cathedral, which gave me a lot of motivation, and to take the World Cup lead going into to Offenburg, in front our sponsors, is incredible."
Kabush was the top Canadian finisher, in 34th place, but still moving up one spot in the overall standings to 27th.
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