Posted by Editoress on 07/25/10
Swiss Riders Dominate
The Cross-country Mountain Bike World Cup is proving to be one of the most hard fought ever, with new winners in both the men's and women's races. This year, every round has seen a different rider at the top of the podium and round four in Champéry, Switzerland was no different, with Nathalie Schneitter (Colnago Arreghini Sudtirol) winning the first World Cup of her career in the women's race, and Florian Vogel (Scott-Swisspower) taking the second of his career. In the men's series Julien Absalon (Orbea) managed to hold onto the leader's jersey, but the women's race saw the fourth rider of the year don the white World Cup leader's jersey - Eva Lechner (Colnago Arreghini Sudtirol).
For Switzerland, which hosts the world championships in Champéry next year, it is hopefully a taste of things to come, as they won five of six cross-country categories contested on Sunday - both Junior races, both Elite races and the men's Under-23 race.
The 4.3 kilometre circuit may have been short, but it was more than tough enough. After a 3.2 kilometre start loop spread out the fields, the riders faced two difficult sections at opposite ends of the circuit. First, they had a very steep climb and then an immediate descent with a dropoff that launched them into the air for at least three metres. A ride-around was provided, but it was significantly slower. From there the riders traversed the valley to the second, and main climb. At the top they dropped back into the woods for a long, muddy, singletrack descent full of roots and mud before heading into the start-finish area. Few riders could make it through a lap without running at least part of the circuit.
The women did five laps plus a start loop, and the men were downgraded from seven to six laps, plus a start loop.
In the women's race, the mad sprint from the gun saw Schneitter and Lechner immediately open a gap on the rest of the field. Willow Koerber (Subaru-Trek) gave chase, but couldn't quite close the gap to the front pair. Behind Koerber, the U23 World Cup leader, Julie Bresset (BH-Suntour), was chasing in fourth and behind her a group kept forming and splintering, containing world champion Irina Kalentieva (Topeak-Ergon), Katerina Nash (Luna), Esther Süss, Sabine Spitz (Central Pro), Katrin Leumann, Elisabeth Osl (Central Pro), Georgia Gould (Luna) and Marie-Hélène Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain).
Significantly missing from the mix was the current World Cup leader Catharine Pendrel (Luna). Pendrel was having a a rough day, starting with a sub-optimal start, then a jammed chain and, finally, a leaking tire that eventually required a wheel change. She would finish 16th and drop to third in the World Cup standings.
"I had a bad start, just didn't go fast enough," explained Pendrel. "I got up to 11th, but entering the climb my chain lodged between my frame and cranks, and I lost a lot of time and places pulling it out. Just before entering the last lap at the end of the descent I burped my rear tire [lost air] and had to do a wheel change. The interruptions and running were tough mentally, but these things happen, particularly in ugly course conditions. It was not the best day, not the worst. I think I have good legs and look forward to challenging for the podium next weekend."
At the front, the first four were set: Schneitter, Lechner, Koerber and Bresset. Behind, the battle for fifth place continued for the first half of the race before Nash eventually settled into the final podium spot and began to open a gap on the remainder of the chasers.
For Schneitter it was possibly the biggest victory of her career, to win a World Cup on home soil. "It was a dream," she said. "I knew that if it stayed muddy in the forest I could do well, and I was thinking that it would be possible to be on the podium, but I did not thinking of winning!"
Koerber, who needed to finish in front of Lechner to regain the World Cup lead she took after round two and lost to Pendrel after the next round, chased the Italian champion all race, but couldn't quite close the gap, finishing a scant 16 seconds behind her.
"I was getting close a few times, but I couldn't quite catch her," explained Koerber. "I think I was climbing well, but losing some time on the descents. This just makes me more motivated for next weekend [round five], because I would really like to go into the final race in the U.S, wearing that leader's jersey."
The gap between the top three is still tight, with Lechner at 655 points, Koerber at 640 and Pendrel at 594.
Premont was the top Canadian finisher, in 13th, but was not completely satisfied with her ride. "There are some days where you don't feel really good on the bike, and this was one of those days. I was struggling in the mud and the technical sections, and not riding as good as I normally do. My health is good again [she missed Canadian Nationals with bronchitis], so I will look to do better next week."
Emily Batty (Trek World Racing) finished 23rd, and was third in the U23 category. Her result moved her into third in the U23 World Cup rankings. Amanda Sin (Canadian National Team) was 28th, Sandra Walter (Local Racing) 41st and Catherine Vipond (Canadian National Team) 72nd. Mikaela Kofman (Canadian National Team) did not finish after crashing and hitting her knee, and Marie-Claude Suprenant (Canadian National Team) did not start due to illness.
The men's race also saw a split happen on the start loop, with Vogel and defending Champéry champion Burry Stander (Specialized) gaining ten seconds on his team mate, and world champion, Nino Schurter, who was closely followed by Sergio Mantecon Gutierrez (Trek-Lorca), European champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Rubena-Birell-Specialized) and Absalon.
Absalon bridged up to the two leaders on the first lap and set a blistering pace, eventually dropping first Stander and then Vogel. Absalon began to pull away in the middle part of the race, opening a gap of over 20 seconds on Vogel, with Stander struggling to hold onto third from the chase behind. Schurter was having difficulties with a broken saddle mid-race and had to stop in the pit on the third lap to change it, falling back to fifth.
Late in the fourth lap Absalon flatted, losing most of his advantage over Vogel, which seemed to re-energize the Swiss rider just as his rival was beginning to fade. The race was coming back together at the front, with Kulhavy joining Vogel in the lead on lap five and Schurter and the lead U23 rider, Mathias Flückiger (Trek World Racing), racing for third. Absalon had faded to fifth, and was in danger of getting caught by Stander.
The front duo gradually opened a gap on Schurter and Flückiger through the final lap, and then Vogel launched a massive attack on the last climb, cresting the top nine seconds in front and extending it to 11 seconds by the line. Schurter was closing on Kulhavy in the last half lap, but it wasn't enough, and he came in for third, 24 seconds behind the Czech rider. Flückiger took fourth - and the U23 title - followed by Absalon.
"I knew it was important to be out in front on this course," explained Vogel, "and so I attacked very hard at the beginning. When Julien came up and then attacked, I was pretty concerned, but I could tell that he was struggling a bit in some of the more technical sections. I was most worried about Kulhavy, because he looked to be climbing very well, but then I could see he was actually more tired, so I knew that I had to make my chance on that final climb. This is a very big win for me, only my second World Cup, and to win in Switzerland is very special."
Absalon continues to hold onto the World Cup lead, with 710 points, but Schurter is now only 24 points back, and Kulhavy is only 50 points back.
Todd Wells (Specialized) was the top North American man, in 12th, and was disappointed to finish just out of the top-ten. "I thought that I could hold onto tenth, going into the last lap, but then on that last climb my legs just didn't have it."
Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant), in his first real test since knee surgery in the pre-season, finished a strong 14th, and said that the knee held up well. "The worst pressure was when I came off on a rooty descent and had to jump over my bike. I could feel that the flexibility still isn't all there, but otherwise it was just fine."
Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) was the top Canadian finisher, in 21st place, moving up from the high-20s in the final laps. "I was lucky it was technical, because I felt like a sack of hammers. I will take this result, though, and hope things come around next week."
Despite his disappointing ride, Kabush moved up from 22nd to 18th in the World Cup standings.
Derek Zandstra (Canadian National Team) was the next Canadian finisher, in 37th. Andrew Watson (Canadian National Team) was 58th, Peter Glassford (Toronto Trek Store) 85th, Adam Morka (Toronto Trek Store) 115th and Cameron Jette (Canadian National Team) 139th.
- Earlier in the day, Canadian Juniors raced very strongly, with Antoine Caron (Canadian National Team) finishing seventh in the men's race and Lauren Rosser (Canadian National Team) 11th in the women's race.
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