Posted by Editoress on 05/14/06
Madrid MTB XC World Cup #2 Madrid, Spain
Reports made possible with the support of Vélirium Mountain Bike Festival
Round two of the mountain bike World Cup in Madrid proved to be scorcher - both the temperature (low-30's Celcius) and the action on the track. The reigning world and Olympic champions were victorious in both the men's and women's races, with Gunn-Rita Dahle (Multivan Merida) riding away from the women's field as usual, and Julien Absalon (Bianchi Agos) winning a to-the-line battle against Christoph Sauser (Specialized). Dahle adds to her lead in the women's overall, while Absalon takes over the men's lead from Bart Brentjens (Giant). Canadian riders had mixed results - Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) had second locked up until she flatted with a little more than a lap to go, while Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) battled his way up from 89th starting spot to finish 37th.
Both the men's and women's fields were among the largest ever for a World Cup, with 109 women and 213 men taking the start. An 80% cutoff (riders had to finish each lap within 80% of the leader's time, or get pulled) made starting position crucial, and added to the speed. The 7.5 kilometre circuit proved to be just as fast as predicted, so moving up was difficult.
Dahle started the World Cup season in Curacao as she left off last season: in the leader's jersey. However, it has been six weeks since that race, and a lot of the top women have been preparing hard for Madrid, the first of three consecutive World Cup races in Europe, so Dahle couldn't relax.
The Norwegian got off to her usual fast start, but was joined by local favourite Marga Fullana for the first half lap of the five lap race. Fullana bobbled a corner, and that was all Dahle needed to open up a gap.
"I was going the maximum on the first lap - in the second (lap) I thought maybe it was too hard - and Marga did a little mistake in a corner. That gave me 10 seconds, and it was enough, since it is so hard to make up time here."
A bigger worry for Dahle was Premont - who is the only rider to have beaten Dahle for the last couple of years; twice last season. Premont was coming up fast from a slower start, and moved to within 25 seconds by the middle of the second lap.
"Marie-Helene was chasing at 25 or 30 seconds for a long time, and I was nervous with her on my back wheel, because one little mistake would be all it would take for her to catch me."
Dahle did gradually up the gap in the third lap to 40 seconds, with Fullana in third at 1:30, and a chase trio of Sabine Spitz (Specialized), Maja Wloszczowska (Lotto) and Irina Kalentieva (Topeak-Ergon) at three minutes. It looked like the front three were set, but then disaster struck for Premont, in the form of a rear flat halfway through the fourth lap.
"There was a lot of glass on the course, and it punctured my tire" explained Premont. "It was a slow leak at first and I tried my CO2 cartridge but it wouldn't keep the tire up. Then in a corner the tire came off and I crashed. So I had to run for a long time (to the technical zone), maybe almost two kilometres. I was feeling so good, I would have had second for sure."
Premont dropped from second to the high teens with only a lap to go. Remarkably, she was able to recover to tenth by the finish.
"I caught many people, I gave it everything in the last lap. It (flats) happen, but I know now that I am strong, so there is another race next weekend (in Spa, Belgium)."
Fullana easily cruised in for second, but there was a battle underway for third between Spitz, Kalentieva and Wloszczowska. Kalentieva won the fight after attacks and counterattacks between Spitz and herself.
"It was a hard fight. I was behind Sabine and first Maja (Wloszczowska) attacked. I caught her and then Sabine passed me. It was only on the final uphill that I was able to pass her again, and I managed to hold on until the finish."
Premont was the top North American rider, followed by American Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna) in 14th. Other Canadian women didn't have as good a day, with Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) finishing 27th, Wendy Simms (Velo Bella-Kona) 35th and Kiara Bisaro (Team R.A.C.E.) 42nd. Bisaro was suffering from back troubles, and have difficulty putting power onto the pedals. Trish Sinclair (Scott) managed to move up from a back row start (105th) to finish 65th, and Sandra Walter (XO Felt) was 70th. Martina Feldmann was a DNF.
The men's race in the first lap resembled nothing so much as a constantly flowing river (which took five minutes for the field to pass). As the 213 riders poured across the start line the jostling for position began immediately. A rider went down in the first corner, 100 metres into the race, and riders were pushing and shoving to avoid being trapped behind him. One of those caught was American Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru/Gary Fisher) who also commented on rampant course cutting that was going on in the first lap as riders scrambled to avoid the cutoff.
"I was caught behind that wreck at the start, and then I got chopped by 30 guys going under the tape."
Kabush agreed: "It was just absolute pandemonium on the first lap. People were cutting huge chunks of the course, riding into spectators."
For those at the front of the race, the difficulty was the speed. Lado Fumic (Fumic Bros. Racing) set the early pace in the first two laps (of seven), and a core group of 15 riders took a slight gap on the rest of the field. In the front group were many of the top contenders, including Absalon, Sauser, Ralph Naf (Multivan Merida), Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), Curacao winner Bart Brentjens (Giant), Roel Paulissen (Giant), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Cannondale-Vredstein), Michael Weiss (SRM Simplon Team) and Seamus McGrath (Felt-Canadian National).
As the race went on, the attacks began on the climbs, and the group began to shrink. Absalon, Sauser, Naf, Paulissen and Hermida were the most aggressive, and it was these five which finally broke away from the rest of the shattered group. With two laps to go, Absalon, Naf, Paulissen and Sauser opened up a gap on Hermida, who was briefly joined by Kessiakoff. Paulissen was the next to succumb to the pressure, and finally Naf in the last half lap. Absalon and Sauser were pretty evenly matched, and it came down to whoever managed to get into the final corners first, which was Absalon.
"You needed to be in good position at all times on this course, but try not to be at the front. So, for me it was a tactical race, an exciting race, where you always had to be attentive - one mistake and you were finished." explained Absalon.
"I actually had a mistake on the first steep climb of the second lap, when my chain came off and I had to stop, but lucky for me they weren't going at 100% at that time.
"I did some attacks on the steep climbs, maybe three or four times, because it is where I was riding very well today. Each time some riders would come off, and when we were down to five I though 'Okay, now we are on the podium'. Then it went to three and then two, and that was even better!
"On the last lap I attacked on the first climb and Ralph was gone. Sausie (Sauser) was strong; we were both attacking but always together, never able to drop each other. So in the last 500 metres my manager yelled to me 'Pass here, it is the last place to pass'. It was true, because there were corners after that where it was not possible for him to pass me."
Sauser agreed with Absalon's analysis of the final lap, commenting "We were never more than a few wheels apart, always watching each other, always aware that the other was the strong rider (in the break). This should make it an exciting year, I think, with both of us riding so well."
- Ralph Naf was surprised and relieved with how well he raced. "I was sick after Sea Otter (he dropped out after winning the second stage), and was riding very badly - I was in a deep hole two weeks ago with no motivation, I didn't think I could race here. So, for that reason I am more than pleased with my third!"
- Roel Paulissen was another rider happy just to have a good ride. he was sporting a large bandage on his little finger (left hand). "Last week I had a crash in a race going over a bridge and it ripped the nail and the flesh away on my finger; they had to put stitches all around it. So, it was hard to hold the bars, and the pain was going up my arm. Just to finish and get some points was my goal, so this was a very good race for me."
- Kabush had realistic goals going into the race, despite knowing his form was good from winning the Norba National race last week. "My goal was to get into the top-30 if I had a really good start lap, but then the crash slowed everything down, so I was just trying to get as many places as possible. After the chaos of the start lap it stretched out and I was able to settle in to my ride. Guys started to fade and I could just keep moving up; I was pleased that my strength was consistent right up to the end. This race was a write-off for a good finish, as far as I was concerned, it was all about getting a better start position for the next couple of races."
- McGrath finished 42nd after possibly going out too hard in the first three laps. Mat Toulouse (Maxxis) also faded in the last three laps, dropping from the 30s to finish 74th, while Marty Lazarski (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) was pulled after five laps, finishing two laps down in 161st place.
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