Posted by Editor on 08/23/06
MTB World Championships Rotorua, New Zealand
Reports made possible by the support of MAXXIS
Photos from the U23 WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s XC
Photos from the Junior WomneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s XC
The individual events for the 2006 Mountain Bike World Championships in Rotorua, New Zealand began on Wednesday with the Junior and Espoir women's cross country races. In both events, the race winner was a first ever world champion for their country.
Only 24 women took the start for the Junior women's three lap race, but the competition was fierce for the title, with Slovenia's Tanja Zakelj improving on last year's bronze medal to win the first mountain bike world title for her country.
Julie Krasniak (France) went to the front on the climb, and after the first lap held a slim lead over Zakelj, followed by Nadja Roschi (Switzerland), Katarzyna Solus and Marta Sulek (Poland) and Kathrin Stirnemann (Switzerland). The first six riders were within a minute of each other.
Zakelj took over the lead on the second lap, with superior descending skills, and held a 10 second lead at the bottom of the final climb. She extended her lead to 23 seconds by the bottom of the descent, and held it to the finish line. A visibly disappointed Krasniak took the silver, with Roschi giving the Swiss a bronze to go with the world title won yesterday in the Team Relay.
"I didn't start so good" explained Zakelj, "but I was calm and spinning up the climb, so I started to catch up. I think I was better on the downhill, and I didn't have any bad luck or falls. Earlier (in training) I wasn't too sure if I could ride the downhill, because usually I like the uphill, but today it was the downhill that was best."
Krasniak admitted to being upset, "I'm very disappointed, it was my hope to win. I prepared to win, and didn't have any doubts that I could do it. I gave it my all in the last downhill but came up short."
- Now that Zakelj has won a world title, she was asked what her next ambition is. "Last year I won Slovenia's first medal, so my goal was to be a world champion. Now I am, so I don't know what my goals are!"
- Canada's two entries finished 13th (Emily Batty) and 20th (Alexandra Gelinas-Hamelin). Batty started slow (last at the beginning of the first climb) and worked her way up steadily to equal her finishing position of last year in Livigno, Italy. "I had my usual start - it was a long race, so I knew I could move up. I crashed on the second lap when I went into a mud hole that I hadn't seen the lap before. I was hoping to do better than last year, but I had a good ride."
- The ground was muddy and slippery in shaded sections, after below freezing temperature overnight left frost on the ground, but sun and a steady breeze dried the circuit quickly, and by the last lap riders were riding uphill sections that they had to run on the first lap.
This is the first year for the Espoir women championship category, and 29 riders lined up for the start. Chengyuan Ren of China was the prohibitive favourite, as the leading Espoir on the World Cup circuit, and a top-10 finisher in World Cup races during the season. Ren did not disappoint, as she and team mate Liu Ying rode away from the field on the first climb, with Ren dropping her team mate on the second lap of the four lap race to solo in for China's first world title in mountain biking. Liu easily made it 1-2 for China, with Sarah Koba giving Switzerland a second bronze medal for the day.
After Ren and Liu showed the pack their heels, Koba and Eva Lechner (Italy) took up the chase, but were nearly a minute down by the end of the first lap. Lechner faded the next lap, leaving Koba alone in third, with Tereza Hurikova (Czech Republic) passing Lechner into fourth.
The front three looked to be set, and the only other change in the top five was when Lechner faded further to be displaced by Nathalie Schneitter (Switzerland) for fifth. Ren and Liu continued to wide their lead, displaying neither emotion nor visible effort as they rode. Crossing the line, neither rider raised their arms nor even cracked a smile, leaving it to third place Koba to celebrate her medal.
- On the podium, Ren finally gave one shy smile while posing for photos. In the subsequent press conference, both athletes were cautious with their responses, often looking over to the team manager before replying (through a translator). Ren did say "this is a new era for Chinese mountain biking. We are working to improve and get better in our technique. The main reason that we have gotten better (so quickly) is by learning from other athletes and going to major events to improve. To get better for the Beijing Olympics is great motivation"
Ren was asked what she would do to celebrate her victory. "There is no time to celebrate. We have competition as soon as we get home."
- Meghan Kindree was Canada's top finisher, in 19th place. She finished one spot in front of Jean-Ann McKirdy, with Catherine Vipond placing 23rd. McKirdy had the best start of the Canadians, riding as high as 14th by the end of the first lap before gradually falling back. Kindree took a slower start, and paced her way up through the race. "I had a poor start" admitted Kindree, "I definitely need to work on my starts. But I had a good ride after that, riding my own pace and catching some riders every lap."
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