August 25/06 3:26 am - Espoir Men's XC Story
Posted by Editor on 08/25/06
MTB World Championships Rotorua, New Zealand
Once again, it was the Swiss national anthem (kommst im Morgenrot daher, in case you were interested) which was played after the Espoir Men's cross-country race at the Mountain Bike World Championships, as Nino Schurter gave Switzerland its third rainbow title, and seventh medal. Italy's Tony Longo took the bronze, while Canadian Max Plaxton came from behind to claim the bronze. Swiss riders claimed four of the top ten spots, attesting to the impressive depth the nation has in cross-country.
The five lap race began with a familiar pattern, as Schurter went to the front for the climb and set a hard pace which burned off most of the field by the top. Longo and Ruben Cueto (Spain) managed to stay with Schurter over the top, with the rest of the field trailing at half a minute.
Schurter was extremely motivated to do well, after a flat last year in Livigno while he was leading the race lost him the title. "I have been waiting a whole year for this race. After Livigno this was my goal for the year. I have been training with Florian (Vogel) and Thomas (Frischknecht), and they are making me faster."
While Schurter may have been too strong for most of the field on the climb, it turned out to be the descent was where he really shone, and dropped Longo for good. By the start of the second lap he was 30 seconds clear of Longo, with Cueto at 45 seconds and fading. Lukas Fluckiger (Switzerland) moved up to fourth briefly, but was caught and dropped by Stephane Tempier (France) and then Plaxton.
Plaxton had a poor start; caught behind a crash in the first 50 meters and losing 20 spots. "At this race you have all the best in the world, and the key is to get a good start. I had a little bit of a problem at the start, and I was surprised how many places I lost. I had to run on the climb on the first lap because it bottlenecked, so that cost me some time, maybe without that I would have been up there with those guys."
He still was riding very strongly on the climb, moving into fourth behind Tempier by the third lap, and then catching and dropping the French rider on the fourth lap. Schurter was unstoppable at the front, and Longo was sitting comfortably in the silver medal position 45 seconds back, but two minutes ahead of Plaxton.
This proved to be the final finishing order, with Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark making a strong push in the final lap to move into fifth behind Tempier.
- Derek Zandstra finished a strong 18th, doubly impressive after a flat tire on the second lap. Zandstra had been approaching the top ten when he flatted. Marty Lazarski was 23rd, after struggling in the first half of the race, while national champion Neal Kindree was well back in 40th after suffering a broken chain. That wasn't the only problem Kindree was having; admitting to feeling flat. Raphael Gagne finished a lap down in 44th place after not making the 80% time cutoff for the final lap. Gagne had a strong start and first lap before mechanical problems, including a broken chain, slowed him down.
- Heavy rain overnight turned portions of the course into a quagmire, and forcing riders to run steep portions of the climb, and some sections of the downhill. Schurter started by running the downhill, but switched to riding as the course dried out. "The first two laps I was running the downhill, but then I was told (by Swiss coaches) that riding was faster, so I switched. I'm a good technical rider, so I think that I made most of my time on the downhill."
- Swiss coaches were asked what the 'secret' is to the dominance of the Swiss cross-country riders. Their answer? Bike Spiel - literally, Bike Game. They explained that at the Swiss Power Cup series, age categories go down as low as eight years old, and the riders have fun in the youngest age groups, with obstacle courses and non-competitive fun. As they get older, the competition increases, but riders have already begun to develop the technical skills needed to ride well. "It must be fun with little competitors."
- American hopeful Sam Schultz got caught in the same crash at the start as Plaxton, but actually went down, losing many spots in the process. He got up and going, but the amount of running did not suit his style - "any time there is that much running I won't do well." Schultz was the top American finisher in 38th place.