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Posted by Editor on 09/9/06
Mountain Bike XC World Cup Final - Schladming, Austria
Story by Erhard Goller with Rob Jones
The 2006 World Cup cross-country series ended today in Schladming, Austria was slightly anti-climactic, since Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) and Julien Absalon (Bianchi Agos) had previously locked up the titles. However, Marie-Hélène Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) and Christoph Sauser (Specialized) took strong wins to grab second place in the women's and men's overall standings.
The 4.9 kilometre circuit consisted of approximately 20% asphalt through the town of Schladming, including riding through the brewery Schladminger. Riders began at the bottom of the Planai steep climb, crossed the ski track and entered a long single track, which is technical but not too difficult. The short circuit means many laps and lots of times up the climb.
Marie-Hélène Premont took the fourth World Cup win of her career today, and the second of the 2006 season at the World Cup Final in Schladming. Her victory solidified her hold on second place in the overall standings, behind world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida). Kiara Bisaro (Team R.A.C.E.) finished 19th.
After the first lap of the women's race, everbody thought: it is unfolding the way we know so well. Dahle was leading about 20 seconds, with Premont chasing. However, the end of the second lap gave us a story we have rarely seen since Dahle began dominating the World Cup. It was not usual for the women's race to still be alive in this way, at this point in the race.
Dahle was still riding ahead of Premont but it was like a long line connected them, with a separation of not more than ten seconds. Irina Kalentieva, the silver medalist two weeks earlier at the Worlds was sitting on third place, but losing more and more time against Premont and Dahle. The situation remained static between the front three until the sixth lap, when Premont closed the gap to Dahle and, at the beginning of last lap on the climb, put in a decisive attack to open up a gap.
Premont reveled that the race had gone according to plan. "Before the race, I didn't know how it will be. I arrived Tuesday and last night I couldn't sleep very well, because of the jet lag. But in the race I had a good feeling. It was my strategy not to pass Gunn-Rita early, because that makes less stress for me. My plan was to attack in the last lap and it worked. I'm really happy about that. I would like to have done it two weeks before!"
Premont cruised to the line 10 seconds ahead of Dahle, with Kalentieva a distant three minutes-plus back. The surprising new powerhouse Chinese took fourth, fifth and sixth with Chengyuan, Liu and Wang. Chengyuan, the Espoir World Cup overall winner, must have had a problem during the second lap when she lost a lot of places, before coming back really strong in the latter half of the race.
Dahle was philosophical about her rare loss. " I knew today will be a hard day. Marie-Helene was really strong today. The races the weeks before I was on a high level. For sure, you are disappointed if you come in second place. But for me, winning the World Cup a fourth time in a row, makes it another big day."
The rivalry between Austria and Switzerland is legendary in alpine skiing. In the winter sports, Austrians such as Hermann Maier and Benjamin Raich are always on the podium. In the winter, when the Planai night slalom at the ski World Cup takes place, the Swiss can only dream about the podium. Now, the Swiss can look to their mountain bikers for podiums at Planai, after taking the first three places at the Schladming World Cup, led by Christoph Sauser. There were no Canadian men in the race, with American Adam Craig (Giant) coming back from a poor start to take eighth.
After the first of nine laps, three Swiss riders were in front and they pulled further and further ahead of a four man chasing group containing Roel Paulissen (Giant), Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), Bart Brentjens(Giant) and a surprisingly strong Jader Zoli (KTM International).
However the trio which celebrated on the podium was a little different from the three riders that began the day at the front for the first two-thirds of the race. Sauser, Florian Vogel (Swisspower) and Espoir world champion Nino Schurter (Swisspower) were the three riders who started at the front. Ralph Naf (Multivan Merida) was a fourth Swiss rider who bridged up to the chase group, and then made a move in the direction of his compatriots.
Naf: "At the beginning I couldn't hold the speed. I did my own rhythm and suddenly the three were in front of me. But Susi (Sauser) was too strong, I had no chance to close. I'm satisfied because I never thought to be on the podium. Flo and Susi had some bad luck this season, so they deserve to be there."
At the front, Nino Schurter was beginning to fade. He lost contact to Vogel and Sauser on lap six, and was passed by Naf. Vogel was also having problems, and flatted on lap seven, leaving Sauser alone in the lead, chased at 15 seconds by Naf.
When Schurter came up to Vogel, he gave his team mate his front wheel. After the quick wheel swap, Vogel soon closed the gap to Naf, the Marathon world champion. In the last lap Naf crashed, sliding out of the course, giving Vogel the chance to take over second. Schurter, after giving his wheel to Vogel, had to walk half a lap and ended up 23rd. In the chase group, Hermida gapped Paulissen and Zoli on the last lap to take fourth.
Sauser was extremely pleased with his win, which locked up second place in the final World Cup standings, behind world champion Julien Absalon (Bianchi Agos), who had a rare off day to finish 10th. Sauser: "Today I had super legs until the end. I could ride at my own speed from the beginning. When I realized that Ralph is coming up like a moped, I thougt about relaxing a little bit and attacking when he arrived. But then the moped struggled and I could concentrate on my own race. Vogel lost air in the front wheel by going too fast in a turn. It was a special feeling with two other Swiss guys at the front. It's a nice way to finish the World Cup-season."
Vogel was full of praise for his team mate's assitance. "It was my plan to show that my Fort William result was no lucky strike. I worked for this, and I hoped for it since I was starting to ride as 14 year old boy. What Nino has done, I will never forget. Without his help second place would not have been possible. It was generous."
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