Posted by Editor on 05/27/07
Offenburg World Cup Germany
Coverage sponsored by Maxxis, and Vélirium
Photos: Men's XC, Women's XC
The cross-country Mountain Bike World Cup started up again on Sunday in Offenburg, Germany with round two after a one month break, and we saw rather different podiums for both the men and the women than at the opener in Houffalize, Belgium. The Chinese women, who had put two riders on the podium in Houffalize - with Chengyuan Ren taking the victory - were shut out in Offenburg, as Irina Kalentyeva (To Peak) took her first World Cup victory since 2004. On the men's side, Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) could not duplicate the masterful ride he had in Houffalize, and world champion Julien Absalon (Orbea) proved once again to be the class of the field with a dominating ride. Ren held onto her World Cup series lead over Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) by a slim 10 points, while Absalon took a commanding 90 point lead in the men's series over Hermida.
Pre-race, the threatened rain had not materialized, although the skies were overcast and damp, and the temperature had dropped over 12 degrees (Celcius) from the day before. The women headed out for two start loops and then six laps of the 5.7 kilometre circuit and, for the first three laps, conditions remained dry and the racing was fast. Sabine Spitz (Ghost) and Wang Jingjing (China National) set the early fast pace through the start loops.
The Chinese riders seemed to struggle a bit more on the technical circuit than they did in Houffalize, with Ren dropping back to 15th by the end of the first lap. At the front it was Spitz setting the pace, with Marga Fullana (Spiuk), Kalentyeva, Dahle Flesjaa and Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) the only riders able to stay with her.
Premont dropped back a few seconds from the others on the second lap when she tangled with Fullana. "I tried to pass her, and she pushed me into the trees where I bent my rear derailleur a little bit. I had to catch up, and my gears didn't work as well, so it took some time."
While Premont was working her way back up, Kalentyeva attacked on the third lap, just before the skies opened and it began to rain heavily. As everyone else began to slip and slide, and work their way down the steep descents cautiously, Kalentyeva was reveling in the wet conditions.
"I was really, really hoping for the rain" she revealed afterwards. "I like those conditions very much, and I was using some special Continental tires for the wet and mud."
The ToPeak team manager said that the tires were new prototypes, specifically for rain, and only Kalentyeva had access to them. Obviously, they were effective.
Spitz was leading the chase until lap four, when her chain broke and the German champion lost nearly five minutes repairing it, dropping her to 11th. Premont had caught the other chasers by this time, and took over second spot from Spitz, while Fullana and Dahle Flesjaa battled for third.
As Kalentyeva's lead approached two minutes at the end of lap five, Premont began picking up the pace, pulling back 30 seconds in the final lap. Dahle Flesjaa and Fullana had a rather unusual slow speed sprint to the line through the mud, with the world champion winning by less than a tire width. Spitz worked her way up in the final lap to take the fifth and final podium spot. Ren recovered from her early lap troubles to finish seventh and retain the leader's jersey.
American Willow Koerber (Subaru Gary Fisher) was ninth, and Canada's Kiara Bisaro (Opus) 10th. Koerber was in sixth place at the end of lap five, but had miscalculated the number of laps, thinking that she had finished a lap early. "I went so hard in what I thought was the final lap that it was really hard to get going again for another lap."
The men's race started in the rain, and officials wisely decided on the line to shorten the race by a lap to one start loop and 7 laps. Out of the start loop it was Roel Paulissen (Cannondale-Vredestein) in the lead, with world number one ranked Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) of Canada well positioned in fifth. Unfortunately for Kabush, the first of a series of mishaps took place on the third corner in the race, when he slid out, losing over 20 places. He would eventually finish 51st, after multiple stops in the tech zones to replace his seat and seatpost, and falling as far back as the high 70's.
Absalon, Hermida, Fredrik Kessiakoff (Cannondale-Vredestein), Kashi Leuchs (Cannondale-Vredestein), Roel Paulissen (Cannondale-Vredestein), Nino Schurter (Swisspower), Florian Vogel (Swisspower) and Christoph Sauser (Specialized) made up the front group, but it was soon decimated by mechanicals and crashes.
Kessiakoff went out on lap one in a crash, while Vogel and Schurter were caught with broken rear derailleurs on lap four. Schurter managed to finish and retain his lead in the U23 World Cup standings. Paulissen gradually faded, and Hermida was the victim of chainsuck caused by mud; after which he never recaught the frontrunners.
Absalon took over the lead on lap two, and gradually rode away from the field, to eventually win by nearly three minutes under clearing skies for the second half of the race. Cedric Ravanel (Lapierre) steadily worked his way up to finish second, with Lukas Fluckiger (Athleticum) passing Jean-Christophe Peraud (Orbea) in the final lap to take third. Leuchs, having a superb ride that never saw him drop below seventh, took the final podium spot.
Absalon credited his win to "my condition and luck. I did my preparation to be good here at this race and for the next part of the season with all the World Cups. I got a gap on the first downhill, and then I tried to be safe. As the mud became sticky I took a bottle in each feed zone and cleaned the chain. It lost maybe 20 seconds, but I think it was very important and stopped me from having problems like some other riders."
- Todd Wells (GT) was the top North American rider, in 25th, one spot ahead of Max Plaxton (Rocky Mountain-Haywood), who came back from a mechanical to become the second U23 finisher. Plaxton moves to third in the U23 standings.
- Cyclo-cross star Sven Nys (Belgian National) moved up from a starting position of 142 to finish a very respectable 24th. Nys was as high as 13th in lap six before fading in the last lap.
- Despite the weather, an estimated 15,000 spectators jammed all the drops, buying bratwurst and beer at tents and listening to techno pop blasting out over loudspeakers. Organizers say that the UCI has already asked them to apply for a sanction for next year.
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