Posted by Editor on 06/10/07
Round three of the cross-country Mountain Bike World Cup, Champery, Switzerland, saw Marga Fullana (Spiuk-Tau Ceramica) don the leader's jersey in the women's category after an impressive race-long ride from the front. In the men's race had three Swiss riders on the podium, but it was still World Cup leader Julien Absalon (Orbea) of France who took the win after a battle with Christoph Sauser (Specialized).
The women's race was wide open, with the absence of perennial favourite Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) who has cut her season short to return to Norway and seek medical advice on persistent stomach problems.
The technical nature of the course made round two winner Irina Kalentyeva (Topeak-Ergon) and Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) the favourites, but it was Fullana who prevailed after 36.5 kilometres (6 laps plus a start loop).
The Spanish rider had her patented fast start up the first climb, but this time was not caught by the technical riders in the following singletrack, rooted descent. The difference? "I know that I am not so good in the technical parts, so last winter we worked very hard to improve in this area."
It obviously worked, with Fullana cruising in 19 seconds ahead of Kalentyeva and 1:10 in front of Premont. World Cup leader Ren Chengyuan struggled in the early going, dropping as far back as the high 40s, before recovering to finish 14th.
As Fullana attacked, a chase organized behind, with Kalentyeva, Premont and Sabine Spitz (Ghost international). Premont was struggling on the climb, and was dropped by the other two after the first lap. "I woke up with a headache, from the altitude I think, but it was more that this climb was too steep for me. I like climbs, but the speed was very fast on the first laps and I overpaced myself. Then I made a mistake in the roots and they (Kalentyeva and Spitz) got a gap on me."
Premont recovered in the second half of the race to move back up and finish third.
On the third lap Kalentyeva gapped Spitz to chase on her own after Fullana, who was now nearly a minute up. She steadily pulled back time every lap to come close to catching the Spaniard. Spitz was having her own difficulties with the course, crashing in the third lap on the descent after a camera flash went off in her face, and being passed by Premont on the climb on lap four.
The final podium spot looked to be locked up by German Ivonne Kraft. She had ridden consistently all race in fifth, although Americans Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven) and Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher), and Austrian Elisabeth Osl (Tonis) were starting to breathe down her neck. McConneloug came with 15 seconds of Kraft when cramps hit on lap five, then Koerber and Osl were within sight on the last lap, when Kraft suffered a very inopportune flat.
Koerber and Osl took over the battle for fifth, with the American getting to the front before the final descent and then opening a gap on Osl, to take her first ever European World Cup podium.
"Last race (in Offenburg, GermanY) I thought the race was shorter than it was and i ran out of energy. this time I thought it was longer, so I had double extra energy! When they (leaders) went away I was trying not to panic, and just ride my own pace; just to be me, do my ride and let it come back to me. On the last lap we could see we were gaining, and then saw her (Kraft) stop. I attacked on the last little paved bit of the climb and got into the downhill first, and that was it."
- The World Cup lead is still tight, with Fullana at 560 points, Kalentyeva at 514 and Premont at 490. The advantage has to be to Premont, with the next two events in Canada, both circuits she has won on, including two World Cup wins at her home course in Mont Ste Anne, Quebec.
- Other Canadian riders besides Premont also had very strong rides, with Kiara Bisaro (Opus) riding up into the top-10 before dropping a place in the last lap to finish 11th, and Catherine Pendrel (Norco) moving up from 58th on the start line to 13th. Sandra Walter (XO-Felt) finished 24th.
"That was really good," said Pendrel. "I moved up the entire race. It was hard to pass on the climb, because it was so steep, but by the end of the first lap I was up to 37th, and I just kept gaining places. This will move me into top-40 (actually 32nd) for Mont Ste Anne."
Bisaro wasn't quite as happy with her ride, "I got boxed in (at the start), and the traction wasn't so good. So by the (first downhill) the leaders had a gap, and that was it. But today I just didn't have it, my legs were cramping by the end of the race ... it was just one of those days."
- Ren Chengyuan's surprisingly slow start was "a bad day" according to the team manager. "No, there were no mechanical problems, she was just not so good today. Maybe it was the altitude a little bit." Ren takes over the U23 World Cup leader's jersey.
For the men's eight lap (plus start loop) race the Swiss came out swinging - at one point, seven of the top-10 riders were Swiss, led by U23 World Cup leader and world champion Nino Schurter (Swisspower). A group consisting of Schurter, Sauser, Absalon and Roel Paulissen (Vredestein-Cannondale) established the lead group, with Schurter and Sauser setting the pace.
Just behind, Schurter's team mates - Florian Vogel and Thomas Frischknecht - were riding with Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), Ralph Naef (Multivan Merida) and Cedric Ravanel (Lapierre).
On lap two it began to rain, and for both Absalon and Sauser this changed the race dynamics completely. "I was pleased when it started raining," admitted Absalon. I could see that I was stronger on the climbing parts, but the Swiss riders were better in the descents. When it began to rain that made it so slippery that they could no longer go so fast in the technical parts."
Sauser had exactly the opposite view: "when the rain came I was thinking &^$#%^! It changes things a lot and you had to ride like you were on eggs. I knew it would be better for him, but then everything has to be perfect to win against Julien."
The rain stopped on lap four, and by that time Absalon and Sauser had a one minute lead on Schurter and Paulissen, with Naef a further minute back. Sauser tried an attack on lap six, but Absalon was able to come back, and then on the seventh lap Absalon launched his own attack. Sauser was able to come back, but then made a rare mistake in the downhill - "it was a stupid mistake, I got my pedal stuck in a root" - which allowed Absalon to open up the winning gap, which he extended to 50 seconds by the finish.
Schurter dropped Paulissen on lap seven to take third, with Naef finishing off an impressive ride up from 35th on the start line for fifth, behind Paulissen. American Adam Craig (Giant) had what was probably the most impressive ride of the race to finish 10th, after starting 63rd.
"What can I say; 'It's June, this is when I get in shape' " commented Craig. "I was able to move up pretty quick initially - this course is a lot like the local race series in Bangor, Maine, so it was just like racing on home turf."
- Absalon now has a substantial lead over Sauser in the World Cup - 700 points to 490, with Hermida 10 points behind Sauser.
- Canadian men had mixed results, with Seamus McGrath (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) showing that he is recovered from his health problems by finishing 24th (after starting 69th). Max Plaxton (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) rode with McGrath for the first couple of laps before leg cramps hit and he pulled out with a lap remaining. Kris Sneddon (Kona) DNF'd after breaking his chain early in the race.
"I had to extend myself pretty hard to move up at the beginning," said McGrath. "but then I was able to settle into my race pace and ride my own rhythm. I'm definitely back to normal, and pretty happy with this result; now I will have a better start for Mont Ste Anne (55th). I'm looking forward to the rest of the season."
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