Posted by Editoress on 09/14/08
Schladming World Cup Final Austria
In many ways, Sunday's cross-country World Cup Final in Schladming, Austria was anti-climactic, since Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain) had already sewn up the overall titles. Despite the lack of a battle for the overall titles, there were still lots of riders looking for a final good result before the end of the season.
For men's winner Christoph Sauser (Specialized), it was a chance at redemption, after an injury dashed his Olympic hopes, and for Olympic silver medalist Maja Wloszczowska (Halls) it was a first ever World Cup win to finish off her best year ever.
The 5.3 kilometre was dominated by steep climbs and a final steep descent into the finish. In the women's race - shortened to five laps at the last minute - this favoured world champion Marga Fullana (Massi), who did not disappoint by attacking on the first lap.
The Spanish rider opened a gap on the first climb, but was brought back at the end of the lap by a group containing Premont, Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) and Rosara Joseph (Ghost International). Within a minute were Katerina Nash (Luna), Wloszczowska, Olympic champion Sabine Spitz (Central Ghost), World Cup number two Catharine Pendrel (Luna), Elisabeth Osl (Ghost), U23 World Cup leader Tereza Hurikova (Cesnka Sporitelna) and Georgia Gould (Luna).
Wloszczowska, Pendrel and Spitz had all been delayed by traffic bottlenecks, but were moving up quickly in lap two. Pendrel stalled in eighth place, where she stayed for the rest of the race, as did Spitz in fifth. However, Wloszczowska joined Kalentieva and Premont in the chase after Fullana on lap two, and then Premont was dropped by the other two on lap three, as she struggled with the running on the steepest sections of the climb.
It appeared that Fullana had the race won by the start of the last lap, holding a 25 second lead on Wloszczowska and Kalentieva but, in a complete reversal, the Polish rider appeared first on the descent into the finish, followed by Kalentieva and Premont, with Fullana eventually rolling in fourth.
Fullana was stricken with cramps, paving the way for the first Polish World Cup win by a very delighted Wloszczowska. "Before the last lap, I did not think it was possible," admitted Wloszczowska "but I could see that she was going very slowly on the last climb and I was able to pass her. For certain, this is a very big victory, and with the Olympic medal makes this my best year ever."
For the Canadians Premont and Pendrel it ends a remarkable year, with 1-2 overall standings in the World Cup, two wins for Premont and one for Pendrel. Premont also accomplished the impressive feat of finishing in the top three in every World Cup she entered (missing only Canberra, Australia), and Pendrel was the only woman to compete at every World Cup.
"Yes, this is one of my best years ever," agreed Premont. "Even though I had a problem at the Olympics (where she dropped out on the second lap), all of my other races were very strong, and to win the World Cup was one of my big goals for this year."
For Pendrel, it is the end of a breakthrough season, where she gained her first podium at a World Cup, won a World Cup, finished second overall and fourth at the Olympics.
"This year everything came together, " she commented. "I know that I am up at the front, and that these girls are no longer faster than me. Today's result (eighth) isn't necessarily how I wanted to finish the year, but it got the job done, so I'm satisfied."
(Note: We have video interviews with both Catharine and Marie-Helene, which will go online when our editor gets back from Austria tomorrow)
The men's eight lap race became one of attrition. Four riders went away early in the second lap on the climb - Sauser, Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), Roel Paulissen (Cannondale-Vredestein) and Adam Craig (Giant). 15 seconds back was a chase group with Geoff Kabush (Maxxis), Florian Vogel (Swisspower), Ivan Alvarez (Giant Italia), Lukas Fluckiger (Athleticum) and Todd Wells (GT). Absalon was well back, and eventually dropped out on the sixth lap.
The front group was working well together, but on the third lap disaster struck for Paulissen. Coming off a bridge, last in the group, he crashed heavily, tumbling off the ramp into a ditch. Initially, it was thought that he had broken his collarbone, and he was carried out on a stretcher, but the latest word is a concussion and lots of bruises, but no broken bones.
Alvarez made the jump across to the lead group late in lap three, taking them back to four at the front, but this was only temporary, since Craig came off on the next climb and began to fade, eventually dropping back to finish eighth.
The front three were set, with Alvarez dropped by Sauser and Hermida on lap seven but holding on for third, and Sauser attacking late in lap seven to drop Hermida and solo in for the win.
"It has been a weird year," commented Sauser. "I had the biggest win of my career with the world championships, then lost the Marathon title because of the UCI (he was disqualified after he and Roel Paulissen crashed in a sprint finish), and was injured before the Olympics so my form was not the best and I could not win a medal. But here, I could tell that my form was back, and I was riding at my best. So, it is a bittersweet win."
Behind, there was a battle for the remaining podium spots and World Cup overall positions. Kabush came into the race second overall, tied on points with Sauser. Hermida started the day 81 points behind Kabush, so Kabush needed to keep the Spanish rider close to hold on for third place in the overall standings.
Initially, he seemed to have it in control, moving up to join Fluckiger in a battle for fourth, but then flatted late in the fifth lap. That dropped him back to the mid-teens and, although he recovered a few places to finish 12th, it meant that Hermida was able to jump over him for third (from fifth) in the overall behind Absalon and Sauser, to take the final World Cup trophy.
"The flat was on the downhill; it was a slash in the tire. But the real problem, I think, was that we had mud tires in the pit, and they were a lot slower, noticeably slower, so I couldn't make it back up to the place I needed to be. It is really too bad, because I was feeling good, and I could see that Lukas (Fluckiger) was laboured in his breathing when I caught him. Fourth is good; I would have said really good at the beginning of the year, but I know now that I could have finished higher."
- Burry Stander (GT) took the U23 World Cup title for the men, as well as finishing fifth in the overall World Cup, while Tereza Hurikova (Ceska Sporitelna) took the U23 women's title.
- This is the time of year when team and rider shuffles begin to firm up. Most of the following is still unconfirmed at this point, but it looks like these are some of the changes that will be seen for next year:
Todd Wells and Burry Stander leave GT for Specialized, while Liam Killeen moves from Specialized to Trek under an expanded program run by former Honda team director Martin Whitely. Also going to Trek is downhiller World Cup champion Greg Minnaar, from Santa Cruz Syndicate. Downhiller Sam Hill is expected to move from Monster Energy to Specialized.
Cannondale-Vredestein will split into two teams, a Cannondale Factory Team with Roel Paulissen, and a Vredestein-Focus team (a smaller European squad, working with Focus bikes). Kashi Leuchs will go to a Felt Bikes team. Ralph Naf, Jose Hermida, Moritz Milatz and Robert Gehbauer have all re-signed for two years with Multivan Merida, but Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa has not (although she is expected to do so).
Premont is leaning heavily towards a return to racing in 2009, although she said this weekend "I have to discuss it in the next couple of weeks with my boyfriend and family". If she does return, it is likely to be a combined Maxxis and Rocky Mountain team, which Geoff Kabush will race for also.
Irina Kalentieva has re-signed for two years with Topeak Ergon, Absalon will stay with Orbea, and Spitz will continue to ride on her own program sponsored by Central-Ghost (Central is an insurance company).
Still searching for a team are the Fluckiger brothers (Lukas and Matthias), whose Athleticum team stops this year. They were close to an agreement with Alb-Gold, until Peter Riis Andersen was caught in a doping positive, and the sponsors pulled the plug. Current speculation is that the Fluckigers may go to Vredestein.
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