Posted by Editoress on 06/15/13
Val di Sole, in the northeast Trentino region of Italy, is renown for steep climbs, technical singletrack and hot, humid conditions at the Mountain Bike World Cup. This year was no different for the Cross-country races on Saturday, in round three of the series. Riders that went out hard early in the races were fading by the halfway point. The leaders in the World Cup extended their leads in the Elite men's and women's series, and World champion Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) and Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools) now hold commanding leads in the overall standings at the halfway mark of the 2013 World Cup series. Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) had the top Canadian result of the day, finishing third in Elite women, followed by Catharine Pendrel (Luna) in sixth.
In the Elite women's six lap race, defending World Cup overall champion Catharine Pendrel blazed off the front, opening a 15 second gap on Zakelj, Katerina Nash (Luna) and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida). However, by the second lap the other three had caught her, and the Canadian faded to eventually finish sixth.
"The first lap was awesome," explained Pendrel. "I was feeling really strong, and I got a gap, but I guess the heat got to me."
[Note: We have an interview with Catharine HERE]
Zakelj and Nash had dropped Dahle Flesjaa and Pendrel by the end of lap three, and the pair rode together at the front for a lap before Nash attacked. The Czech rider carved out a slim eight second lead, which she held into the final lap, but then also faded in the final half lap to finish 20 seconds down on Zakelj. Emily Batty (Trek World Racing), moving up steadily all race, moved into third on the fourth lap, and held it to the line.
"Finally back on the podium!," exulted Batty. "I started a little slower in the first half of the race, because this course is one of the hardest, and you have to pace yourself. This is a good way to finish off the first half of the season."
[Note: We have an interview with Emily HERE]
Zakelj, who in Nove Mesto became the first ever Elite World Cup winner, stated "This course fits me well. Yes, I suffered so much; the uphills are very steep, but I am very fit now. I have my fan club here and from this race I have great memories. I always do great here."
"I didn't expect to win again, because there are so many strong girls, but of course I was ready to win. After Katerina [Nash] was in front on the last lap, I was prepared for second place, so I was surprised when I caught her again. Now I have the mental feeling that I am at the top so I am always ready to win."
Zakelj now leads the overall standings with 650 points, followed by Maja Wloszczowska (Giant Pro XC) at 490 and round one winner Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol) with 470 points.
In the men's race, two riders didn't appear to be bothered by the weather, with Schurter and Julien Absalon (BMC) attacking the rest of the field on the first lap. Olympic champion and former Val di Sole winner Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing XC) managed to stay with the duo for one lap before having to slow to his own pace. The two perennial rivals steadily pulled away from the rest of the field, never gaining more than a bike length on each other as lap after lap went by.
Into the final lap the two were still neck and neck and, after more than 90 minutes of flat out racing, it came down to the final 200 metres and a sprint. Absalon initially tried to match Schurter, but fell back after 100 metres to finish three seconds down. Kulhavy held onto third, but was nearly two minutes behind the front two.
"It is awesome to win here again," commented Schurter. "It is a really tough course with the steep uphills. It was amazing to battle with Absalon. The last years I was always battling here for the win - once I won - once I got second. I felt pretty strong in the beginning, then I saw Absalon was as well really strong . I never knew if he was playing with me, or if his attack is coming soon. I would say we are nearly the same, I am [just] a bit stronger in the sprint. I am very happy about my victory."
Dan McConnell (Trek Factory Racing), the surprise winner of round one, showed that his win was not luck. Starting a little slower, in the high teens, the Australian steadily worked his way up the rankings, and by the start of the last lap was up to sixth. He was closing on the two Fluckiger brothers - Lukas (BMC) and Mathias (Stockli Pro Team), who were literally looking over their shoulders as he chased them down, finishing a scant four seconds back at the line.
Max Plaxton (Sho Air Cannondale), the Canadian champion, who began the race ranked fourth in the World Cup, had a strong start to the race moving into the battle for fourth on the first lap, had to drop out after three laps, suffering from stomach problems.
"I was hoping that I could push through it," commented Plaxton, "but one lap was all I had in me. I had to stop a couple of times and [throw up], but it didn't get any better. It's disappointing, but I know that I have the form."
Schurter now leads the men's standings with 570 points, followed by McConnell at 450 and Lukas Fluckiger with 440 points.
In the Under 23 races, the women saw their third winner in three rounds, with Yana Belomoyna (Superior Brentjens) taking the victory. Rebecca Henderson (Trek Factory Racing) continues to lead the overall standings after finishing second, with 230 points to Belomoyna's 210. The only Canadian in the race, Frederique Trudel (Team Canada) finished 13th in her first race at the Under 23 level.
In the men's race, Markus Schulte-Luenzum (Focus XC) took his second win of the season, and now wears the leader's jersey, with 180 points to round two winner Jens Schuermans' (Versluys) 168 points. Antoine Caron (Team Canada) was the top Canadian, finishing 15th.
In the Junior women's race, Rachel Pageau (Team Canada) finished tenth in her first European World Cup.