Posted by Editoress on 03/10/18
The unbeatable Nino Schurter (Scott-SRAM) has finally been beaten in Mountain Bike World Cup racing after sweeping the 2017 series, with New Zealand's Sam Gaze (Specialized) outsprinting in him in Stellenbosch, South Africa, for the opening round of 2018. Leandre Bouchard (KMC-Ekoi-SR Suntour) was the top Canadian, in 36th place.
The Stellenbosch course was very dry and dusty; as might be expected from the ongoing water shortages the region is facing. This, coupled with the short, steep climbs and technical sections of the course, meant it was difficult to avoid mistakes, which could easily cost seconds.
Schurter came into the 2018 season with a perfect record for 2017 - world champion plus six out of six wins in the World Cup. However, he admitted pre-race that there were two riders he was concerned about - reigning Under-23 world champion Gaze and cyclo-cross star Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus), who had switched full time to mountain bike this season.
Gaze and Schurter went to the front on the opening lap of the men's race, followed by Maxime Marotte (Cannondale Factory), Anton Cooper (Trek Factory) and Henrique Avancini (Cannondale Factory). van der Poel had a poor start position - on the eighth row - but had an incredible first lap, rocketing up to fifth by the end of the lap.
Gaze and Schurter at the front
Schurter and Gaze were pushing the pace to keep clear of van der Poel and dropped the rest, with Marotte holding on to third, where he was joined by van der Poel. However, the Dutch rider had gone as high as he would go and would fade slightly in the final laps to finish fourth.
Meanwhile, Marotte kept yo-yoing behind the two leaders; just getting up to the front in time for one of them to surge, dropping the French champion again.
Gaze and Schurter were evenly matched through the race, with each responding to the others attacks on the short, steep climbs. Gaze took the front for the final two kilometres and attacked over a bridge in the last 200 metres, leading as they swept around the final corner onto the grass straightaway. He clearly had the lead, with Schurter on his wheel but unable to come around, and then Schurter pulled his left foot out of his pedal, ensuring the win for Gaze, his first ever Elite World Cup victory. Remarkably, Marotte had closed to within 10 metres of the two leaders for the final sprint and came across the line only two seconds back.
Sam Gaze wins the sprint
"It's a dream come true," said Gaze. "I grew up watching the sport, idolizing these guys. At London [2012 Olympics] I was watching Nino and Jaroslav [Kulhavy], so I had a dream that I could do it. It's a beautiful moment when you finally do it. I started to cramp with a lap and a half to go, and I was just showing a poker face and trying to be calm. As it got closer and closer to the finish, I knew I had to be in front to be sure that I had the line for the sprint, and I did it. I worked really hard last winter, I had a lot of personal and physical problems [with migraines] and I finally got them in check. You always hope, but when it becomes reality it's mind blowing."
"I'm a little bit disappointed," admitted Schurter, "I was really close. It was a tough race; first I was afraid about van der Poel and had to work quite a bit to make sure he didn't get to the front and at the end I didn't really have the solution for Sam. In the sprint it was unlucky; I was surprised that I was able to keep up with him, but then I unclipped. It was bad luck for me but an amazing performance from Sam today. I knew he is a very powerful rider; he is probably the highest peak [power output] in the whole field, and I didn't have the solution for him today. He's a talented rider and he's going to be a hard one to beat."
Bouchard had a good start, riding in the top-25 for the first lap, before dropping back to the high-40s in Lap 2. He rode in that position for the middle laps of the race before recovering in the final two laps to move back up and finish 36th.
"My start was great," said Bouchard, "in the low twenties (22-23). I was calm and in control. From that point I was just barely slower than my group and losing few position but a massive pack of riders were just in front of me. In the race analysis, my ourth lap was my slowest but I kept accelerating the pace every lap from than point. Having less traffic helped. I went hard on the last lap to score my best time lap apart of the opening lap, but still lost two other spots to finish 36th."
"I managed my race very well and had clean ride; I only did 2-3 minor mistakes. I just need a bit more power to be at the fitness level I'm looking for. It's still early in the season so I'm looking for the next World Cups, and for sure the Commonwealth Games."
Peter Disera (Norco Factory), moving up this year to the Elite category from Under-23, moved up as high as the mid-30s by mid-race before fading slightly in the second half of the race to finish 45th. Other Canadian results include Andrew L'Esperance (Forward Racing) in 57th and Raphael Gagne (Silverback OMX) in 66th.
"Solid race for my first Elite World Cup," said Peter Disera. "I am pleased with the result although I was hoping for top-40. Had some great battles and rode with Dre [Leandre Bouchard] for a bit before a spill set me back - nothing crazy just washed out on a corner when setting up to pass a rider. Oops! Mid-race I felt like I was fading a bit. It didn't surprise me, I was racing pretty head down on a pace I would've been surprised to sustain. Although it was upsetting when the guys started to turn the screw on the last two laps and I was left in the dust."
Andrew L'Esperance said: "The Stellenbosch race course was amazing out there today, very challenging and the technical features were a blast to ride. After a less than perfect start I rode into some speed in the back half of the race and finished up strong. Happy with my early season performance and excited to do some fine tuning in preparation for World Cup #2 in Albstadt."
In the Under-23 men's race, Petter Fagerhaug of Norway and New Zealand's Ben Oliver swapped the lead for the first two laps before Fagerhaug pulled away to take the win. Neilo Perrin Ganier (Absolute Absalon) finished third. Quinto Disera (Norco Factory) was the top Canadian in 24th place, followed by Raphael Auclair (Pivot Cycles-OTE) in 40th, Felix Belhumeur (Pivot Cycles-OTE) in 47th and Marc-Andre Fortier (Pivot Cycles-OTE) in 51st.
"Top 25 - I'm happy with that," said Quinton Disera. "That is a result that I can work with. Realistically, coming from school and the trainer to here I am happy with that result. There are a few things that could've gone a little better thought. I got caught up on the steep climb off the start and bobbled around a bit losing some spots. Heading out on the last lap I put the hammer down and was really pleased with tying everything together for that top 25. More to come - after we finish school!"
|Return to Canadian Cyclist homepage | Back to Top|