Posted by Editor on 05/25/03
St-Wendel World CupWorld Cup coverage sponsored byVélirium 2003
Christophe Sauser (Siemens Mobile Cannondale) won late and Gunn Rita Dahle (Merida) early as the World Cup opened today in St Wendel, Germany. Top North American finishers were Alison Dunlap (Luna) and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (RLX-Polo Sport), a distant 12th and 15th respectively. Canadian riders had an uncharacteristically off day, with Roland Green the top man in 19th and Alison Sydor the top woman in 15th place.
St Wendel, nestled among the rolling hills in the pictureseque Saarsland region, just south of the Mosel River, is a regular stop on the World Cup circuit, with 2003 marking the sixth year it has been included in the series. Christophe Sauser is a four time World Cup winner, but reserves high praise for St Wendel: "Here and Houffalize are the best to win, I think. Mentally this is a very hard race."
Leading up to the race there was considerable concern about the weather and the trail conditions. When it rained two days before the race, the 7.9 kilometre course became unrideable on the climbs and descents. It rained on Saturday morning, leading to more worrying by the riders, but the sun shone all day after that, drying things up considerably. Race day dawned with overcast, damp skies, but the rain held off, and the course was 100% rideable - albeit with sticky, strength-sapping mud in the woods.
Sydor led the charge out of the start loop and up the first paved climb of the women's 5 lap race, but once the riders hit the first steep technical climb, Dahle went to the front and rode the field off her wheel. Prior to the start, the Norwegian had admitted being nervous about starting the World Cup with the rainbow jersey. "I want to show that I am worthy of this jersey."
After such a dominant performance, everyone would agree that she is, indeed, 'worthy'. Dahle was 25 seconds clear of a chase group containing her team mates Sabine Spitz and Irina Kalentieva, Marga Fullana (Orbea) and Annabella Stropparo after 1 lap, with Sydor, Barb Blatter (Specialized), Laurent Leboucher, Alison Dunlap and Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher) a further 30-plus seconds in arrears. One lap later Elena Giacomuzzi was 32 seconds down, with Spitz and Kalentieva at a minute, Fullana at a minute and a half, and Blatter leading a small chase group containing Dunlap at 2:18. Chrissy Redden and Alison Sydor were in a second group at 2:35, with Marie-Helene Premont (Oryx) in the next group at 3:18
Giacomuzzi was replaced by Spitz and Kalentieva in the chase, steady at 90 seconds, but the rest of the field was now 3 minutes behind Dahle, who continued to pour on the pressure. By race end she was 2:33 in front of Spitz, 2:57 ahead of Kalentieva, and 3:25 in front of two late charging Polish riders - Maja Wlosczowska and Anna Szafraniec (both Lotto-Pzu S.A.).
"The race course was fine - sticky, but everything could be ridden. It was easy to make a mistake, and then you had to get off and run, so I was very focussed, very careful."
While the women's race was decided early, spectators needed a scorecard to keep track of what was going on in the men's 7 lap (plus start loop) event. Defending World Cup champion Filip Meirhaeghe, world champion Roland Green and German champion Lado Fumic led the field up the first climb, but there were still 15 riders in contention at the end of the first lap, with Sauser, Marco Bui, Jose Hermida (Bianchi-Motorex), Roel Paulissen (Siemens Mobile Cannondale), Bart Brentjens (T Mobile), Julien Absalon (Bianchi-Motorex), Seamus McGrath (Haro-Lee Dungarees) and, in a rare off-road appearance, Olympic champion Miguel Martinez (Full Dynamix), all in the fast front group. Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher) was feeling the effects of his multiple trans-Atlantic commutes, and dropped out after two laps.
One lap later, Meirhaeghe was out with a flat, but Thomas Frischknecht (Swiss Power) had moved up and the group was still doing sub-22 minute laps. Fumic was doing a lot of work at the front, as was Green and Bui, but Sauser was lurking.
"I was always trying to stay at the front group, and keep the pace high. I could see that when we were in the woods in the technical portions that I was one of the best riders today, and that if I was focussed and smooth I could be the strongest."
The front group was gradually shrinking, lap by lap, as the pace (which increased in laps three, four and five) took its toll. Brentjens was one of the first to go, then Frischknecht and McGrath. Martinez succumbed on lap 5, and on lap 6 Sauser made his move, exploding the remainder of the group.
"I went hard at the base of the first technical climb, and (Marek) Galinski (Orbea) was the only one to go with me. That was okay, because I wanted someone to work with on the flat sections. On the last lap I attacked again in the same place and was able to ride away."
Behind him, Bui, Fumic, Absalon and Cedric Ravanel (Orbea) managed to limit the damage, but the others went quickly backwards, including Green. The world champion, who was forced to dropped out of Big Bear last weekend, is still feeling the effects of the crash he suffered last month.
"It was better than last week, but I just haven't had any good training since Georgia. My shoulder is prettymuch healed up, and now I just need a couple of good weeks of training to get my endurance and intensity to where it needs to be."
Sauser cruised in for an 11 second victory over Galinski, who is fresh off an 11th place overall finish at the Peace Race - part of his training for the World Cup. Julien Absalon, who just moved up to the senior ranks from Espoir, dropped Fumic in the last half lap to take the third podium spot.
McGrath: "I had a good start, but I didn't have anything in my legs, the pace was just too hard for me. Every lap I just kept losing spots, so I almost don't feel that I was in the race."
Sydor: "I felt really good the first lap, and then I realized that I was going way too fast, and I had to start going at my own pace. It was a hard fought 15th place, that's for sure. I've seen this happen before - the year before the Olympics every one is very motivated and every UCI point is a hard fight.
Here I led into the woods, but I missed my line on the climb and had to run up. Gunn-Rita passed me then, and a few others. I could see Gunn-Rita was going so strong that I knew she would probably get it."
Redden: "It was really fast! I was able to ride the long climb every lap, and I got a good start. The first couple of laps were okay, but on the third I fell back a bit and was fighting to stay in the position I was. It is a really tough race because there is nowhere to rest on the course."
Premont: "At the end I was feeling better, but the start was so hard, so fast, that I had trouble keeping up with the pace. As I started to ride into the race I began to go better and was able to catch some people. My rear tire was not a good choice also - it was too narrow and slipped on the muddy climbs."
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