Posted by Editoress on 09/5/03
Canadian riders put in good solid performances today at the Mountain Bike Worlds, with Max Plaxton finishing fifth in the Junior Men's race, and Ricky Federau 12th in the Espoir race. Host Switzerland continues to be the powerhouse country of the week, with a silver in the Junior Men's race, and the World title in the Espoir event. They also have a silver in the Team Relay, and Thomas Frischknecht took the inaugural Marathon world title last Sunday.
Plaxton, the Canadian national champion, was among the leaders in the early part of the 37.2 kilometre, six lap race, but backed off after tiring from the fast start. Dropping as low as seventh in the 84 rider field, the 18 year old made a surge in the final two laps, to finish seven minutes and 28 seconds behind Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic.
"I started a bit too fast, and paid for it by the third lap when people started catching me. I played it steady after that until the fifth lap, when I was able to turn up the pressure a bit. Top three was my goal here, but this really wasn't my course because there wasn't enough climbing, so I'm happy with top five. My arms are dead, and my back is killing me - I couldn't brake at the end because my hands were so cramped. This is definitely the hardest race of the year."
Kulhavy was dominant from the start, steadily carving out 30-plus seconds per lap on the chasers. Unlike many riders, he hopped off his bike and ran the more technical sections. He had a bit of a scare in the last lap, when his front tire developed a slow leak, but he was able to finish before the tire completely deflated. Behind, Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) had a lock on second until the fourth lap, when he suffered a mechanical problem. Initially he was able to keep going, dropping to 4th on the fifth lap, and abandoning before the last lap. Switzerland's Nino Schurter had moved into third by the third lap, and assumed the silver medal position when Fuglsang had problems, with Oleksandr Yakymenko (Ukraine) moving into the bronze medal spot. Guillaume Fabry (France) held down fourth, but Plaxton was catching him in the final lap, and possibly would have overtaken him if the race had been a couple of kilometres longer, he felt.
Jamie Lamb was the only other Canadian to finish on the same lap as the leaders, in 25th. "I gave it everything I had, but I'm still a little disappointed. I would have liked to finish in the teens. I got stuck behind a lot of people in the first lap and went into the singletrack in, like, 60th, and then i just kept moving up all race."
Federau started the 19-22 age group race well back, and rode up through the field to record his best ever finish in the event. Only 31 of 85 starters finished on the same lap as winner Balz Weber of Switzerland, with Federau coming in eight minutes and three seconds behind Weber for the 43.4 kilometre race, 7 lap race.
"Everyone at the start went mental up the climb, it was chaos. People were crashing into barricades and falling all over the course. I just paced myself, picking off guys every lap - it was awesome. I think this is probably my best ride ever. It is the kind of result I've been working for all season. I burned myself out in the spring with road racing, and then wasn't going so well during the summer, but the last 4 weeks and had really good training and came on well for the end of the season. I think I rode a perfect race."
At the front, a relatively unknown Ivan Alvarez of Spain took the lead, leaving favourites like Manuel Fumic (Germany), Liam Killeen (Great Britain) and Balz weber (Switzerland) wondering who he was, and could he keep the pace up?
Max Plaxton, who started his racing career in Spain, provided some background on the "unknown" setting the pace. it turns out that he was a strong junior who made a poor transition to Espoir in the first few years. However, it became quite apparent that that is no longer a problem.
Weber, Fumic and Killeen chased steadily, not making any impression until the fifth lap, when Alvarez finally began to slow.
"We were surprised to see Ivan at the front. We were all giving 100%, and he was still staying in front. it was only when I heard on the radio that he was slowing did I think we could catch him. If he hadn't slowed, we would not have caught him, I think."
Weber finally passed him late in the fifth lap, with Fumic just behind - it looked like everything was coming back together. Killeen had dropped back off the pace after being forced to stop for a flat, but managed to charge back into fourth by the end, ahead of Nicolas Filippi (France).
Fumic came within 11 seconds of Weber on the last lap, and everyone was expecting the German to take the lead. However, Weber dug deep and managed to open the gap back up to 37 seconds by the finish. Alvarez hung on for a well deserved third.
Kris Sneddon and Andrew Watson finished 27th and 30th respectively, the only Canadians besides Federau to avoid being lapped and pulled. Both riders were thinking about carding money during the race (riders in the top third of the field qualify). Sneddon made it, but Watson was just outside the cutoff by a couple of positions.
"I was in 84th (last) spot at the start." explained Watson. "There was a crash to the right of me, and everyone went left, and I got pinched. When I looked behind there was only the motorcycle left!. The carding was on my mind through the race, because it would help a lot, but I'm still pleased with how much I moved up by the end."
Paola Pezzo was wandering around incognitio, pushing her baby in a pram. I asked her if she was still thinking about Athens for next year. "Yes, I will consider it. I am going to be training very hard all winter, and we will see in the spring."
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