Posted by Editor on 09/7/03
It is the last day of the 2003 Worlds, and time for the marquee event - the Elite Men's and Women's cross-country races. The women will do 6 laps, and the men 8, meaning we are certainly in for races of attrition. This has made it very difficult for the media (in their infinite wisdom and deep knowledge...) to come to a clear concensus on who the favourites are - other than Gunn-Rita Dahle for the women's title.
In the men's race, riders such as Roland Green and Ryder Hesjedal would certainly have preferred a long offroad climb, rather than the short paved one in the course. Current prognostications point towards Julien Absalon (France), Christoph Sauser (Switzerland), Filip Meirhaeghe (Belgium) and Roel Paulissen (Belgium) and Jose Hermida (Spain). Also Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland), the course designer, is expected to do well. It is a power course, with many of the technical sections better for running than riding, which favours the 'cross riders. A dark horse candidate for a podium position is Geoff Kabush, who comes on strong in the latter portion of long races - although he will have to deal with starting on the third row.
In the women's field, Sabine Spitz (Germany) would normally ranked highly, but she is coming off sickness, and so is questionable. Barbara Blatter (Switzerland) rode well in the Team Relay, and undoubtedly will get a strong boost from the local crowd. Marie-Helene Premont, Canadian national champion, is not a strong technical specialist, so even though she is one of the only riders this season to come close to challenging Dahle, she is not a favourite. The same can be said for the reclusive Marga Fullana (Spain). The technical side of the course favours Alison Sydor and Chrissy Redden, but will they be able to maintain the fast pace that seems to be required for the starts this year?
Chrissy Redden says "the technical side will be really, really important when we get into the last two laps, because as you get tired, you can start to make a lot of mistakes, and they will really hurt on this course. I think this is going to be a hard, hard race.
It looks to be a perfect day for weather, and we are now about one hour to the start of the women's race.
In other news:
- I spoke with a UCI official, who said that the plan is to make the Marathon a separate world championship event, in a different location and time from the current one (which will stay in its current format and date). The plan is to make it approximately one month earlier, and already there are interested countries. This event seems tailor-made for Canada, requiring a long single loop through the wilderness. Something like Cheakamus, or the region outside Quebec City or Bromont would be perfect. This year the event attracted nearly 1000 participants. Canadian organizers should start their enquiries now, before the next few years get snapped up by Europeans. My contact also confirmed that there is a good chance that the Team Relay will be dropped in the future (it is only run at the Worlds and European championships at this point).
- Les Gets, France hosts the Worlds next year, September 2-7. The courses will be similar to last year's World Cup Final - won by Ryder Hesjedal in the men's XC.
Greg Minnaar gave South Africa its first world title in any cycling discipline, with his win in the elite men's category of the downhill yesterday. Riding third from last, he knocked 1.33 seconds off the time of Frenchman Fabien Barel, who had been in the Hot seat for nearly one hour. David Lopez Vasquez came down next, but could only manage a time good enough for 7th place, and then everyone ahd to wait for the fastest rider in qualifying, Mickael Pascal (France). But Minnaar was watching the clock closely, and realized just before the Pascal crossed the line less than a second in arrears that the title was his, leaping into the air and dancing around the finishing area.
"I didn't know quite what to think (before the start). I had the pace to win in practice, I just had to be confident that I could put it together in the final. It was my coach, Stefan, who calmed me down at the top of the mountain, so that I could have a good ride.
I was worried about the track getting rough, and thought that maybe some of the earlier riders would have an advantage. the corners were blown out, and the braking bumps were really big by the time I went down. But we changed the setup of the bike for this course because of the steep incline. We shortened the back end and stiffened up the fork as well."
Anne-Caroline Chausson showed that her layoff (due to a kitchen accident that severed tendons and nerves in her hand) has not slowed her much, if any, taking her 13th world title in the women's event. Finishing nearly twelve and a half seconds in front of countrywomen Sabrina Jonnier, Chausson said afterwards that the injury was less of a problem then her time off the bike.
"My hand is okay, even though I still have no sensation in it. It is mainly my upper body that is a problem because I do not have the strength, since I didn't ride for two months. But the course was very technical and steep, and I improved (over training) in the short turns and sections in the forest where you gain lose or gain time."
Chausson also confirmed that she will be back for next year's Worlds in Les Gets, France, and that she is not yet tired of winning world titles. She also provided her take on why the French are so good in downhill (they took 5 of 6 medals in the elite categories, with a sweep in the women's event, plus the Junior Women's title and a bronze in the Junior Men's). "Our red wine is surely the secret of the French victory"
- The course was said by many to be the steepest ever used for world competition, and was without many of the jumps loved by the fans. If it had rained there would have potentially been big problems - it did rain on the course last year for a Swiss Cup, and they had to shorten the course considerably.
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