June 4/05 5:32 am - Willingen World Cup: Day 1 Report
Posted by Editoress on 06/4/05
MTB World Cup Willingen, Germany
Reports brought to with the support of Human Kinetics Publishers and Gestev
During training, riders were calling the course in Willingen boring, and not a mountain bike course. It also was considered to be the hardest course seen on the World Cup circuit this year, due to steep, long and loose gravel climbs. It certainly lived up to its reputation for difficulty and, while not very technical, ended up providing close and exciting racing. Both races were decided by less than a minute, with Gunn-Rita Dahle (Multivan Merida) taking up her third win of the season, and Christoph Sauser (Siemens Cannondale) his first. Sauser took over the lead in the men's overall standings from Julien Absalon (Bianchi Agos), while Dahle extended hers over Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects). Canada put three riders in top -10 of the women's race, with Premont third, Kiara Bisaro (GearsRacing.com) 8th and Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) 10th. Trish Sinclair (Scott) was 32nd. In the men's race, Canada's lone entrant, Max Plaxton (Maxxis) was 76th.
To observers it may have looked like yet another formulaic win by Dahle - ride away on the first lap and cruise in to the finish. According to the Olympic and world champion, it was anything but.
"I had to dig deep; I was pushing over my limit for the last two laps. My legs were about to explode."
While that may be true, Dahle's relentless pace was too much for the rest of the field on the first lap, and she opened up a 15 second gap on a chase group containing Premont, Sydor, Sabine Spitz (Specialized) and Irina Kalentieva (Multivan Merida), with Mary McConneloug (Kenda), Maja Wloszczowska (Lotto) and Annabella Stropparo coming up behind. Sydor dropped back to ride her own pace on the second lap, while the other three stayed within ten to fifteen seconds of each other until the fourth lap (of seven, including a half lap start loop), when Spitz gradually started to put the pressure on both the other chasers and Dahle.
"I started a little more slowly, because on the climb I had to go my own pace." explained the Specialized rider. "I saw that Premont would get a gap on the lower part of the climb, but I had to go my own cadence which was higher. Then I would pass her again before the top, on the steeper part."
The gap to Dahle went up over a minute, but then Spitz started to bring it back in the last two laps, down to 39 seconds at the line. Behind, Premont was conserving her energy, and launched an attack at the start of the last lap to drop Kalentieva for third, preserving her second place in the overall standings in front of Spitz. McConneloug continued her steady pace to gradually move into fifth, and record her second consecutive podium appearance.
Premont - "I had some problems at the start when my jersey got caught on my saddle, and I had to make up places to get to the front of the race. This race was very hard because of the climbing; it was so steep and so long. I had to just ride at my own pace, and save something for the last lap when I could attack Irina."
Bisaro - "I'm actually a little surprised at myself; I am not known for my climbing! My form is just coming around now after being sick during the winter, and this where I want to be for Nationals (next weekend) and Mont Ste Anne."
Last week in Houffalize, the seemingly invincible Julien Absalon show his first signs of vulnerability, when a stomach bug put him out of the top-15. Here, Absalon was back on-form, but no longer as dominant as the first two rounds.
A selection of the top riders was made by the first lap (of 8, plus a start loop), with Ralph Naef (Multivan Merida) pushing the pace a few seconds in front of Absalon, Sauser, Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Siemens Cannondale) and last week's winner Marco Bui (Full Dynamix).
Naefdropped back to the chasers, and lasted two laps before falling off the pace, reducing the race to five contenders. On lap four, the halfway point in the race, Sauser decided it was time to break things up. "When we came into the forest part I put the hammer down. I knew that Bui and myself were the strongest riders on the climb."
The pair blew apart the lead group. They quickly took 15 seconds on Hermida, with Kessiakoff at 20 seconds and Absalon appearing to struggle off the back. However, a lap and a half later Absalon was back in the race, charging by Hermida to close to within 9 seconds of the front pair with a little less than two laps to go. This was as close as he would get, and he gradually faded, while managing to hold on for third. On the second to last climb, Sauser dropped Bui for good, and soloed in for his first World Cup win of the season, and the chance to take over the leader's jersey from Absalon. Hermida stayed in fourth and Kessiakoff held off a late charge by Liam Killeen (Specialized) to take the final podium spot.
A couple of hours later the 4-Cross started. Unfortunately, it would not be completed. The start gate failed and, 30 minutes later, while the light was fading, the organizers were still working on it. The final deciding factor was when a cloudburst rolled in from the south and thoroughly soaked everyone with a cold rain. The organizers and UCI officials have just released a statement that the event will be finished tomorrow afternoon after the downhill.