September 4/05 3:10 am - MTB World Championships: Elite Men's And Women's XC Report
Posted by Editoress on 09/4/05
MTB World Championships Livigno IT
As the saying goes - "It was deja vu all over again!" Julien Absalon (France) and Gunn-Rita Dahle both repeated as world champions today in the elite cross-country races which close out the 2005 Mountain Bike World Championships in Livigno, Italy.
Gunn-Rita makes it look easy, and she hasn't offered any encouragement to her rivals for the future - announcing in the post-race press conference that she intends to keep racing until the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where she will defend the gold medal.
The women faced two and a half laps of the 12.1 kilometre circuit, starting with a short half loop of the figure eight course and then two full laps. Three time world champion Alison Sydor (Canada) led the charge up the first climb, closely followed by Dahle, Marie-Helene Premont (Canada), Poland's Maja Wloszczowska, Petra Henzi (Switzerland) and Sabine Spitz (Germany). Four kilometres later, at the end of the first loop, Dahle already had 35 seconds on Wloszczowska, with the rest of the field falling further behind.
Dahle appeared to go into cruise control, although she still recorded the fastest laps every lap of the race. Wloszczowska rode consistently in second place, managing to hold the gap to just over two minutes. Behind the front two there was a shuffle going on, with Petra Henzi moving up from sixth after the first short lap to third by the end of the first full lap. Premont fell back, explaining that the course did not suit her talents.
"I am not as strong on the flat sections as some other riders, and this race much more flat pieces than normal, so it was very tough for me. I could make up time on Petra (Henzi) on the climbs, but she was much stronger than me on the flat parts."
Premont was fighting to hold off Sabine Spitz for fourth, while Sydor was chasing the German for fifth. At the end of the first full lap, Spitz was only seven seconds behind Premont, but began to fade in the final lap. Sydor was picking up the pace behind, managing to move from 1:07 back to only 22 seconds in arrears by the finish line.
"I felt really good at the start, and I wanted to ride conservatively in the early part because it is tough at this altitude (1800 metres). I wanted to save my energy for the last lap, but I lost too much time to make up at the end. Sixth place isn't too bad on this tough course."
Dahle may have made it look easy, but she was fighting tears on the podium. After winning the Marathon Worlds in Lillehammer, the European Championships and now her third cross-country world title all in one year, the Norwegian isn't blasÃ© about this latest title.
"Achieving another rainbow jersey makes this a perfect day for me. It is still unbelievable for me to win a rainbow jersey. Today, I think I had my best race of the year. Everything came down on me at the podium, with all my family there it was an unbelievable moment."
- Wloszczowska won her fourth silver medal, but had no complaints. "Another silver - I like my silvers! As a Junior I had a silver, and last year a silver in Les Gets, but this year I did not expect silver. I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
She also spoke about the strength of the Polish women's team: "I think the main thing is our great coach, Andrej Piatek. All of the riders (for the national team) are on the same (professional) team; coaching and riding together 200 days a year. So the strength is the coach and the team."
- Dahle also spoke of the difference between winning the Marathon world title in her home country, and the cross-country title. "It is very hard to compare. Winning a world title in Norway was beyond a dream; we didn't know a year ago that we would have the world championship. On the other side, my sport is cross-country, and the stature of being world champion is special. I intend to wear the jersey and race all over the world representing our sport of mountain biking.
Now I think I am a complete rider, so I can win both, but the competition is getting higher (in the Marathon); the time was close in Lillehammer. I think it will become harder and harder for cross-country riders to beat the marathon specialists, especially now that they have their own World Cup series."
- These Worlds saw the breaking of two Canadian records. It is the first year since 1997 that Canada has been shut out of the medals in the elite cross-country, and it is the first year since 1991 that Alison Sydor has finished outside of the top five at a world championships (a 14 year record of consistency that may never be broken). Sydor was philosophical about her record being broken: "Sixth place isn't too bad on this tough course. Now I have a record of never lower than sixth!" Canada's other top rider, Kiara Bisaro, had to drop out after suffering a broken derailleur.
While Julien Absalon may have defended his title like Gunn-Rita Dahle, he had a much tougher battle. The three and a half lap race saw attacks and counterattacks, with both Absalon and silver medallist Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) suffering flats.
Marco Bui (Italy), racing in front of a partisan crowd, got off to one of his patented fast starts in the first half lap, stringing the field out. Absalon, Sauser, Fredrik Kessiakoff (Sweden) and Ralph Naf (Switzerland) led the chase, with Jose Hermida (Spain), Hector Paez (Colombia), Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland) and Geoff Kabush (Canada) in the next chase group.
Bui blew after the first full lap, and Naf succumbed to a broken chain and a flat tire - one of a number, including Kabush, Adam Craig (USA) and a late surging Seamus McGrath, who managed to move up to as high as tenth before puncturing in the final lap.
At the front, the lead group coalesced on the first full lap into Absalon, Sauser, Naf, Kessiakoff and Hermida. Hermida revealed that he made a tactical error during the race, which could have cost him one or two spots on the podium.
"It was really tough out there, a long and strategic race."
"The whole time there were attacks by the strongest - Susy (Sauser) and Julien. My mistake was to stay last in the group, so when they attacked in the single track I was blocked. I couldn't pass until the wider path, and they (Naf and Kessiakoff) wouldn't work. I had to do the work - I tried to motivate them: 'tomorrow is not a race, this is the day', but they wouldn't do anything. On the last lap I started to attack alone, and Kessiakoff was dropped (Naf had fallen back with a flat). I heard that Susy was in front with a flat, but I could not do it.
I can be proud of my race I think - I pushed, I attacked, I played my cards. When you do that you can sleep at night."
While Hermida was chasing, both Sauser and Absalon were having problems. Both flatted and received new wheels in the technical zone, but Sauser felt that he made a tactical error which cost him the title.
"I cornered too hard, and lost some pressure in my wheel - not completely flat but slower, harder to ride. I should have taken (the time) to use a CO2 cartridge in the first zone, but I decided to tell the team, so that they could have it all prepared at the next zone. But this slowed me down a lot to get to the next zone and I lost concentration, and when I got there I saw Julien just pulling out and realized he had a mechanical problem also. I had a long time to replace my wheel because of the disc (brake) - I'm lucky jose (Hermida) didn't catch me. If I had taken the cartridge (earlier) I think I would be world champion now."
Absalon's difficulties extended beyond his flat. "I had a rear flat on the second lap and I didn't realize it right away. After my wheel change I took a bath in the river after I fell off the bank! then I started to get cramps, so it took great concentration to continue to the end."
Absalon's winning margin was a slim 18 seconds, and Hermida was only a further 36 seconds behind Sauser, so the race could have easily turned out differently.
- Absalon took a different program for the year to build up for the Worlds, skipping the World Cup races after #4. "I like to have a main goal each year to motivate me, last year it was the Olympics and this year the world championships. After Houffalize (World Cup) I had a break and then prepared for Livigno. I realized that it would be a fight, because my rivals, like Sauser, Hermida and Bui would be very strong, but at the same time I had to measure my strength to save energy to the end"
He also commented on the fact that he likes to race from the front. "I have a problem if I am not leading, it is true. I feel more confident if I am alone and in front, and the others have to chase me."
- Sauser and Absalon both spoke in the press conference about being the World Cup champion versus World Champion:
Sauser: "I would like to be world champion more than World Cup leader. The World Cup is cool because it is all year long, but for the Worlds everything has to come together for two hours. We (riders) probably spend six months thinking about this day. It is such a big step, second to first, to get the bloody jersey, but I have had such bad luck. But, like the World Cup, which took me a long time to win overall after seconds, thirds, so it will happen also with the world championship."
Absalon: "It is true that in the World Cup you need to be very regular all season and you have to adapt for all of the different tracks. It is very different for the world championships, you have to have everything come together for one day. I prefer this one day.'
- As mentioned above, both McGrath and Kabush suffered flats. Both were still happy with their races.
Geoff Kabush - "I rode the race I wanted. My plan was to make it through the first chicane in good position and then settle in to ride my own race. On the last lap I had to stop and refill my tires because they were going down slowly. The course wasn't really suited to me - I need more roots and rocks. I was hoping for top-ten, but 14th is one better than last year."
Seamus McGrath - "It was a good race. A poor start (position) made the first lap brutal, I was constantly fighting my way up, it was hell. I stuck with it, though, and was moving up into tenth, I think, and then I had a flat in the last half lap. I had to stop and refill it a couple of times, so I lost a bunch of spots."
Kabush lives in Albuquerque at 6000 feet, so the altitude didn't bother him, while McGrath stayed low, only coming up to Livigno to train and race.