Posted by Editoress on 09/10/05
MTB World Cup Final Fort William, Scotland
The 2005 Mountain Bike World Cup is drawing to a conclusion. On Saturday it was the final races in the cross-country and 4-cross events. All four events turned out to be anti-climactic, in that the series winners were already known, but that did not mean poor racing, with two first time World Cup winners.
This was the easiest race to pick - world champion and World Cup leader Gunn-Rita Dahle (Multivan Merida) came into the final race with an insurmontable lead, and had won the Fort William race the previous two years. The real battle was expected to be for second, with Sabine Spitz (Specialized) leading Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain Business Objects) by a slim 40 points.
However, the battle never materialized, after Premont dropped out in the second lap (of four), a victim of food poisoning from some mussels she had ingested Thursday night.
"I was very sick all the next day after eating mussels on Thursday. I eat nothing, drank nothing (on Friday). So for the first lap I was okay, but after that I had nothing in my legs."
Spitz had wanted to put some distance on her rival, and had attacked on the first steep descent, with only Dahle able to match. Dahle then went to the front and rode Spitz off her wheel. But the damage was done: Spitz had a clear gap on third and, without Premont chasing, the other contenders seemed content to ride together.
"It was only 40 points" said Spitz, "so I knew that I had to have Marie-Helene as my main focus. I tried to set my own speed on the first climb, and was able to go into the descent first. Gunn-Rita was close at the bottom, and we had a gap so we worked together. She dropped me the next lap, but I was comfortable with my gap and felt that I could hold on for second."
Dahle made it look easy, but admitted to some difficulty motivating herself after winning the world title a week earlier. "I was probably mentally in as bad a way as the others; we were all worn out after Livigno. I spent the week in between focussing on resting and recovering, and then I said to myself 'This is the last day, you have to go hard'. Once I was riding I had a good day, I felt like I was flying."
While the front two spots were established, a group of initially four, and later five were fighting for the remaining podium spots. Petra Henzi (Fischer-BMC), Nina Gohl (Multivan Merida), Kiara Bisaro (GearsRacing.com) and Irina Kalentieva (Multivan Merida) rode steadily together, but could not make a dent in the gap to the front riders. Mary McConneloug (Kenda Seven) managed to bridge up shortly before the start of the final lap.
Kalentieva upped the speed in the final half lap and was able to drop the other riders, with Henzi and Gohl taking the final two podium spots.
The men's final standings were also decided, with Christoph Sauser (Siemens Cannondale) having a lock on the title. However, on the day there were a slew of contenders in addition to Sauser: world champion Julien Absalon (Bianchi Agos), Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), Freddie Kessiakoff (Siemens Cannondale) and Ralph Naef (Multivan Merida). All were riding strongly at Worlds, and were expected to be looking for a final win.
Kessiakoff took off early, building a lead to over a minute by the second lap of the five lap race. Behind, Absalon, Sauser, Hermida and Naef rode together in a small pack, seemingly unable to make a dent in Kessiakoff's lead. It took a crash by Absalon in the fourth lap to finally split up the chasers.
"Julien crashed on the steep downhill" explained Hermida, "and I crashed into him. So we lost the wheel of Sauser and Naef. We pushed hard to get back, but so did they. It was impossible to close."
Sauser and Naef, with Naef doing all the work, bridged up to a fading Kessiakoff, who was having trouble with leg cramps. The duo dropped Kessiakoff, and then Naef attacked on the last downhill and managed to hold off Sauser for his first World Cup victory.
"I had so much bad luck all season that I couldn't focus before the race, I was thinking about my broken chain at the Worlds" revealed Naef. "But, I think that it is better to give your best and lose than not make an effort. I was doing the work, Sauser was sitting on for his team mate (Kessiakoff). We caught him on the last uphill and then I attacked and got a small gap. Christoph came back to me but I sprinted from the front and was able to hold on for the win. This is the biggest in of my life."
Kessiakoff hung on for third, with Hermida dropping Absalon for fourth.
- Gunn-Rita Dahle says that the biggest event of her season is still to come - October 15th when she weds long-time partner Kenneth. The win was Dahle's 23 World Cup, so she is closing in on Julie Furtado's record of 28.
- Siemens Cannondale loses Siemens at the end of the season, but the team says that they expect to have a new title sponsor shortly.
- Mary McConneloug was well satisfied with her season: "Fifth, so I made the podium. I'm pleased. My goal was to get on the podium at a World Cup and I did it four times - all fifth, but it's a start."
- Kiara Bisaro will be staying in Europe to continue racing, and is going to try her hand at cyclo-cross, with the intention of racing the Nationals.
A huge number of spectators demonstrated that 4-cross and downhill are the first love of the Scottish fans. The short course meant that starts were important, and tight turns led to more than one crash. Recently crowned world champion Jill Kintner (USA) had one worry removed, when overall series rival Anneke Beerten (Specialized) could not start due to injuries received at the world championships. Kintner dominated the small eight rider field to win the event and take the World Cup title.
"The course was intense, there were so many possible lines so you had to watch carefully. Usually it is just the gate that is important, but here you had to maintain momentum into the first couple of corners."
Brian Lopes (GT Hyundai) was the favourite, and had already wrapped up the title, but he was beaten out in the final run after a clash with Guido Tschugg (Ger) in the first corner left an opening for L Nordmark (Norway) to take the first ever Norwegian 4-cross victory.
"It was a little bit anticlimactic after winning last week (at Worlds) and having title decided, but I still wanted to do good here. In the final it was a funny first corner - you couldn't go too tight or you would lose to much speed, but if you went too wide someone might come in below. I thought I had a good middle line and came into that first corner in front, but Guido went all the way to the inside and we hit. We were both passed and I came almost to a complete stop, but I was able to get going again. I was pretty pissed."
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