This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Paul van der Ploeg won a gold medal for Australia in the elite men's eliminator finals at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on Sunday. Daniel Federspiel (Austria) put up a good fight for the silver medal in the big final while Catriel Soto (Argentina) finished third ahead of Elia Silvestri (Italy).
"It was exciting to come away for the win. I've sort of been focusing on the eliminator," said Van der Ploeg. "Last year, I raced all the World Cup eliminators, but this year, I took a step back from the World Cup and have been racing the road in Australia and Asia. I was racing in Borneo on the road last week and had to relearn how to ride mountain bikes this week, but it all came together."
Van der Ploeg used his size to his advantage in the last two rounds, pulling a bold inside move in the uphill first corner to jump into the lead in both rounds. From that point on, he was able to defend his spot at the front until the finish line.
After Fabrice Mels (Belgium) set the fastest qualifying time ahead of Matthias Wengelin (Sweden) and Titouan Perrin Ganier* (France), it was time for the eliminator heats.
Defending world champion Ralph Naef (Switzerland) was eliminated in his first heat when beat by Mels and Simon Gegenheimer (Germany). Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) was also eliminated after he pulled out of his pedal at the start.
Van der Ploeg had a near miss in heat 1, when he dabbed a foot, but he was able to recover and move into the 1/4 finals.
Top qualifier Mels was ousted in the 1/4 finals after a dab in the rocks cost him to drop from first to third in his heat. He tried valiantly to regain a spot, but did not pull it off.
Crowd favorite Philip Buys (South Africa) was also out in the 1/4 finals and poor Leandre Bouchard (Canada) saw his chances evaporate when he snapped his derailleur.
In the semi-finals, Federspiel and Soto led their heat to move into the finals while Van der Ploeg and Elia Silvestri also advanced.
It was in the semi-final heat that Van der Ploeg discovered a handy inside line on the first uphill corner. He blew through the corner on the inside and muscled past Silvestri, who later had to sprint madly to secure the second spot and move into the finals, too.
Van der Ploeg pulled his bold inside move on turn 1 again in the finals, and it worked to counter Federspiel's excellent start. The Australian would hold off the continuing challenge from Federspiel until the finish.
"I guess with the eliminator, the start is super important," said Van der Ploeg. "I knew Daniel was quick off the start. I tried to get slipstream on him going into first corner. I had had to unclip on that first corner in qualifying, but I found that line in the semi-final and figured I'd put it on the line in the final and see if I could overtake him. From then, it was about defending and not looking back. That line was a little grassy, not much used."
Federspiel said, "I was expecting that move on the first corner, but it was ok. Paul's a really big engine, and I had no chance when he past me on the first corner."
"I'm very happy with the race. From qualis to finals, my big goal was the world champion's title, but Paul was stronger. This year has been one of my best ever. I lead World Cup overall and won the European champs. I won two World Cups," said Federspiel.
Soto finished third while a disappointed Silvestri was fourth.
"This is my third eliminator race this year," said Soto,"and it's the second podium for me - the other was Andorra at the World Cup. I'm very happy. I trained a lot for this world championships, and this result is important for me, my country and my sponsor."
Andy Eyring (Germany) won the small final.