Victor Koretzky raced to his second world championship gold medal in 24 hours by winning the junior men's cross country on Thursday afternoon. The young Frenchman was also part of the gold-medal winning team relay squad for France on Wednesday. Anton Cooper (New Zealand) outsprinted Andrey Fonseca (Costa Rica) by one second for the silver medal.
"Talking to my mom before the race, I was looking for a third place so am shocked by my great result," said Koretzky, who finished in 1:07:18. "I was aiming for the podium. The victory was not in my plan, but I was feeling well and had strong support out there."
Overnight thunderstorms made an already technically challenging course even more so. Wet roots and rocks meant riders were slipping and crashing all over the place in the woods.
Grant Ferguson (Great Britain) charged to the front and crossed the line first after the start loop. Fonseca and Andri Frischknecht (Switzerland) led the chase, but it was on lap 1 that Koretzky took to the front, gaining an 18-second advantage over Ferguson and Fonseca. Maxime Urruty (France), Dominic Zumstein (Switzerland) and Howard Grotts (United States) followed.
"I had a good start. On the descent I was in third wheel, but there was a bit of a crash, and I was able to get in front coming into the first lap," said Ferguson, who rides plenty of wet, technical terrain at home in Scotland. "Then I just tried my best."
Cooper, the winner of the last two junior World Cup challenge races, was noticeably absent at the front in the first half of the race. He had a rough start, crossing the line in 13th place after the prologue loop.
Koretzky steadily opened up his lead over Urruty and Fonseca, but on the third lap, Urruty suffered mechanical trouble. He had to run the climbs though he could still ride the descents until he got to the next tech zone. The problem would cost the young Frenchman a medal - he went on to finish ninth.
With just over one lap to go, Koretzky was left with a 1:30 lead over Fonseca and a bit more of a lead over Zumstein, Ferguson and Cooper.
"It was not an easy ride. I did not have a great start, so I had to fight my way back up in the standings with Ferguson and Fonseca pushing hard, but I was able to catch up and build some momentum then once I had a big advantage, I was able to hold it," said Koretzky. "I was more confident after our team's success yesterday."
With a phenomenal second half of the race, Cooper had moved up into the top five and he capped his performance off with a strong final lap where he caught Fonseca on the last climb. It wasn't until 500m to go though that Cooper sprinted around Fonseca.
"It's probably the hardest I ever had to ride," said Cooper, who had struggled early on, but persisted to work his way back toward the front.
"It was so tough to catch Andrey in the last lap, I had him in my sights for a lap or so. The race didn't go entirely my way today, but I'm proud with how I rode."
Cooper dashed to silver ahead of Fonseca, but both riders were clearly pleased to bring home their respective medals for New Zealand and Costa Rica, two nations not seen very often on world championship cross country podiums.
"In New Zealand, cross country is not as strong as downhill," said Cooper, "so this is a huge result for New Zealand. I don't think any New Zealander has ever gotten a second place in cross country mountain biking. It will go a long way to improving junior riding in New Zealand. It will give a lot of encouragement to younger riders there."
An overjoyed Fonseca said, "I'm so emotional. You can't imagine what this means for Costa Rica and our federation. I was so exhausted at the end. But to be on the podium is a great moment for me. I'm proud for our country. This is the first time Costa Rica is on the podium.
"Of course we had some promising results on the World Cup, but this is fantastic, I was not expecting this. It's a moment of joy for all of us. The mountain bike circuit is good within Costa Rica for us, but we don't get much attention internationally. This should open the door for riders from my country to compete with the rest of the world."
Ferguson held on for a solid fourth place at 1:48 while Zumstein locked up fifth in 2:18.
Howard Grotts put in an impressive top-10 performance for the United States of America. He finished eighth at 3:15 after Koretzky despite struggling in the wet and slippery conditions. "I was going down all over the place. I had a good start and was with the lead pack and then I made some dabs here and there and got passed. But then I'd make up time so I would yo yo a bit." Grotts is in his final year as junior. It was the first time a junior had broken the top 10 at MTB Worlds since Walker Ferguson won the title in 2000.
Top Canadian Thomas Neron finished 36th after a fairly clean run with no mechanicals and one crash.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.