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Men: Schurter repeats World Cup success in South Africa
While the elite women had hot and sunny conditions for their opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, the men's race was literally a race against time to finish before the rain hit. Just as Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) successfully defended his title against home favourite Burry Stander (Specialized), the rain began to fall, and was torrential by the time the awards ceremony took place.
In the men's six-lap race, Schurter and Stander made their move almost immediately, with Schurter setting the pace and Stander hanging on. World champion and 2011 World Cup champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) joined the duo for the first lap, but the pace was too high for him, and he had to back off, eventually finishing fifth, just ahead of Olympic champion Julien Absalon (Orbea).
Manual Fumic (Cannondale Factory) bridged up to the two leaders on the second lap, and the first three places on the podium were decided, with only the order to be determined. Fumic was dropped on the fourth lap, and then Schurter made his move in the final lap, to win by 11 seconds.
"It was an awesome race," said Schurter. "I like Pietermaritzburg, it is really a course for me, really technical. It was awesome in front of the crowd, I really like South Africa. I'm very happy with such an early victory. Last year I won this race too, but then I wasn't super the rest of the year. I hope this year is different."
"It was a nice fight with Burry, he did a great job, and he was very good to ride with. I was quicker than him through the rocks and I used that to get an advantage, forcing him to close the gap each time."
Despite having the crowd behind him, Stander conceded that Schurter was just too strong: "It was a tough race from the beginning. The speed just never slowed down. We sprinted off the start line and just kept sprinting the whole way. In the end, I could feel Nino was a little bit stronger through the rock garden, and it was tough to hold onto him. The crowd kept supporting me and I kept trying to fight back. In the end he had a few seconds, but it was a good race, no big mistakes, no problems."
"It has been a while for me, being on the podium. Last year I had a lot of bad luck and did not have the best season, so I am very happy with the race today. Hopefully, this will build my confidence going forward."
- There was much buzz over the fact that Schurter raced a prototype 650B wheel-sized Scott. the 650B is a new/old size that has been introduced to a few brands, and it fits between the older 26" and the new "standard" 29er. Schurter said afterwards, "It's a prototype bike which I have been trying for a couple of months. I raced it last weekend on this course and again today. Both times I won. I think it suits me. I'm not so tall, but the bigger wheels roll better over the rocks than 26-inch wheels."
- The USA was missing the firepower of its usual top rider: national champion Todd Wells (Specialized). Wells crashed earlier in the week, injuring his ankle. He had hoped to ride, but the team said that the injury had not responded to treatment, so Wells was forced to sit out the race, and now the question is whether he will recover in time to race the Cape Epic stage race starting next weekend. Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) was the top American man, finishing 42nd.
|1 Nino Schurter (Swi) Scott - Swisspower MTB Racing Team||1:30:38|
|2 Burry Stander (RSA) Specialized Racing||0:00:11|
|3 Manuel Fumic (Ger) Cannondale Factory Racing||0:00:59|
|4 Julien Absalon (Fra) Orbea Racing Team||0:01:41|
|5 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Cze) Specialized Racing||0:02:21|
|6 Lukas Flückiger (Swi) Trek World Racing||0:02:28|
|7 José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spa) Multivan Merida Biking Team||0:02:51|
|8 Stéphane Tempier (Fra) TX Active Bianchi||0:03:01|
|9 Marco Aurelio Fontana (Ita) Cannondale Factory Racing||0:03:22|
|10 Ralph Naef (Swi) Multivan Merida Biking Team||0:03:44|
Women: Wloszczowska opens World Cup season with victory
Poland's Maja Wloszczowska (CCC Polkowice) held off the determined Canadian duo of Emily Batty (Subaru-Trek) and Catharine Pendrel (Luna) to don the leader's jersey for the opening round of the 2012 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, the first of her career.
Despite worries about a muddy course after rain overnight, race day was hot and sunny, giving the riders a fast track to race on. British champion Annie Last (Milka Brentjens) took the early lead in the women's race before Pendrel, the reigning world champion, chased her down and took the lead on the second lap of five.
Wloszczowska and Batty were part of a chase group that bridged up to Pendrel, and by the third lap the three were clear of all chasers. The 2011 World Cup champion Julie Bresset (BH-SR Suntour-Piesey Vallandry) was part of that chase group, but wilted in the heat, to eventually finish fifth, behind former marathon world champion Esther Süss (Wheeler-IXS).
In the final lap, the leaders began to play a tactical game, with Batty attacking before the final rock garden, only to have Wloszczowska counter and take the front into the final straightaway to win by four seconds.
"I'm really happy," said Wloszczowska. "I definitely didn't expect to get a win this early in the season. But I changed my coach last year, and this showed that it is working. When Emily attacked, I knew I had to get by her, so I took a chance."
"Emily was leading going into the final rock garden and she took my normal line. I decided to take the other line to the left and just let go of my brakes and went for it! It paid off. I got a gap right there and that was enough. I'm so proud of myself. It was the best decision I made today. I loved the new course, especially on my 29er."
Pendrel, who had stated earlier in the week that she is building up slower this season, admitted that she may have not have been aggressive enough when the other two started battling in the final lap. "I sometimes go out too strong, so this time I played it a little conservative, maybe too conservative. But I'm where I want to be for this time of year, and really happy for such a strong showing for Canada."
Emily Batty, who had previously won at the under 23 level, was excited at her breakthrough performance - her first time ever on the elite World Cup podium. "We've had some really good training camps in California with the national team," said Batty, "so I felt prepared for the heat and I knew my form was good. Just being able to ride at the front of the race with riders like Catharine and Maja was an incredible feeling for me, and I know that I will only get stronger for the next rounds."
- Lea Davison (Specialized) was the top American, finishing 14th, one spot ahead of compatriot Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Trek). Davison might have been a top-10 finisher, based on her laps splits, if she had not had to spend most of the race chasing following an early crash in one of the technical zones.
- In the women's race, both Wloszczowska and Batty were on 29ers, while Pendrel was on a 26" wheel. When asked in the press conference if it made the difference in the results, all three laughed, and said "no".
- American Krista Park separated her shoulder during a crash in training in the days before the race and did not start.
|1 Maja Wloszczowska (Pol) CCC Polkowice||1:34:01|
|2 Emily Batty (Can) Subaru - Trek||0:00:04|
|3 Catharine Pendrel (Can) Luna Pro Team||0:00:23|
|4 Esther Süss (Swi) Wheeler - Ixs Team||0:01:03|
|5 Julie Bresset (Fra) BH - SR Suntour - Peisey Vallandry||0:01:17|
|6 Katerina Nash (Cze) Luna Pro Team||0:01:24|
|7 Sabine Spitz (Ger) Sabine Spitz Haibike Team||0:02:02|
|8 Karen Hanlen (NZl)||0:02:17|
|9 Annie Last (GBr) Milka Brentjens MTB Racing Team||0:02:35|
|10 Irina Kalentieva (Rus) Topeak Ergon Racing Team||0:02:42|