Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Marga Fullana (Massi) won the elite cross-country World Cup races in Houffalize, Belgium this weekend.
Over 20,000 spectators packed the hillsides and watched Absalon take his second consecutive victory in the men's cross-country, padding his lead in the overall World Cup standings.
"This is a country of cycling, they are really crazy about it here, so this makes it the biggest World Cup of the season," said Absalon.
The five-and-a-half lap race began with an attack almost immediately from Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida). Only Olympic silver medalist Jean-Christophe Peraud (Massi) was able to respond, and the pair started to build a gap on a chase group containing Absalon, Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon) and Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida).
"I was trying to go hard, but conserve energy as well," said Näf. "I was with Julien until the final lap, and then I exploded totally, with nothing left."
Fullana took a record fifth victory in the women's race, and the lead in the women's World Cup standings. She said: "It is a very hard race here at Houffalize, and very special to win. The crowds are so big and the fans are very special, so it pushes you to go harder."
By the end of the start loop Fullana had a small gap on Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), with a chase group forming behind, led by defending race winner Ren Chengyuan (China). Fullana opened a gap on Premont in the first full lap, when the Canadian champion had to run a section that Fullana was able to ride.
"I was with Fullana in the beginning," said Premont. "But there was a change to the course that I didn't know about, so I got off my bike to run a section while she kept riding, and that is when she got away. Ren and Catharine [Pendrel (Luna)] came up to us, but on the second lap when Ren went hard, it was too fast a pace for me. I am still building my fitness, so I'm really pleased with this result at this time of the season."
For complete results and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.