Christoph Sauser ended his most successful season to date with a win today in Schladming at the World Cup finals, beating a resurgent Jose Hermida and earning second place in the overall standings to go with his rainbow jersey.
In good conditions with a rapidly drying course the men raced over eight laps. The organisers were careful to make sure that teh winner would be out for about two hours.
The first climb was lead by Kabush, obviously eager to fight against Sauser for the second place overall.
By lap two however any hope of that battle was gone, with a group containing Hermida, Sauser, Adam Craig and Roel Paulissen at the front and making good ground.
At the start of lap two Paulissen had an unfortunate fall from one of the bridges, catapulting over the bars and sustaining a concussion and overnight stay in hospital.
This left Sauser and Hermida away to do battle along with Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez and Craig, who was slightly distanced by the group.
By this point Julien Absalon had already abandoned the race. Some reports say the Frenchman was already out partying the night before the race – obviously excited about winning the overall World Cup before a pedal was turned.
Speaking to Absalon after the race he confirmed the rumours and said that today was only about enjoying the moment and ending the season on his own terms.
“It was just so fun here, I have won the overall already so there was no pressure. Today was just for fun and it was fun to ride just as much as I wanted, nothing more.”
Meanwhile on the slopes of Schladming teh race was between rivals on the racetrack and friends on the circuit Hermida and Sauser. Both were very evenly matched but Hermida was on the attack from lap one, while the Swiss rider preferred to follow and use his ammunition in the closing stages.
One effort was enough to gain a slender ten second gap on the final lap and Sauser could end his season perfectly, with a win.
“I really wanted to win today and it feels so good to end the season on top,” said Sauser.
“I race for winning and for nothing else. I knew it was going to come down to us two, I knew it would be a mental thing also. I made the gap in the downhill, just a few seconds and then I just sprinted all the way to the finish.
“It was really only second by second today. I think it was a good battle today for the spectators and on a great course too, steep up and down, just what I like.”
For Hermida it was more about salvaging something from a lacklusture year in which he has suffered bad luck with mechanicals and illness. Only in Madrid did we see a glimpse of talent translated into a result, but this has only served as motivation for the coming 2009 season.
“Only in the last month have I started to come back to my normal self – but maybe that is a good thing!” said Hermida.
“Battles like today take years off your life! But I am still having fun on the bike and this is the most important thing.”
“Today I had nothing to lose and that’s why I took the responsibility of leading. I had to play all of my cards, I like to race it is part of my character. I’m a hot latino – I don’t care if I suffer!”
For the regular podium visitors there has been one major new player this season – a young South African rider who has made an impact at every race culminating in the under 23 title and fifth in the senior overall ranks. This year Burry Stander has created inspiration for the new generation of riders and next year it will be exciting to see the progression in his third year of international competition against the old guard of Sauser, Absalon and Hermida.
Expect an exciting 2009 - the year the podium starts to change the face of the mountain bike World Cup.