Italy won its second gold medal of the 2009 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships on Thursday, when Gerhard Kerschbaumer took the junior men's cross country title.
Kerschbaumer, who earlier in the week was part of the Italian gold medal team relay squad, was the dominant rider in the race, dropping Portugal's Ricardo Marinheiro on the fourth lap of the five lap event.
Marinheiro finished 1:19 behind, with Reto Indergand of Switzerland taking the bronze medal, a further 15 seconds in arrears. Canada's Mitchell Bailey was the top North American, finishing 28th, followed by Evan Guthrie in 30th.
A select group of four riders broke away on the first lap - Kerschbaumer, Marinheiro, Indergand and Matthias Stirnemann (Switzerland). Stirnemann was dropped on the second lap, and the other three rode together until lap four, when Kerschbaumer upped the pace, first shedding Indergand on the singletrack climb at the start of the lap, and then Marinheiro after the first feedzone in the second half of the lap.
Kerschbaumer steadily pulled away to take the title, while Marinheiro barely held off Indergand and a revitalized Stirnemann for the silver medal.
"The race went very well, it was perfect because my legs were perfect," said Kerschbaumer. "The track was very tough and very technical but the atmosphere and the conditions helped me to win. On the first two or three laps, I was very calm and was trying to control the other riders and then on the fourth lap I overtook everyone on the climb."
Marinheiro was content with his second place, giving Portugal its first medal of the championships. "I am happy with the result. I tried very hard, but Kerschbaumer was very strong on the uphill sections and I could not manage to stay with him there. After that, I wanted just to hold on to second place."
Canada's top ranked rider, Evan Guthrie, suffered a broken handlebar in the first lap, causing him to crash heavily. After stopping in the pit for mechanics to replace his bars, Guthrie restarted in 70th place. He rode strongly through the rest of the race and managed to move up 40 places to finish 30th overall.
"I hit a jump on the downhill section the wrong way, really hard, and I guess it weakened my bars," explained Guthrie. "In the next corner when I leaned on them, the end of the bar just broke off and I went down pretty hard. It's really too bad, because I was feeling so good today. After a bit of a poor start I was moving up, sitting in the top 20 when it happened. But, overall, I'm happy, my ride was really good, and I am stoked that I was able to move up so many spots."
One rider garnering a lot of local attention is Australia's Brendan Johnston, who was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer. He had an operation in the weeks leading to today's race, and will commence chemotherapy next week.
"Today was tough, very tough," he said. "I don't know if you know about my problems at the moment. It was so important for me to start today. Only four or five days ago I committed myself to racing, so it was just unreal to even be on the start line and to finish in the top 50 was incredible.
"The emotions were pretty high," he added. "At the top corner there, it just came to me and I just realized what I've achieved. It's not an outstanding ride, but I was there, and I did it. I lost a lot of fitness during the operation and all the time off I had just a couple of weeks out (from the race), so it wasn't ideal preparation.
"I broke my collarbone earlier this year at a national race and missed out on the team trip to Europe, but I went to Canada and raced the two World Cups and that was good, and then coming back from there I got the blood values about the cancer. So it's been a rough year, and its only just starting sort of thing - after this I have a lot more to go."
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.
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