World and Olympic champion Julien Absalon (Orbea) captured his third world cup in succession in Madrid, Sunday, beating Spaniard José Hermida (Multivan Merida) by 12 seconds and team-mate and compatriot Jean-Christophe Peraud by 52 seconds.
Absalon's win was far more of a challenge than in either Houffalize, Belgium, or Offenburg, Germany, thanks to a fast course. A lead group split and reformed during the early laps. In the initial stages, American Todd Wells even led it out - his first experience and one he will not forget.
At one point, the lead group consisted of 20-30 riders, but as some made attempts at getting away, Absalon was aware that this move would not be successful. "With groups so big, never would one man or even a pair be able to ride to the win. It would be impossible," the savvy winner said after the race.
How it unfolded
With five laps down and the lead group thinning, José Antonio Hermida, through a mix of power and strength drawn from the Spanish fans, launched a decisive attack that completely split apart chase group. At first Absalon did not react, but sensing that Hermida would not back down and knowing they would work well together to keep a lead, he bridged across.
Then, it was a bit of good luck and expert timing that clinched Absalon the victory. "On the steep climb, I knew I had the speed over Jose, so I entered the descent first and attacked hard in the final two kilometres. Once you had a small gap, there was not enough time in the closing stages to make it back."
Hermida saw things differently as his front wheel had washed out on the descent, gifting Absalon another couple of seconds in his attack. "I did not notice that," said Absalon in response. But when someone is winning, it is often the case that luck follows.
It was nearly a case of two Spaniards in the top three, but Frenchman Jean Christophe Peraud did not give Ruben Ruzafa the final podium spot, preferring instead to take the glory himself. It was the Orbea team who dominated the top five, with three riders making the cut.
Last week's top performer, Burry Stander, took another step up the ranks by winning the under 23 competition in convincing style, including finishing 13th overall. But the result did not entirely satisfy him.
"By lap three I was in the top group, but I got carried away spending too much time near the front and then having a silly crash, hitting my bad knee," said Stander. "I will, however, treat this as a learning experience. It is the first time I have been at the front from the early stages, so next time I will do things differently."
The World Cup takes a couple weeks off for cross country riders before reconvening in Andorra for round four on May 31 - June 1. In the meantime, the opening round of the Gravity World Cup will take place May 10-11 in Maribor, Slovenia.