After three World Cup attempts it was finally the day for Christoph Sauser to take a popular win in Andorra. But some surprising names accompanied him on the podium and most notably, none were wearing the rainbow stripes.
Sauser won despite a bad mishap in the form of a flat tyre in the fifth lap. "I was thinking 'why – why me again?!'," he recalled. "But when I eventually caught and passed Burry I was flying, I couldn't even feel my legs any more. Luckily for the bit that I had to run I could still go at good speed because Benno had put some tyre tread on the bottom of my Specialized road shoes. Sometimes you start and you think 'they start so hard!' But today I was wondering why don't they go full on? I just rolled away, my legs started to burn badly on laps four and five when Burry was coming near. I always tried to keep him 15 seconds back so he did not have the chance to think he could beat me. Eventually though it was easy for him to pass because I was running up the hill at the time."
Julien Absalon would not claim his fourth successive victory and instead finished only ninth, owing to some mechanical issues and possibly the need to rest before the world championships in order to regain peak form.
"I was expecting better than today, but I had a big crash on the first lap and I was too cautious because I did not want to crash again," he said. "I had also damaged my chainrings – the gears were not working. Put together: not a good day! I won't be going to Fort William, instead I will be going home to get in a bit of recovery – maybe I need it."
An obviously reflective Burry Stander stood at the finish , amazed that he had the strength to lead and finish second at a World Cup at just 20 years of age, but annoyed that victory had been snatched from so close.
"Today's course was very technical, not fast like Madrid or Offenburg, but much slower and kept your concentration at all times," he said. "It was important not to make any silly mistakes but on lap five I crashed pretty hard and snapped my lockout lever. Just after that Susi had his flat and I could get by and into the lead which really lifted my morale. By the last lap though he was coming too strong, I could do nothing. With a flat coming back he was definitely the strongest rider today."
The final surprise of the day was Geoff Kabush turning in his best result on Euro soil, third after a solid ride picking off positions all race long and not fading.
"To do it in Europe is a big result for me," he said. "It is a great course, with all the rain it made it subtly technical over the roots. I was able to start out pretty smooth, relax and start picking off guys at my leisure. Today I didn't want to fight for position, I wanted to save energy."
How it unfolded
At 14:00 local time, under slow moving heavy cloud, 120 riders set out on a 5.2-kilometre lap around the bottom of Vallnord bike park. No start loop was required as this was a classic alpine course with climbs that required granny ring and a good sense of balance to avoid spinning out or flipping over the back.
Geoff Kabush took the early lead but decided to drop back into the top ten. The first lap was a wicked selection process that tore the field apart – something we were not used to seeing in the previous three rounds on flatter courses at sea level. On lap one, thirty riders could be described as in contention whereas the rest were already fighting to even reach the finish.
From the start Sauser took the initiative, holding off a group of ten riders containing all the favourites, including Julien Absalon who was looking to make it four wins from four races today.
What was expected to follow was the usual chase back by the peloton and then an attack by the reigning world and Olympic champion which nobody would follow. The reality, however, was somewhat different.
Burry Stander dragged everyone closer to Sauser before the biggest climb of the course, but when it hit the crippling grade, nobody could follow. Sauser held a gap of ten seconds to Stander and behind him was an ever-changing train of riders. Each time the stiff climb would claim a different victim and the order would be re-established.
On lap five disaster struck for Sauser – a flat tyre meant a long run to the tech zone. Fortunately part of this run was up the steepest climb (there was almost no difference between running and riding speeds) and within one lap the Swiss was back on the wheel of Stander.
There is now one week until Fort William, the final World Cup before the World Championships.
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