In what was nearly a home race, Marga Fullana finally secured her first win in emphatic style on a climber's course in Andorra. Winding through the Pyrenees, the Spaniard started in the same style as every other race this year: pure aggression and leading from the front with the hope that nobody could follow.
In previous weeks however, there has been a string of mid-race blues as Fullana could not keep the searing initial pace set and was forced to back off. Today though was not one of those days. A gap opened and there was little hope of anyone closing. The cynics may say this was due to the absence of the strongest riders of all – Gunn Rita Dahle Flesja, Sabine Spitz, Irina Kalentieva – just three of the big names missing from this weekend's competition.
A hard and fast opening to the season (three consecutive World Cups, followed by the European Championships and a Bundesliga Cup) has a lot to do with all of these absences. With the World Championships in just four weeks and Olympics not long after, some rightfully have their minds in other places.
How the race unfolded
A typically fast start from Fullana immediately put the pressure on every rider and today Marga succeeded in doing what she has failed to so far – breaking down every chase group, making riders go it alone and lose the rhythm they wanted to set.
On lap one Eva Lechner and Laurence Leboucher chased hard while overall leader Marie Helen Premont struggled with the cold conditions. Heavy rain for the hour before the start sent temperatures plummeting and Premont has a circulatory problem in the cold with her hands. This meant a lack of control on the descents and some strange shaking exercises on the climbs. Another rider not to make a mark was Chengyuan Ren. Another poor start erased any chances of glory today.
It was instead Ying Liu who was trying to bridge the gap to third as Leboucher dropped back. Pendrel and Premont formed a duo on lap three to bring back the deficit to Lechner but it would not be enough. Today belonged to a delighted Fullana who will in all likelihood now rest before the World Championships, preferring to miss Fort William next weekend.
"I will probably staying in Spain and doing some local races for my sponsors, Massi, who have helped so much this season. This will be my preparations for the World Championships and I am confident of doing well there. After the first three races I have fought a lot and now the reward for the hard work is worth it."
Second position for Eva Lechner was a career best result and one which she hopes to build on for the Worlds.
"From the start I was in third position and chasing Leboucher. On the fourth lap I had a bit of a fright on the decent – Marie was getting a bit close. Hopefully I can keep good form now for the Worlds and Olympics, I am headed straight home to get some good training in and skipping Fort William."
Another podium for Premont was enough to keep the World Cup leader's jersey in safe hands and although not spectacular it was a result she was satisfied with, especially after early problems with the cold.
"It was a hard race today – the first three laps I was so cold I could not steer the bike. I have a condition, when it gets this cold the blood doesn't want to get into my fingers! I couldn't even drink. In the last lap it became better. I am so pleased to have kept the jersey because it should have been so much worse I think."
Next week – with the exception of Eva Lechner and Fullana - it is expected that all the riders will return to Fort William to race the fifth round of the World Cup. This will be the final race to judge form before the second-biggest event of 2008, the World Championships.
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