Mont Sainte Anne World Cup: Absalon, Pendrel win cross-country

Absalon and Fullana lead World Cup standings

Men: Absalon takes World Cup career win number 21

Julien Absalon (Orbea) claimed victory on a rain-slicked course in the fifth round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup at Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec, Canada. This was the fourth consecutive World Cup victory of this season for Absalon.

Absalon has always performed well at Mont Sainte Anne, going back to his World title in the Junior category in 1998. "I was concerned at the start of the race," said Absalon. "Through the first two turns at the start I wasn't in a good position. Through the first lap I tried to work my way up. [Ralph] Näf was very strong at the beginning of the race but he started to drop back and I took the lead."

"I had to work hard not to make mistakes," he added. "It was really, really slippery out there. It was a very technical track, but I like that. To win here under these conditions is very satisfying."

A large men's field of 104 riders took the line for a total of six laps. The off-and-on rain that had plagued the women had fortunately stopped by the time the men started. The clouds remained low all afternoon and it looked like the heavens would open at any moment but they never did, much to the relief of the riders. However, it did remain windy and cool for the duration, and the track was still wet from the morning's downpour.

Without a start loop, the key for many was to try and get to the front from the gun. äf (Multivan Merida Biking Team) took the early lead, followed at 15 seconds by Martin Gujan (Cannondale Factory Racing) at the front of a large chase group.

Näf was still holding the lead at the end of lap one, with Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Bicycles) in second at 32 seconds and Absalon 41 seconds back in third. Just behind Absalon was a small group with Gujan, Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) and José Hermida (Multivan Merida).

Absalon had become comfortable with the conditions by the second lap and had caught and passed Kabush. He continued to gain time on the lead as Näf started to tire. Meanwhile, Hermida was slowly reeling in the leaders. By lap three, Näf had only one second on Absalon, with Kabush at 20 seconds and about to be caught by Hermida. It didn't take long for Absalon to take the lead and once he was at the front he started to open a gap on the chasers. Meanwhile Näf continued to go backward, dropping to fourth by the end of the lap.

Absalon was riding comfortably in the second half of the race, followed by Hermida at 29 seconds, Kabush at 32 seconds, and Näf at 58 seconds. In fifth was U23 rider Alexis Vuillermoz (LaPierre International). Jean-Christophe Peraud (Massi), Todd Wells (Specialized) and Burry Stander (Specialized) were chasing just behind Vuillermoz.

With the top four firmly in place, the battle for the final podium spot was all that was left. The first to put on a charge was Stander, who by the fifth lap had moved up after Vuillermoz hit the wall after a strong start and rapidly dropped out of the top 10 to finish 19th. Also blowing up was Wells, who fell to 15th by the finish after riding as high as fifth.

Creating even more excitement was a last lap flat by Näf, who lost some time to Stander initially but then charged back to maintain his fourth place. Course conditions hadn't improved much, with even the lead motorbike crashing on the top of the rocky descent.

Absalon cruised in with a winning time of 2:06:05, 32 seconds up on Hermida and 2:48 up on Kabush. A tired Näf had enough left in the tank to retain fourth, 4:50 back. Stander claimed fifth (and the U23 win) 5:42 behind.

In the World Cup Points Series, Absalon has a 480-point lead over second placed Stander. Hermida jumps to third from sixth with his placing here, while Kabush jumps 10 spots to 14th.

Women: Pendrel wins at home

Catharine pendrel and her husband keith.: catharine pendrel and her husband keith.
Catharine pendrel and her husband keith.: catharine pendrel and her husband keith.

Catharine Pendrel with her husband Keith

Canadian national champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team) claimed the second World Cup victory of her career in the fifth round of the Mountain Bike World Cup at Mont Sainte Anne.

Pendrel was very pleased with her win, especially considering she had crashed. "It was a great day. I was a little worried at the start. I didn't start as fast as I wanted to. I was a bit behind in the first singletrack," she said. "It was all single-file. Luckily the girls that were at the front didn't string too far ahead. I was able to use the climbs and the fitness sections to bridge up."

"Once I saw the front I wanted to hang onto it and make as few mistakes as possible," added Pendrel. "I took the lead from Marie-Helene [Premont] at the end of the first lap, just before the switchbacking climb. The rain made things very slick and the degree of technical difficulty was high but I got better every lap."

The track is new and much more technical in nature than those uses at Mont Sainte Anne in previous years. Many of the professionals described it as the most technically demanding course on the World Cup circuit.

Making things even more interesting was the weather, with rain starting to fall 10 minutes before the start of the women's race. With the forecast being so poor well in advance of the race, organisers added a "chicken run" on the now infamous new rocky descent. The technical nature of this section attracted a huge crowd of spectators waiting to cheer on both clean rides and crashes.

The women's World Cup was four laps of the 5.7km course, with no start loop. This mandated a lightning fast start to be the first into the singletrack in the woods after the opening fire road climb.

Up the climb it was Katrin Leumann and Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher) in the lead followed by World Cup leader Marga Fullana (Massi). The climb didn't do much to separate the pack and they entered the first section of woods en masse.

Out of the woods Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), the perennial home-town favourite and defending champion, gained an eight second lead on Fullana, followed by Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon), Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Gary Fisher), Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost) and Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher). Pendrel was sitting 10th.

By the end of the lap Pendrel had taken the lead, followed by Premont, Kalentieva and Koerber together at seven seconds. The first lap was completed in 23:11.

Pendrel steadily increased her lead on Kalentieva and Koerber in lap two, followed closely by Nash and then Premont. Fullana was in 14th and having real difficulty on the technical sections. Much to the disappointment of the partisan crowd, Premont had had a flat towards the end of the first lap and then ran into suspension problems, dropping her out of the top 10.

Although Pendrel had the lead she was also showing the signs of a crash on the rocky descent – a graze on her chin. By the time she reached this spot on the third lap she was opting for the chicken route.

On the final lap Pendrel was in cruise control, looking very comfortable in the lead. Nash was still in second place but Kalentieva was catching her, and would pass to take the silver medal. Lene Byberg (Specialized) had worked her way up from a poor start to overtake a fading Koerber for fourth, while Koerber managed to hang on for the final podium spot.

After this round Fullana remains the World Cup points leader but has lost ground to four riders, including Pendrel who moved up to fourth from fifth. Osl remains in second with Kalentieva in third.

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