Roel Paulissen rode to his second consecutive men's elite world marathon championship win on Sunday, while Olympic cross-country champion Sabine Spitz won the women's elite title.
The Belgian finished in 4:34:36 after completing a tough, hilly 104km course in Austria. Alban Lakata (Austria) finished just 51 seconds back in second while 2007 marathon world champion Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) was third at 4:39.
"This victory is a great moment in my life, and I was able to celebrate it during the last metres to the finish line," said Paulissen, who finished solo.
Paulissen was near the front on the first climb, where he chased Wolfram Kurschat (Germany). Paulissen caught and passed Kurschat on the descent. A few riders joined them and formed a group at the front, then Paulissen escaped with Alexey Medvedev (Russia) on a downhill where the men were overtaking the women.
"It was simply chaos there, because we caught the women," said Sauser on his blog, www.sauserwind.com. "They did start after us, but rode a shorter course, and passing was very difficult."
"I knew Alexey from the Italian marathons. He is a good cyclist," said Paulissen of his breakaway companion. "Wolfram Kurschat and Albana Lakata were chasing us, but I had prepared well for this course. I knew that I had to stay on the bike and climb well at the end – even though recent weather had created some sections better suited to walking."
Lakata and the others worked hard to close the gap, and on that final climb Medvedev gave indications to Paulissen that he wasn't doing well. The Belgian powered away solo, yet he still had another 20km of descending to go.
"The downhill was not easy but I put out everything I had," said Paulissen, who went into the day thinking he was riding for a podium rather than the win after suffering back pain.
Behind Paulissen, the final downhill changed the podium significantly. Medvedev lost time – dropping to sixth – with a flat tyre and so did Thomas Dietsch (France), who had crested the final climb in third but ended up 11th. Lakata and Sauser took second and third. Christoph Soukup (Austria) and Kurschat were fourth and fifth respectively.
"The whole race felt like a cross-country race, or that is how it felt to me," said Sauser. "The climbs were never-ending, and for most of the time you could only ride in the saddle because the ground was too washed out."
Pre-race favorite Leo Paez (Columbia) had a tough day and finished 10th. "I was hoping for a better result," said Paez. "When it came to doing the race, I started to suffer cramps: in those conditions it was very difficult to increase my pace with the other favourites. I had to keep my pace. Now I will concentrate on the season's final grandfondo-type events and possibly the cross-country world championships in Canberra."
For complete results and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.
On Sunday, exactly one year after winning the Olympic cross-country race in Beijing, Sabine Spitz (Germany) won the world marathon championships in Austria. Spitz crossed the line after 84.1km with a time of 4:24:16.
"This is an incredible feeling, especially since it was the last title that was eluding me," said the 37-year-old. It was her second rainbow jersey – she won the cross-country world championship title in 2003.
Eventually, a group of three riders emerged as leaders. Spitz, Petra Henzi and Ester Süss. The three stayed together as they approached the final climb up Schöckl. On the descent that followed, Henzi experienced technical troubles and dropped back to finish third at almost three minutes behind Spitz, who won the sprint ahead of Süss.
With 12km to go, Spitz had a one-minute lead over Süss. It seemed that Spitz had a comfortable margin. However, the men started to overtake the women and it was hard to keep track of who was where and in what race. The men had started earlier, but completed a longer loop, and therefore were catching the women at the end.
"With 500m to go, Christoph Sauser approached. I let him pass and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Swiss jersey. It could have been a man, but then I suddenly realized that it was Esther! Luckily I had something left," said Spitz.
"It was good that I was here a few days early. Route knowledge was worth a great deal in this marathon." Spitz will fly to Australia on Tuesday as she prepares to compete in the cross-country world championships next week.
Spitz and Süss weren't the only riders whose race was affected by riders from other categories. American Pua Sawicki led the race after the first climb. She soon found herself in with a field of master men who had started 15 minutes in front of the elite women.
While leading, Sawicki collided with one of the men who would not move out of the way. She hit her right leg, where she's suffered several injuries this summer, but still held onto the lead until the Swiss women worked together to reel her in and pass her when she stopped at the pit to straighten her bars.
Sawicki dropped to fifth, then worked her way back up towards the front, where she stayed until her leg bothered her as it swelled. She dropped to seventh place as she approached the final climb but held onto seventh, the best-ever finish by an American (man or woman) at the marathon worlds.
"We are disappointed that the UCI does not let the Pro Champion Women race on an open course in the world championships, but we are very happy to see that Pua can hang with the best in the world," said her husband Ron.
Defending world marathon champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa finished 13th. "While riding the course, I wasn't really sure what I'm doing here, but after finishing I am satisfied with the 13th place," she said. "Although I am glad to be finished in one piece, I didn't take too many risks now that I'm a mom. It was great fun, and I will come back next year to St Wendel to fight for a medal."
For complete results and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.