Posted by Editoress on 05/3/09
Photos from today's XC
Once again, Houffalize provided exciting racing for the 20,000-plus spectators who flocked out to the third round of the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup cross-country competition. Julien Absalon (Orbea) took his second consecutive victory in the men's cross-country to pad his lead in the overall standings, while Marga Fullana (Massi) took a record fifth victory in the women's race, as well as taking over the lead in the women's standings.
Canadian women continue to do well, with Catharine Pendrel (Luna) finishing second to Fullana, Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) taking sixth and Emily Batty (Toronto Trek Store) winning her second consecutive U23 category and finishing 13th overall. On the men's side, Derek Zandstra (3 Rox Racing) was the top finisher in 43rd, followed by Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) in 45th. Kabush suffered mechanical problems on the opening lap.
The women's race, at a short three and a half laps, was perfect for Marga Fullana. The world champion excels at very fast starts and long climbs, and Houffalize has both. By the end of the start loop, Fullana had a small gap on Premont, with a chase group forming behind, led by defending champion Ren Chengyuan (China). Fullana opened a gap on Premont in the first full lap, when the Canadian champion had to run a section that Fullana was able to ride.
"I was with Fullana in the beginning," explained Premont. "But there was a ch ange to the course that I didn't know about, so I got off my bike to run a section while she kept riding, and that is when she got away. Ren and Catharine came up to us, but on the second lap when ren went hard, it was too fast a pace for me. I am still building my fitness, so I'm really pleased with this result at this time of the season."
Ren and Pendrel took up the chase, with Premont dropping back slightly to Eva Lechner (Colnago Cap Arreghini) and World Cup leader Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost Team). By the start of lap two, Ren and Pendrel had bridged up to Fullana, but Ren quickly came off when the Spaniard increased the pace.
For the remainder of the race, it was down to these two women - Fullana and Pendrel. Ren was firmly in third, while the last two podium spots were a battle between Lechner, Osl and Premont.
Fullana sealed her victory on the main paved climb of the last lap, when she opened a ten second gap that Pendrel could not close, eventually rolling in 14 seconds ahead of the Canadian rider. Ren came in 46 seconds later, shaking her head in disappointment, with Lechner and Osl taking the final two podium spots.
"It is a very hard race here at Houffalize, and very special to win." said Fullana. "The crowds are so big here and the fans are very special, so it pushes you to go harder."
"I had a strong start, one of my best," commented Pendrel. "Along with Ren [Chengyuan] we wer e able to join Fullana in the lead, but when she attacked on the last lap I just didn't have enough to stay with her. But this is an awesome result for me, the Houffalize race is one of the true classics of the sport, so to finish second here is a real accomplishment."
Batty, attending her first edition of the Houffalize race took a while to get going, probably denying her a second top-ten result in the shorter than usual race.
"I was actually expecting the course to be harder than it was, based on all I had heard about Houffalize," confessed Batty. "I had a pretty good start, but I was behind Julie [Bresset], so I was trying to chase up to her initially. After I caught her, I just tried to put as much time as I could between us, and finish as high [in the standings] as I could."
The men's five and a half lap race began with an attack almost immediately from Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida). Only Olympic silver medalist Jean-Christophe Peraud (Massi) was able to respond, and the pair started to build a gap on a chase group containing Absalon, Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon) and Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida).
"I was trying to go hard, but conserve energy as well," explained Näf. "I was with Julien until the final lap, and then I exploded totally, with nothing left."
Peraud's response was: "He went fast, so I followed. But by the middle of the race it became more difficult for me, and I had to let him [Näf] go. I was still going pretty good until the last lap when I had a problem with the [last rider] moto. He was in the way and I went off the course and crashed and dropped my chain; maybe without that problem I would have beaten Burry [for fourth]."
On lap three, Absalon decided that it was time to reel in the lead pair, and quickly bridged up, taking Hermida, and with Kurschat only a few seconds behind. Peraud was suffering and dropped back, and then Hermida flatted, leaving just Absalon and Näf at the front, with Kurschat chasing.
"At least I am back again," commented Hermida, referring to the illness last week which forced him to drop out of Offenburg and lose the leader's jersey.
"It wasn't easy, being with Julien when we were going up [to the leaders], but then I flatted just before the start of the last lap. I used the foam I had with me and stopped in the pit for a cartridge, but then I was back with Jean-Christophe and Burry. Without the flat I think that I would have been on the podium."
Näf managed to hang on until halfway through the final lap before his extended time at the front caught up with him and he couldn't respond to the latest attack from Absalon. Näf was also caught by Kurschat, who took his second consecutive second place behind Absalon, but hung on for third place ahead of U23 series leader Burry Stander (Specialized) and Peraud.
"It was impossible to keep the wheel of Näf, when he attacked so hard," admitted Absalon "but I think that he also made a mistake by going so hard in the beginning, and it caught up with him at the end."
Kabush got his front wheel tweeked on one of the bridges and crashed in the opening lap, negating his high start position. Worse, he had to stop into the pit and change wheels, putting him back in the high 60s by the time he got going again.
The Houffalize World Cup was the final one of Filip Meirhaeghe's long, and tainted (he was suspended for EPO use while world champion) career. However, Belgian fans didn't care about his past, cheering him all the way around the circuit.
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