Posted by Editoress on 05/24/09
As usual, Madrid proved to be an exciting venue for the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. Both World Cup leaders Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Marga Fullana (Massi) extended their leads in the overall standings with wins in this fourth round, but Fullana won by only four seconds, and there was a three-way sprint for third in the men's race. Canadian women had a particularly strong day, with Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) taking second and Catharine Pendrel (Luna) fifth. Canada's only man in the race, Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) was 34th.
After a second night of heavy rain, the decision was made to shorten the women's race from five laps to four. The wet ground made some of the climbs unrideable, and every corner had to be negotiated with care. A group containing Fullana, 2008 World Cup champion Premont, world number one ranked Pendrel and Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory Team) split away from the field. However, Pendrel ran into shifting problems, as well as having difficulty with the muddy course after a night of rain.
"I had a strong start," explained Pendrel, "but I was having some problems in the corners, sliding a bit, and every time that happened I would lose a few seconds. My gears were acting up a bit as well, with the mud, which didn't help on the climbs. But I'm happy that I was able to hang on for the last podium spot."
Fullana then made her first testing attack, and only Premont and Byberg could respond. Pendrel dropped back to sit solo in fourth, with a chase group containing round one winner Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost Team), Maja Wloszczowska (CCC Polkowice) and Eva Lechner (Colnago Cap Arreghini) forming behind. The front three began getting reeled in from behind on the second lap, both by Pendrel and the chase of Osl, Lechner, Wloszczowska and the Olympic champion Sabine Spitz
Premont was getting concerned about being caught, and upped the pace, dropping Byberg with less than a lap and a half to go. Byberg would hold on for third, but the race for the win was down to two riders. Fullana made the winning move on the final long climb, launching an attack that Premont could not respond to immediately, and then holding on to win her second consecutive World Cup. Behind Byberg, Pendrel was caught by Spitz and Osl, after some mechanical problems, but managed to hold on for the fifth and final podium spot behind Spitz.
According to Premont: "My build up this year was very slow, because I had a very tough year in school. But I am getting better every week now, and I felt really strong here. In the last two laps, the chasers were catching up to us, and neither Fullana or Byberg were working, so I went to the front to set the pace. Then, on the last long climb Marga [Fullana] attacked and I could not respond fast enough to catch her before the finish."
Fullana's win has increased her lead in the standings to 850 points, 190 over second place Osl, with Byberg in third at 565 points. Pendrel moves to fifth at 470 points, and Premont jumps from 16th to ninth in the standings with 408 points.
"It is a great honour to win in my home country; this was one of my big goals for the season," said Fullana. "Of course, I was very concerned about Marie-Helene, because she is always strong, but I could see that I was better on the climbs, and I knew that I had to attack there in the final lap."
By the time the men were ready to start their six lap race, the ground had mostly dried up, and all sections were rideable. Multivan Merida's Ralph Näf had his patented fast start, and a sizable group of contenders formed at the front of the race by the midpoint of the first lap. However, there were two big names missing from the front - world champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized Factory Racing) and the number two ranked rider in the World Cup: Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon). Both had poor starts, and had to chase up through the field all race.
Geoff Kabush started fairly well, from 25th on the grid, and was holding his position through the first lap, but he couldn't manage to jump onto the riders coming by from behind, and slowly slid further back in the field.
At the front, the lead group was being rapidly whittled down, and by the third lap it was just Absalon and Näf leading, with a chase group of four at 29 seconds - Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), Roel Paulissen (Cannondale Factory Racing), U23 series leader Burry Stander (Specialized Factory Racing) and Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower). A second group, at 44 seconds, was being led by Olympic silver medalist Jean-Christophe Peraud (Massi), and the two groups would merge late in the lap, to create a seven rider chase. American Todd Wells (Specialized Factory Racing) joined the tail end of this group for a while before having to back off and ride at his own pace to finish 16th.
However, they weren't making any headway on the two leaders, who continued to add seconds to their lead on lap four. By the fifth lap, Näf felt it was time to put some pressure on Absalon, and launched a powerful attack near the end of the lap, gaining 11 seconds as the pair began their final lap. But move proved to be premature, as Absalon steadily reeled him in, and then dropped the tiring Swiss rider to solo in by over a minute for his 19th World Cup victory.
"It was a bit of a tactical race with Ralph," admitted Absalon. "He did a very good attack on me, and took some seconds. I wasn't able to keep his wheel when he went. But I think maybe it was too much for him to keep going, and I was able to come back to him."
Näf agreed with this analysis: "I could see that Julien was struggling a bit in the fifth lap, and I decided that this was the time to try and go away on my own. But I was having some difficulties by the time I started the final lap, and when Julien came back, I couldn't stay with him. To beat Julien is very, very hard. He is such a complete rider, a champion."
Behind, the chase was down to four riders for the last kilometre, with Näf's team mate Moritz Milatz taking third, one second ahead of Marco Fontana (Cannondale Factory Racing), and three seconds ahead of Schurter and Peraud.
Absalon's lead in the series is becoming almost insurmountable, as the Olympic champion now has 950 points to second place Kurschat's 625, while Stander sits in third at 580 points, and leads the U23 standings. Kabush is the top North American in 24th place, with Sam Schultz (Subaru-Gary Fisher) holding down 33rd, one spot ahead of Adam Craig (Giant), who skipped this race.
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