Posted by Editor on 05/26/02
Houffalize World Cup Belgium
This report made possible through the sponsorship of FACT Canada & Schwalbe Tires
Marga Fullana made it 4 straight years at Houffalize, but the gap between her and the rest of the field is shrinking. Last week in Madrid, at the World Cup opener, she was dominant, riding away from the competition from the gun. This week, she did not finally shake second place finisher Caroline Alexander until late in the third lap (of four), after the British rider pulled her foot out of her pedal.
The riders had a steady start - not a bolt from the line like last week. This is probably due in part to the large climb they faced right off the bat. All the top riders were at the front for the climb, with two exceptions - Chrissy Redden and Barbara Blatter. Redden got caught behind a crash at the start line, and had to expend extra energy to work her way back up. Blatter, the defending World Cup champion, missed last week's race due to illness, and started well back in the fifth row. She made an incredible effort from the start, sprinting up through the field from 47th to 6th by the halfway mark of the first lap.
Alison Sydor was one of the early leaders, but misjudged her speed while leading and crashed, banging her knee on her handlebar stem in the process. "I had a really good start and was leading, but I was flying way too fast, and bashed it. I hit my knee pretty hard and lost a bunch of places."
Fullana went to the front for the main climb, marked by Sydor, Caroline Alexander, Sabine Spitz, Alison Dunlap and Annabella Stropparo. Alexander was having her own problems early in the race: "On the first lap I had a lot of trouble with my chain, and had to drop back a bit. It just took a little bit extra to get back up, which probably cost me in the end."
Sydor was the first to drop off the pace, falling back as far as 10th before battling back to 9th at the finish. She was pleased with her result, all part of an effort to put a poor 2001 season behind her.
"This year was a little better then last; at least this year I feel like I'm there, in the race. This is the best I've ever felt, and the hardest work I've ever done for a top-10. There are a lot of super fit riders out there right now. The course was bone dry, everything was easy today - I didn't get much of an advantage on the descents. It would have actually been better for me if it had stayed slimy and slippery (like Saturday morning)."
Alison Dunlap was also not having the best race. "I've been sick all week, and on the first two laps I was struggling - just trying to do damage control. On the third lap I was finally able to bump it up a notch and start moving forward. I had a good, strong last lap."
Dunlap is well placed to take over the World Cup lead in Mont Ste Anne, since both Fullana and Alexander will not be attending. "Mont Ste Anne could be really good..."
At the front, Fullana had managed to drop everyone but Alexander, until the pedal incident. "When I pulled my foot out she got a little gap on me, and it was just enough that I couldn't come back up right away."
Fullana was away for the win, and Alexander was pretty safe in second, but things were getting interesting behind. Blatter was steadily picking off riders, from 6th on the first lap, to fifth on the second and challenging for third on the third lap. However, that was as far as she would get before her efforts caught up with her and she slid backwards to finish 5th. Stropparo hung on for 3rd and Dunlap took fourth.
Blatter: "My last race was too long ago, and I had been sick also. I began the race feeling really good, but in the last lap I lost too much power, and then I fell back. But I know that I am strong, and that I can challenge at the front."
Canadians turned in some strong results. In addition to Sydor's 9th, Redden managed to move up to 15th, one spot ahead of Marie-Helene Premont, who recorded her best ever European World Cup results. Kiara Bisaro finished 31st, and Trish Sinclair 40th.
This one was open to any one of half a dozen riders and, indeed, it wasn't until Roel Paulissen crashed in the final corner that Christoph Sauser recorded his 'dream win'. "Everything came together today, I felt good from the start to the end. It has always been a big dream of mine to win here, because this is such a classic race."
The race started with 209 riders (see Saturday report for details), stringing the field out to over 2 kilometres by the end of the first lap. At the front it was the usual suspects - defending Houffalize champ Roland Green, World Cup leader Bart Brentjens, Paulissen, Sauser, Jose Hermida, Marco Bui, Filip Meirhaeghe, Lado Fumic and Julien Absalon.
The pace at the front was relentless, and the contenders began to shrink in numbers, until on the fourth lap there was just Sauser, Brentjens, Green, Paulissen and Meirhaeghe. It also began to rain in the last lap, making the course a little slick, and leading to Paulissen's final corner crash. Green was favoured, but he had a secret.
"I got a head cold a few days ago, so I was not 100% today. From the beginning it was fast and everyone was evenly matched. The last time up the climb I was feeling rough, so I went to the front to bluff, and even attacked a bit. We shed Absalon and Hermida, but Christoph made a move and only Roel went with him. Filip (Meirhaeghe) came around me and then Bart. I caught back onto Bart with about 2 kilometres to go, but then I washed my front wheel out on a bridge and went down. I hit my bars and went into the stinging nettles so I rode the last kilometre sort of dazed, making lots of mistakes. On the last bridge I saw Hermida coming up behind me, and I was determined to be on the podium, so i just sprinted for the last 400 metres."
That basically tells the story.
Behind, Ryder Hesjedal was steadily moving up through the field, picking off riders one by one until he finished 16th. "I had a good start, felt good during the race, but I just don't have the snap to be at the front right now. I've had a busy early season, so it will pay off later."
Seamus McGrath, in contrast wasn't nearly as happy with his 27th ranking. "It was no good today. I had a pretty bad crash on the fourth lap, hit a tree, completely out of control. I lost a bunch of places and it put me off my game."
Andreas Hestler finished mid-pack (76th) and Chris Sheppard, after starting strong, disappeared on about the fourth lap, never to be seen again. We'll have wait for the Shep Report to find out what happened.
The cross-country World Cup takes a break until Mont Ste Anne now, while the downhillers start up next week at Fort Williams, Scotland.
- The fan support is phenomenal, with people coming from Belgium, Holland, France, Switzerland and Germany. The official estimate (based on people who paid to get into the race) is about 25,000, but reliable sources say that the numbers were higher then last year, when the police estimated 65,000!
- The top five were given 1.5 litre bottles of the local beer Chouffee. This is a very highly recommended beverage, but doesn't make the best thing to be spraying around on the podium. Besides being extremely sticky, the yeasty smell hung in the air (and on the riders) for a considerable length of time. I'm signing off now from Houffalize, to go and have some of that beer...
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