September 9/03 9:12 am - Men's XC Worlds Story
Posted by Editor on 09/9/03
Men's Cross-country Report
Note: We are sorry for the delay in getting this full report posted. The Worlds press room closed early on Monday, and it has taken until now to establish a (slow) connection in Kaprun.
Filip Meirhaeghe may have become the world champion, but Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal was the man of the day in the men's cross-country race on Sunday afternoon. With his usual blazing fast start, Hesjedal went to the front early on the second lap of the 8 lap race, after dropping defending world champion Roland Green and Swiss hopeful Ralph Naef on the paved climb which comes after the first technical section of the 6.2 kilometre circuit.
"I can handle the fast starts, and I wanted to make sure that I got into the singletrack first."
Behind, the chase was changing, with Green going backwards to eventually finish 19th, and Meirhaeghe gradually moving up past marathon champion Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland), Jose Hermida (Spain), Julien Absalon (France) and Naef, to join his Belgian countryman Roel Paulissen in chasing Hesjedal. The lead grew to a maximum of 55 seconds on the third lap, before steadily shrinking, and Meirhaeghe joined Hesjedal at the front on the 5th lap before pulling away on the next lap. Hesjedal hung on for the silver, although he was clearly in great pain on the last lap, grimacing as he came through the start-finish area to start the final circuit. Paulissen hung on for third, with Naef taking fourth, only 10 seconds ahead of Dutch rider Bas Peters, who had methodically moved up through the field all race.
"Ryder was gone. I could only see four riders (after the first lap), and I did not know at first that he was in front, when I found out I though 'Wow, he made a gap really fast'. I was a little bit worried because a gap of 50-55 seconds is big on a course like this.
I have 3 bronze and 2 silver, and I started to think it (winning) would never happen, that 'oh no, I don't want to be second again!' But on the fourth lap I saw that I had gained back 20 seconds and then I knew that my chances were good. Then, once I started the last lap I heard that i had 25 seconds (lead), and I knew that each time on the climb I got more time, and I began to get more and more confident. However, I only believed that it was really happening in the final 500 metres before the finish."
Hesjedal tried to stay away, but "the moment I knew he was closing I backed off to recover a bit, and then wound it up again when he caught me, to try and break his spirit. However, I couldn't shake him, and he was just going away on the climb, which was a sign of his strength."
- Meirhaeghe rode his Specialized Epic FS bike (so far as we were able to determine, the first time the worlds elite title has been won on an FS bike), while Hesjedal stuck to a Gary Fisher hardtail. Both riders said that it was the right choice for them. Hesjedal: "I'm most comfortable on a hardtail, that's the bike that suits my style."
Meirhaeghe: "The FS was the right choice for me. The downhill was so rough, that it was easier to recover. I have raced the Epic every World Cup this year - it was the right choice, I never doubted it."
- Chris Sheppard rode a very strong race, eventually finishing 16th after going as high as 13th. He was gunning for the automatic Olympic qualification which comes with a top-12 placing at the Worlds. Other Canadians did not fare so well, with Green coming in 19th, and still recovering from his brush with chicken pox and shingles; and Seamus McGrath dropping out after suffering a slash in his rear tire. McGrath was looking strong in 8th place before his unfortunate puncture.
- Christoph Sauser had been up at the front of the chase for a while, riding with Naef, before a puncture put him out of the picture. He eventually finished 14th, but the circumstances were suspicious: Swiss television caught him at the side of the course, looking despondent, and not working on his flat, but then a few moments later he was back in the race. His explanation: "I lost my quick fill, but with the help of some spectators I was able to find it and get going again." Uh huh...
- Switzerland managed to put four riders in the top-20, and Canada three, the best showing of any countries.