Posted by Editoress on 05/24/04
Madrid World Cup
World Cup coverage sponsored by Vélirium 2004 and ORYX
Gunn-Rita Dahle (Merida) took right up where she left off last year, with a convincing victory at the first round of the World Cup in Madrid. Dahle's team mate Irina Kalentieva took second, and Ivonne Kraft (Ghost International) was third, ahead of Alison Sydor (Rocky Mtn-Business Objects). Kraft's third place was tainted by an incident in the first lap in the feed zone, when she got in a shoving match with Sydor. A commissaire witnessed the incident, and there was a protest by Sydor's team, however, Kraft got off with a warning and a stiff fine.
"I don't know what was going on, but she pushed me, I guess trying to get to her feed. It was WWF out there!"
Dahle had a bad start, dropping to 15th place, after dropping her chain. 2002 winner, and local favourite, Marga Fullana (Team Orbea) led the charge at the start, but faded after the first lap, eventually dropping out after a crash on the second lap. Dahle quickly recovered from her mishap at the start and roared back to the front of the race by the halfway mark of the first lap. She joined a lead group containing Fullana, Kalentieva, Sydor, Kraft and Stropparo.
Dahle, once she had rejoined the group at the front, had no problems, and rode away from the rest of the leaders by the six kilometre mark. By the end of the first lap she had 20 seconds on the chase group, and by the finish was 1:41 ahead of Kalentieva.
"Winning a World Cup is always important, but I was not so sure after the start when I lost positions and had to fight back to the front" said Dahle. "However, I was able to get back up with the front riders. I was surprised when I got away from the others, but I just rode my own pace after that."
Behind, Kalentieva bided her time until the third lap (of four), when she also jumped off the front of the chase group. Stropparo led the chase, followed by Sydor and Kraft, but they were losing time on both Merida riders throughout the race. Kraft jumped in the last couple of kilometres to drop Sydor, who dropped Stropparo at the same time.
Barbara Blatter (Specialized) was just behind this group on the first lap, with Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Marie-Helene Premont (Oryx). Paola Pezzo, riding her first World Cup race since winning gold the Sydney Olympics, appeared to struggle in the early part of the race, but gradually recovered to finish sixth, as she prepares to defend her Olympic title.
"This was a slow start for me, because I did not have a good start position. I am very pleased with my race; at the start I was not so sure, but I got better during the race. I had one difficulty on the second lap when Fullana fell in front of me. I could stop, but fell over a bit. The spectators helped me get going again, so it was okay after that."
Pezzo steadily moved up to catch Blatter, and then dropped her Swiss rival in the final lap. Premont, in her first race of the season, rode with Alison Dunlap (Luna) for much of the race, until Dunlap dropped her in the last lap. The Canadian champion was also caught by Petra Heinz.
"It is my first race of the season, so I am happy. I was not sure what to expect, and I know that I have more training to do, but this was still a good result. In the last lap, Alison (Dunlap) went hard in the flat, and I could not stay with her."
Kiara Bisaro started behind Redden and Premont, but moved forward as Redden fell off the pace, eventually taking 16th place. Redden, suffering from a bad cough and the flu, had no energy all race, eventually finishing 26th. "I had no legs today. I had a good start, and was up with the front group on the first lap, but could not hold it. I'm just trying to get healthy."
Filip Meirhaeghe (Specialized) began the men's six lap race not in the best state of mind mentally after losing badly to his friend and countryman Roel Paulissen (Siemens-Mobile-Cannondale) in a Belgian Cup the week before. However, after riding away from the rest of the field halfway into the race, to easily win by over a minute (1:18 ahead of Paulissen, no less), the world champion was all smiles.
"It was not so good in my head before the start, after last week, so this was a nice surprise. For sure when you get a chance to win a World Cup you should take it."
The huge men's field (187 starters) played havoc with the riders on the first lap, as those further back tried to work their way forward before the race entered the first steep climb at the 3 kilometre mark. Roland Green (Trek-VW) was a victim of this jockeying for position, when Stefan Sahm (T-Mobile) charged by him and promptly crashed. Green managed to avoid going down, but another rider ran into the back of him, breaking off the cable on Green's rear derailleur, ending his race after less than 10 minutes of racing.
At the front, a group of 10 had formed by the end of the first lap, including Meirhaeghe, Julien Absalon (Bianchi- Agos), Paulissen, Lado Fumic (T-Mobile), Christoph Sauser (Siemens-Mobile-Cannondale), Bart Brentjens (T-Mobile), Ralph Naef (Lapierre) and an unheralded Sid Taberlay (Australia).
Taberlay had plate number 95, meaning he had started well back. He has been racing this spring in Belgian Cups, with at least one podium appearance, but he was still in some pretty heady company. This didn't seem to deter him, as he attacked in the second lap, and only Meirhaeghe responded.
The two stayed together for a lap, and then Meirhaeghe opened it up and rode away. Within a lap he had 30 seconds, then a minute, and maxed out at 1:45, before backing off a bit in the final lap.
"Taberlay attacked, and no one else followed me when I followed him. Once I got in front I attacked hard to open a gap. Then I could ride my own race, and they had to try and catch me."
The group behind certainly tried for a few laps to catch Meirhaeghe, but he wasn't about to be reeled in. The chasers, led by Paulissen and Absalon, did pull back Taberlay (who ended up 10th, certainly helping his Olympic chances), and the group dwindled to Paulissen, Absalon, Fumic, Sauser and Brentjens, finishing in that order after a last lap surge by Paulissen split them up.
Canadian men did not have a strong day, with Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher) the top finisher in 24th place. Seamus McGrath (Haro-adidas) finished 35th and Mat Toulouse 46th.
"I have been racing on the road (with US Postal), so this is the first mountain bike race I have done since March. I knew coming in that this would be a hard training ride, since I don't have that mountain biking 'top end' yet. But it will come, I'm confident."
- Seamus McGrath was just happy to be racing, after a horrific incident the week before had put him in hospital overnight. He and Hesjedal were in the Spanish town of Girona for training, and went out for dinner. While Hesjedal was settling the bill, McGrath stepped out to the front of the restaurant, and was promptly set upon by 5 men. During the attack (which netted the thieves 100 Euros), McGrath hit the back of his head heavily on the ground. He suffered a concussion, and spent the night in hospital for observation. He also required 10 stitches to close up the gash on the back of his head. "I'm just glad to be here, and to be able to race." he concluded.
- Filip Meirhaeghe dismisses worries that going this strong so early in the season will leave him flat for Athens. "This program worked so well for me last year why would I change it?", he pointed out with irrefutable logic. "If it doesn't work, everyone will say that I made the wrong decision, and if it does then they will say I am smart!" Staying with Meirhaeghe - he was concerned that having to wear the World Cup leader's jersey will mean that the Belgian fans will not get a chance to see him race in his rainbow stripes; and this is a big deal with the rabid Belgian fans. No problem: the UCI agreed that he can get a special jersey made up. "I'm calling Santini tomorrow morning" said team manager Susan Tobin.
- Miguel Martinez (Commencal-Oxbow) made his return to mountain biking after two years on the road. He will be hoping to defend his Olympic title. After starting back in 51st place (he received a reasonable start position as the defending Olympic champion), he finished a respectable 22nd.
- There is a lot of flu striking the rider ranks, and some speculation that it is caused by the extra stress of Olympic qualifications.
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