August 26, 2006 (Rotorua, New Zealand) – France’s Julien Absalon and Norway’s Gunn Rita Dahle-Flesjaa must be prepared to defend their Elite XC titles tomorrow as 81 men and 50 women aim to take away their rainbow jerseys. The women start at 10 am while the men start at 2 pm – it’s expected that they will do five and six laps respectively.
Most riders are quite pleased with the course with “balanced” being the most common word used to describe it. Canada’s Kiara Bisaro from Courtney, B.C. said, “It’s a lot more fun, they’ve added some technical bits.” Switzerland’s Chistoph Sauser noted how the climbing suits him, “It couldn’t be any better.” Great Britain’s Liam Killeen said, “Å it’s a very individual course,” adding “I expect it to be strung out after the first lap.”
As usual the weather will play a key part in how tomorrow’s races unfold. Rain is now falling here in NZ on the night prior, but sunny skies are forecasted for Sunday’s events. During the men’s U23 race on Friday mud forced riders to run sections of both the climbs and descents, and it reeked havoc on drive trains. There is a clear division as to which riders prefer the wet vs dry.
Abbotsford B.C.’s Ricky Federau eloquently made his choice of weather clear, “I hope it just pisses down rain.” Also preferring wet conditions are Julien Absalon, Filip Meirhaeghe (BEL), Liam Killeen (GBR), Florian Vogel, Thomas Meirhaeghe (BEL), and Maple Bay B.C.’s Seamus McGrath.
Leading those who hope for dry conditions is Chistoph Sauser (SUI) saying, “I want to be able to ride the climbs.” USA’s Sue Haywood and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Canada’s Geoff Kabush also prefer it to be dry. North Vancouver’s Alison Sydor summed it up saying “it’s the type of course that the best riders will do well regardless of the conditions.”
Having won the MTB Worlds three times (2002, 2004, 2005) including 2004 Olympic gold in Athens, Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle-Fresjaa is the clear favourite in women’s race tomorrow. She has won 3 of 5 World Cups (Curacao, Madrid, Spa Francorchamps) – and a mechanical at Fort William, Scotland and a raging performance from Canada’s Marie-HÃ©lÃ¨ne PrÃ©mont at Monte Ste Anne (MSA) are the only things that have prevented a clean sweep the series.
PrÃ©mont of ChÃ¢teau-Richer Quebec stands the best chance of upsetting Dahle and is Canada’s best hope for a gold medal at these MTB Worlds. The 2004 Olympic silver medalist beat Dahle-Fresjaa at the most recent world cup at MSA just outside of her hometown. PrÃ©mont was 4th at the Worlds in both 2004 and 2005
Maja Wloszczowska of Poland was second at both the 2004 and 2005 MTB World Championships and according to Sydor, she started her season slowly but with each world cup Wloszczowska’s form has improved. Is this her time to peak at the Worlds?
Germany’s Sabine Spitz has consistently been at the top of the results sheets since 2001. Her best result is winning the 2003 MTB Worlds in Lugano, Switzerland. She has been in the top five of each of the 2006 World Cups.
Spain’s Margarita Fullana Riera, a two-time MTB World Champion (1999, 2000), has returned to her top form placing second at home at the World Cup in Madrid Spain this year.
Canada’s legendary Alison Sydor gets set to race her 16th MTB Worlds tomorrow. The three-time world champ (1994, 1995, 1996) has never placed outside the top ten and has won a total of ten Worlds medals. Never discount Sydor at Worlds, she has the ability to peak for top races better than any woman in cycling.
Bisaro who won a local 70-km endurance race here a week ago is modest about her chances tomorrow, “I am a bit nervous, there is a lot of pressure.” Catherine Pendrel of Kamloops B.C. and Wendy Simms of Naniamo B.C. will also be at the start line in Canadian jerseys tomorrow.
Julien Absalon the 2004, and 2005 MTB World Champion and 2004 Athens Olympic gold medalist is the tough man to beat on Sunday. Like Dahle he has won three world cups this year and has done a lot of racing recently including the European Championships which he won. Acording to Sauser “he is unstoppable in wet conditions.”
Sauser has been in the unfortunate position of being runner up many times but never a world champion. Although he has won the world cup overall title twice the best he has managed at Worlds was second in 2005. He won the most recent world cup in MSA which should give him a confidence boost for tomorrow. According to Thomas Frischknecht “he does struggle in wet conditions.”
If Alison Sydor is “the legend” of women’s MTB racing then Frischy is her male counterpart. Frischy won the 1996 MTB Worlds in Cairns Austrailia and was awarded the title four years later when Jerome Chiotti admitted to using EPO when he won. Frischknecht proved he can still race at the top level when he placed third at the Worlds in 2004.
1996 Olympic Champion Bart Brentjens, of the Netherlands is a veteran MTB World Champ (1995) who has proved that he can also still race at the top by winning the opening round of the World Cup this year in Curacao.
Liam Killeen of Great Britain is a recent name at the top of results sheets. His breakthrough victory came at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Austrailia. He has has a solid World Cup season placing third in Curacao and second at MSA respectively.
Kiwi Kashi Leuches will have the benefit of a partisan crowd. He placed 7th at Worlds in 2004.
2003 World Champion Filip Meirhaeghe of Belgium lines up for the first time at a world championship race after having served an 18-month suspension for taking the banned substance EPO. Pedal caught up with Meirhaeghe at the course today. Any questions about his relatively brief suspension went unanswered. Of his season to date he said, “I’m happy so far – I was fourth at Spa.” He added “Å top 20 if its dry top 15 if its raining” when asked of his chances tomorrow.
Other racers are less than pleased with Meirhaeghe’s presence as Horgan-Kobelski said, “His ban was too short.” Swiss star Sauser said, “as long as he doesn’t win I don’t care,” while Frischknecht said, “When he is leading everyone goes 120 percent because they don’t like him.”
McGrath holds one of Canada’s best shots in the men’s race tomorrow. He placed an impressive fifth at the recent MSA World Cup and is very motivated for the race. “I want to go top five for sure” he said, adding “I love the course.”
Geoff Kabush was 16th at the MTB Worlds last year and would like to improve on that tomorrow saying that he is well rested. Ricky Federau and Mathieu Toulouse will represent also Canada on the start line.