Ferrand-Prevot now holds an incredible four world titles concurrently across three disciplines: Team Relay and Cross-country in Mountain Bike; the Elite Road title; and the Elite Cyclo-cross title.
Team Canada’s Catharine Pendrel, the defending Elite Women’s world champion, finished a strong 5th at the UCI World Championships which punched her ticket to Rio2016, while her teammate Emily Batty raced to a solid 7th-place finish. Raphael Gagne led the Elite Men with a career-best 18th-place finish to cap off a stellar year that included Pan Am Games gold.
Despite the sun the course in the forested sections was still heavily soaked, and the muddy conditions made rock sections slippery and treacherous, with almost every rider crashing at some point in their race. The women’s race was almost 20 minutes over the usual time due to the difficult conditions, and the men’s race was subsequently shortened by one lap.
The Elite women’s 25.2km race saw World Cup champion Jolanda Neff (Switzerland) get off to her usual fast start, with defending world champion Pendrel immediately taking up the chase, along with Ferrand-Prevot, Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) and Maja Wloszczowska (Poland).
Pendrel looked strong during the first lap surpassing Neff and Ferrand-Prevot as Neff faded rapidly, a victim of the 2,000 metre altitude and the many steep climbs, leaving Ferrand-Prevot and Pendrel at the front.
The French rider recorded the fastest full lap split of the race and got away on her own on the second lap of five. Pendrel continued to hold second place through the fourth lap, but Russia’s Irina Kalentyeva and Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa were moving up, and caught the Canadian at the end of lap four.
The three stayed together for half the lap before Kalentyeva attacked, getting a gap on Pendrel and Dahle Flesjaa, and moving into the silver medal spot. Pendrel dropped Dahle Flesjaa in the pursuit, but Belomoina was also moving forward, and went straight by Dahle Flesjaa to catch and drop Pendrel in the sixth and final lap to win the bronze.
“Even though I didn’t medal today I’m pretty satisfied with my ride, but after four laps I needed more punch in my legs but I didn’t have enough in the tank,” commented Pendrel
“Well, I gave it everything,” stated Ferrand-Prevot. “With the altitude, the climb and the slippery downhill it was so hard. I really gave it everything because I wanted this title. I want to say a big thank you to French staff and French Federation because they believed in me and that was a really big help.” She was asked about trying her luck on the track she smiled saying it wasn’t in the cards.
Batty was also happy with her race. “I can’t ask for much more, sure I’d like to place higher, but I plan to be riding for a long time still so I still have a lot to learn, and working on my cyclo-cross skills which could come in handy – especially with a race like today,” she quipped.
Sandra Walter, also racing for Canada, finished a career-best 27th breaking into the top-30 for the first time. Canada’s fourth entrant Mikaela Kofman was sick with the flu and unable to compete.
“It wasn’t the worst WC I’ve been to as far as conditions,” said Walter. “Today was tough for anyone – but I think I was 30th (she placed 27th) which is the best I’ve done at Worlds.”
All year, the Elite men’s competition has been between rivals Schurter and the defending champion Julien Absalon of France, a five time world champion in the Elite category. The race for the rainbow jersey in Andorra was no different.
Schurter, always a fast starter, took the lead in the men’s race after the first climb and was quickly joined by Absalon. The pair opened a 15-second gap by the second lap on a chase group containing Andrej Cink (Czech Republic), Manuel Fumic (Germany) and Mathias Fluckiger (Switzerland).
The time gap stayed steady through the next couple of laps, with Fluckiger dropping back after suffering a flat and having to stop in the pits at the beginning of lap four, and Cink dropping Fumic in the same lap. By the fifth lap, Schurter and Absalon were clearly going to take gold and silver, with Cink starting to pull away from Fumic for the bronze medal.
Schurter then attacked Absalon, opening a slim seven-second gap by the start of the final lap. The gap may have been small, but both riders were at their maximum, and Absalon could not close it and Schurter could not extend it. Only in the final few hundred metres did Absalon concede, allowing Schurter to roll across the line with his arms in the air. Cink came in just over a minute back, and seven seconds in front of Fumic.
“It was a tough race, especially here with altitude,” commented Schurter. “I was suffering with [my] breathing. Midway through the race I was struggling and starting to think maybe it’s not my day. But then I realized I’m a bit faster on the downhill than Absalon and could get a gap there. I am so happy about this victory, but I’m still so exhausted. Every World Championship is a nice achievement. It is the best feeling to ride in the World Champions jersey.”
“It is very nice to battle with him [Absalon] and it is even better to beat him. I tried to just do my race, not to go too much in the red zone. Tried to race my pace.”
Absalon, who again put Schurter to the test today commented, “We made the pace hard so however many laps or whoever broke first between us would lose – and today that was me.”
Canada’s Gagne had a solid run and a career-best 18th steadily moving to as high as 10th but eventually succumbed to the pace and altitude. “It was a race I really enjoyed, in fact, I’m a bit sad that this season has ended, I’m still hungry for more challenges. The course was fine, a good mix of technical, with slippery descents and quick climbs – it was one I had to be always ready for mentally and physically.”
Derek Zandstra, who placed 15th at the Worlds last year, was stuck in the back of the pack at the start but rallied and was on pace for a great comeback as he began in 40th and passed about 20 riders during his four laps, but was having some issues with his bike and pulled off the course.
“It was that kind of day where a lot happened beyond my control but while I was there, it was good to see what I could do when I had fewer options being that so many riders were making so many mistakes on this course. It’s a pity because I got into a good pace. I’ve still got a lot of riding to do this year, yet I would have liked to have finished better here. But I’ll be back and ready for another go next year,” he commented.
Geoff Kabush, making his 8th WC appearance, took it all in stride. “I didn’t have enough of what I needed to make a difference today, and although I do prefer the mud and bad conditions which play well to me, it just didn’t happen for me today,” explained Kabush.
He finished 42nd out of 63 riders who completed the race from 108 starters. “I really think I can do a lot better and get better results but I have to prove that and grab more World Cup points early in the season. I’m still very motivated, even at 38 I know I’ve still got a lot to prove and show – I’m not done yet,” he added.
Leandre Bouchard, three-time Canadian U23 XC champion, who was 8th in U23 Men’s race at the 2014 Worlds in Hafjel, Norway, had a disappointing end to his season as he had to drop out after three laps as he did not feel well.
The UCI MTB & Trials World Championships end on Sundaywith DHI racing to be followed on www.uci.ch