June 1, 2008 (Vallnord, Andorra) — The ski resort of Vallnord in the tiny Pyrenean country of Andorra (sandwiched between France and Spain) played host to an exciting and surprising set of XC races yesterday, with Marga Fullana (Spa) Massi and Christoph Sauser (Sui) Specialized taking the women’s and men’s victories.
In the days leading up to the event, the promised rain held off, resulting in course conditions becoming continually drier and faster. However, by early race morning, a light drizzle had begun, which was followed by a torrential shower about an hour before the women’s race started at 10:30 am local time. For many riders, this change in weather necessitated a tire change to something suited to deal with the mud that was forming on course. Organizers cut the number of laps from six to five in anticipation of the toll the weather would take. The rain stopped not long after the start, but the damage had been done to the track.
The women’s field of 60 riders was missing several top contenders, including Irina Kalentieva (Rus) Topeak-Ergon, Gunn-Rita Dahle (Nor) Multivan-Merida and Sabine Spitz (Ger) Ghost International. As a result of the smaller start list, altitude (nearly 2,000m) and very different conditions, the race was somewhat surprising. It was no surprise, however, that Fullana would vie for the win, and she did so with commanding style. Canada’s Marie-HÃ©lÃ¨ne PrÃ©mont was expected to put up a stronger fight, but the QuÃ©bÃ©coise took a while to warm up on the chilly, wet morning. While Fullana rode away, the battle for the rest of the podium grew stimulating between PrÃ©mont, Eva Lechner (Ita) Colnago, Nathalie Schneitter (Sui) Colnago and Canada’s Catharine Pendrel (Can) Luna Women’s MTB Team. In the end, Lechner grabbed second spot, PrÃ©mont took third, and a beaming Pendrel logged her first World Cup podium and best result to date with fourth place. Schneitter doing the same in fifth position. With another top-three result, PrÃ©mont hangs onto the leader’s jersey.
Canada’s Kiara Bisaro (Can) Opus had a strong ride, placing 13th. Sandra Walter (Can) X.O-Felt Women’s MTB Team logged another top 30 with 29th place, and Wendy Simms (Can) Kona was 33rd.
Canada’s Kabush 3rd
The men’s field was also significantly smaller than the first few World Cups, but all of the top riders were on hand, including World Cup leader with a 3-for-3 win record, Julien Absalon (Fra) Orbea. Jose Antonio Hermida (Spa) Multivan-Merida, Florian Vogel (Sui) Swisspower, Cedric Ravanel (Fra) Lapierre, Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Orbea, and Nino Schurter (Sui) Swisspower were also among the favourites. Things turned topsy turvy early on, when Sauser suddenly had a 30s gap half-way through the second lap of seven on a determined chase group. Sauser maintained his lead, however, and it looked as if no one would challenge him, until suddenly South Africa’s Burry Stander (RSA) GT was noticeably charging up through the ranks and gaining on the leader. His determination and speed increased as he powered around the 5.2km course, and suddenly, on the sixth lap, Stander came through with a 15s gap on the Swiss rider. Sauser reportedly had a flat, which gave Stander his chance.
But it was not to be for young South African, however, as a determined Sauser fought back and regained the lead to the finish. Meanwhile Canada’s Geoff Kabush (Can) Maxxis was having one of his best World Cup rides as he tenaciously moved up through the pack to capture third place claiming his best European World Cup finish. Lukas Fluckiger (Sui) Athleticum finished fourth and Ravanel was fifth. The previously unbeatable Absalon finished 11th.
Mathieu Toulouse (Can) Maxxis had a tough day, finishing 74th. Seamus McGrath (Can) Fuji did not finish.