June 22, 2008 (Val di Sole, Italy) – Margarita Fullana (Spa), winner of the World Cup in Andorra, won the UCI MTB Elite Women’s World Championship race today in a clear display of strength and strategy, while Christoph Sauser (Sui) took the Elite Men’s title in similar style. Canadian riders also rode well, with Marie-HÃ©lÃ¨ne PrÃ©mont (QC) and Catharine Pendrel (BC) in 4th and 6th respectively while Geoff Kabush (BC) made steady gains to finish as the top Canuck in the elite men’s race placing 16th.
Sabine Spitz (Ger) and Fullana took charge of the 62-rider field from the start, with Blaza Klemencic (Slo) and defending champion Irina Kalentieva (Rus) close behind. The German and Spanish rider continued to push the pace at the front, with Fullana gapping Spitz on the climbs while the German fought back on the descents. The two rode through the start/finish together each lap with current world champ Kalentieva struggling valiantly to hang on. Canada’s PrÃ©mont could not match the fiery pace under the blazing sun, and settled into a pace she could maintain, and by the second lap of five, she had moved up to fourth place. Pendrel “had a horrid start,” she said, and on the ensuing climb said to herself “I’ve gotta go now!” She was able to pass several women, and by the second half of the second lap, had moved herself securely into seventh place.
For the next two laps, Fullana seemed to toy with Spitz and Kalentieva, attacking on the climbs, forcing her chasers to dig deep to catch back on. Finally, on lap four, Fullana made the decisive move, gaining 12s on Spitz and 25s on the Russian over half a lap. After that, Fullana continued her charge, leaving the rest of the field reeling in the wake of her impressive speed, and winning by a margin of 1:43 over Spitz. Kalentieva took the bronze medal, while PrÃ©mont had to settle for fourth, 30s off of the podium.
PrÃ©mont was pleased with her effort, but she would have preferred a longer race, as the winning time was only 1:39:01. “It was very fast,” she said. “Before the beginning, I knew it would be a very short race, and I’m not happy with that. It wasn’t very good for me.” The QuÃ©bÃ©coise is looking forward to defending her World Cup leader’s jersey, however, at the next round of World Cups in her home province this July/August.
Pendrel managed to hunt down and pick off multiple World Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle (Nor) on the final lap to defend her Worlds sixth from last year. It was “brutal,” said Pendrel of the race. “I definitely would’ve liked to finish on the podium, but I felt early on that I didn’t have it today. I felt better on the last lap, and picked up another spot.” Pendrel stuck to her race plan, which allowed her to finish strong. Canada’s third rider, Kiara Bisaro (BC) was still obviously feeling under the weather, after she caught a cold earlier in the week. At the finish, she had troubles breathing, and had to cough whenever she spoke.
The men’s race took place later on this roasting summer afternoon, and the day got even hotter as the world’s best riders put on a scorching show. Sauser and Florian Vogel (Sui) clocked the fastest lap times at 16:44, while the crowds of enthusiastic fans nearly got dizzy from watching the spectacle. Some spectators took advantage of the rays and the grassy infield to touch up their tans, while keeping tabs on the storming field of 105 riders.
It was all about the Swiss in the race, as Sauser, Vogel and Ralph NÃ¤f (Sui) swept the podium, winning the gold, silver, and bronze medals, respectively. Defending four-time World Champion, Julien Absalon (Fra) was distanced from Sauser and Vogel from the gun, and worked his way up to third place, before pulling out on the final lap, allowing NÃ¤f to take the bronze medal position.
Sauser and Vogel rode at the front in the first two positions for the entire race, with Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) briefly joining them at the end of the second lap, and yo-yoing within a few seconds, before he faded back on lap three, letting Absalon by. Sauser made his big move on the third lap, and put 9s into Vogel by the start of the fourth lap of seven, comfortably riding away, and putting nearly a whopping three minutes between them by the time he crossed the finish line, winning his first Elite Men’s UCI XC World Championship title.
Vogel rolled across the line for the silver medal and collapsed off of his bicycle, while NÃ¤f cruised in over a minute later to make it an all-Swiss podium. Liam Killeen (Gbr) had a great ride as well to finish fourth, while Kessiakoff held onto top-five after his daring charge early in the race. Kabush overcame a rocky start to finish a solid 16th. He was content with his race, he said, as he still didn’t feel 100% healthy after getting a cold earlier in the week. “I got bunged up at the start,” he said, “but that’s racing. Sixteenth? I’ll take it, collect the points and move on to the next event.”
Seamus McGrath (BC) was 24th, after racing as high as 14th. Both Derek Zandstra (ON) and Max Plaxton (BC) did not finish, Plaxton reportedly due to a hefty crash, and Zandstra because of a broken derailleur.