June 20, 2008 (Val di Sole, Italy) – The sun shone on the Swiss today for the U23 Men’s World MTB XC Championship race in Val di Sole, as they took first, third, fourth and ninth spots. Nino Schurter (Sui) reclaimed his World title after a year-long hiatus in 2007, when Jakob Fuglsang (Den) won the rainbow stripes. Burry Stander (RSA) took second place, followed by Matthias Fluckiger (Sui) in third. Canada’s only entrant, RaphaÃ«l GagnÃ© (QC) reached a season goal by placing in the top-10 finishing in 7th.
Schurter rode a strong and strategic race. He allowed Stander storm ahead and take the lead for the first four of six 6.2km laps, while the Swiss rider stuck to his wheel. Together, the two rode decisively away from the field, showing the world that they are in a league of their own in the U23 category. Both have been on the Elite Men’s World Cup podium already this season, and were clear favourites today.
Halfway through the fifth lap, Schurter attacked the South African, putting a gap of 23s into him by the end of the lap. When Schurter started his final circuit, he looked fast, smooth and extremely comfortable, whereas the effort was starting to show on Stander’s face and in his pedal stroke. It was no surprise when Schurter rolled across the finish first, 41s ahead of his nearest rival, Stander.
While Fluckiger could not match the pace of the two escapees, he rode the entire race solo, defending his bronze medal. He finished third, 3:46 back, over a minute ahead of fourth place, fellow Swiss Fabian Giger (Sui). France’s StÃ©phane Tempier (Fra) took fifth spot, and Dario Alejandro Gasco (Arg) beat out Canada’s GagnÃ© for sixth.
GagnÃ© rode a very smart race and didn’t get carried away by the crazy pace at the start. “I had no problem with the heat and had a good feeling on the climb,” he said. “I paced from the first lap and didn’t go too hard on the start.” GagnÃ©’s conservative start put him around 13th position for the first three laps, where he looked comfortable in a group of four riders. Then, by the halfway point of lap four, he was 11th, halfway through lap five he was ninth, then seventh at the end, and as high as sixth on the final lap. The Argentinian Gasco surged and gapped the Canadian, but GagnÃ© rolled happily into seventh. “I was feeling great on the climb and very, very strong on the technical.”
“It was always my plan to arrive first on the technical [sections], I didn’t crash at all during the race, and I gained on the descents.” He explained his strategy: “I waited for the guys on the flats, that gave me a good break,” so he was able to conserve energy for a strong finish.