Reports: Houffalize World Cup Fourcross and Cross Country
Three great races, one classic venue. As the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Series moves to Belgium and the legendary course of Houffalize, we have all the reports and video roundups from both fourcross and cross country.
Fourcross Round 1
Graves Retains Leaders Jersey
Six months on from earning the World Championship title in Canberra and securing the World Cup Series with a win at the World Cup Finals in Schladming, Jared Graves returned to international fourcross competition in dominating style.
The opening round of the fourcross 2010 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Houffalize saw Graves win every round, escaping the curse of the Rainbow Jersey and proving he's still the number one fourcross rider Worldwide.
On a track which many of the riders - including Graves - were unhappy with, due to a lack of large jumps or extended rough or technical sections, there were nonetheless several pileups; a factor top British finisher Scott Beaumont explicitly took advantage of.
Progressing through to the semi-finals despite being hit by a stomach bug and losing a stone in bodyweight one week prior, Beaumont ran out of track in the semis before finishing second in the small final; again benefitting from a crash in the first corner where Johannes Fischback washed out, leaving Dan Atherton no escape route.
Atherton struggled with gates all night but seemed double the speed of every rider on the first turn, repeatedly cutting in tight and advancing from dead last to first place. That move didn't pay off in the semis though, a front-wheel washout sending Atherton into the plooms of dust that covered the Houffalize hillside.
Women's favourite Anneke Beerten fell to the same fate as Atherton in the final, leading and losing the front wheel in turn one while under zero pressure. This allowed Jana Horakova a clear run to the finish ahead of fastest qualifier Anita Molcik. Molcik rode fast all night, but failed to get the great start in the final that was crucial to securing the first turn.
Men's winner Graves noted this as key in his first win of the 2010 season when talking after the final race.
"In those first two turns anything could happen, so definitely having the fastest qualification time and therefore first lane choice was the key. This allowed you to cover your line, and as long as you don't make mistakes from there, you're in with a good chance. As always it's great to start the season with a win. After winter you never know how fast everyone is going or if your training has paid off, but for now the pressure is off for the second round."
The World Cup fourcross continues in two weeks alongside the opening round of the downhill in Maribor, Slovenia.
1. Jana Horakova (CZE)
2. Anita Mocik (AUT)
3. Emmeline Ragot (FRA)
4. Anneke Beerten (NED)
1. Jared Graves (AUS)
2. Thomas Slavik (CZE)
3. Michal Prokop (CZE)
4. Roger Rindeknecht (SUI)
XCO Round 2 - Men
Hermida Back In His Way
Spain's Jose Hermida returned to the top step of the podium in Houffalize for the first time since 2007 in a late, late show to snatch victory from Manuel Fumic in a race dominated by changeable conditions, crashes and mechanical problems.
Fumic led from the first climb to the final lap, staying out of trouble and instantly gaining a 30 second lead over Wolfram Kurschat, Julien Absalon and Mattias Fluckinger - all of which were delayed by many crashes in the woods and in the earliest stages may have been unaware the Fumic was ahead at all.
Indeed, carnage on the Houffalize course was responsible for transforming the top ten; top riders from last week in Dalby - Burry Stander and Nino Schurter - were impeded from the gun, as Jaroslav Kulhavy missed his pedal, slipped and fell, creating a game of dominoes on row one of the grid. Fortunately Absalon escaped this, but all riders on the left side of the road were heavily effected; Kulhavy himself recovering to finish fourth.
At the head of the race however, it was still Fumic maintaining a lead, with neither Kurschat or Fluckinger wishing to take up a chase within such close range of Absalon. But when the multiple World and Olympic champion had a rare puncture at the furthest point from the tech zone, Fumic seemed untouchable, his lead growing to 40 seconds. Perhaps a bigger question was why none of Absalon's teammates were drilled to hand over their wheel, which could have limited the time loss.
As lap three started Hermida was just passing Absalon, one minute and thirty seconds adrift of Fumic. But as the Frenchman stopped for his wheel change, Hermida would start his mission to join chasing riders Fluckinger and Kurschat - something he achieved in just one lap, before riding away instantly in pursuit of Fumic.
By now Fumic was tiring, but with two laps remaining and a 34 second lead there was still a good chance of staying away. What nobody bargained for was the speed and consistency of Hermida, who was the fastest man on track in the mid-section of the race and as the final lap started, Fumic could only give way to Hermida and take consolation that no other rider would catch him. Behind, Absalon would log the fastest last lap of the race, an indicator of another great battle he could have had with friend and rival Hermida; however Jose will sleep easy tonight knowing he can wait three weeks until Offenburg for that particular workout.
1. Jose Hermida (SPA)
2. Manuel Fumic (GER)
3. Wolfram Kurschat (GER)
4. Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE)
5. Ralph Naef (SUI)
40. Oli Beckingsale (GBR)
98. Liam Killeen (GBR)
116. David Fletcher (GBR)
157. Seb Batchelor (GBR)
169. Chris Minter (GBR)
172. Ben Thomas (GBR)
180. Tim Dunford (GBR)
184. Chris Andrews (GBR)
185. John Whittington (GBR)
XCO Round 2 - Women
Lechner Wins For Italy - Koerber Takes Series Lead
Italian cross country champion Eva Lechner has recorded the countries first World Cup win since the legendary Paola Pezzo, taking the most prestigious event of the Series in Houffalize.
Only comparable to Formula 1's Monaco GP, Lechner rode a race detached from the battles which consumed Willow Koerber, Marga Fullana and Lisi Osl, to attack in the final quarter lap at a moment when Koerber was being slowed by lapped riders.
For the duration of the race Koerber was the protagonist and was expected to record the first World Cup win for a mountain bike with 29-inch wheels, but in the closing stages backmarkers caused leading riders significant problems - Koerber the first victim - as race organisation failed to clear the course.
From the line 119 women took to a transformed Houffalize; a course cut from over 8km to 5.5km, which only used one hillside and eradicated the longer tarmac climbs in favour of shorter, steeper off road pitches. Practice during the week was typified by dry conditions, the track covered in loose dust, but overnight rain rendered the loop an icerink.
This manifested itself on the opening descent; only Lechner, Osl and Premont getting a clean run before a mass pile-up ensued with bikes and bodies sliding across the track and many favourites taken out of contention before the start lap was complete.
On climb one a form of race order was established; albeit without round one winner Irina Kalentieva. Eva Lechner led more by default than spectacular riding, avoiding all crashes on course, while 2008 World Champion Marga Fullana cut her way from 50th position on the grid into second place. Osl soon joined this duo at the expense of Marie-Helene Premont who abandoned after lap one.
At this stage the course was becoming so cut up that Koerber called to the pits for a set of replacement mud tyres; but as the sun replaced light drizzle a change wasn't called upon and the American - who claimed second at Dalby - was able to join the leading trio at the feedzone.
Riders didn't stay together for long though, because of the constant changes in terrain on a course renowned for physical erosion. Lisi Osl looked strongest in the opening two laps, perhaps choosing the best tyres for the early stages, as her climbing - particularly in the stickier sections - was standout, even with Fullana in the group.
This high, variable pace resulted in Lechner dropping back significantly on lap three, while Fullana revelled on the climbs. Until this stage Koerber had little impact on the lead group - having to recover from her chase from the leaders on lap one the likely explanation - but as Fullana extended her lead to ten seconds, Koerber sensed the danger and chased the gap, before launching her own attack on a bumpy grass descent.
This was matched later by Fullana, and then Osl who rejoined the group midway through lap three, but as lap four began two pairs had formed; Fullana and Koerber, Osl and Lechner. The gap between these groups was under five seconds, but any attack made by a rider in the front pairing would leave a chase group of three and no rider able to respond.
This was exactly what happened midway through lap four as Koerber again attacked on the grass field to gain a lead she could consolidate on the descent, leaving Fullana with an unassailable gap on her forte; the ascent.
This plan worked out, as Fullana failed to respond, but what Koerber didn't see coming was a move from Lechner, so strong that as the fifth and final lap started Lechner was on the front, Koerber second with a small gap to Osl in third. Behind, Fullana was battling to finish as leading under-23 Julie Bresset and Catherine Pendrel continued their rides into the remaining podium positions.
The final lap was a battle of timing, attacks and counterattacks from the leading three. It was clear that Osl didn't have the horsepower to take a win outright, but was always positioned to take second place, or even the win from anyone making silly mistakes.
Lechner was the first to react on the main climb, passing under the bridge with a ten second gap, while Osl kept a watch on Koerber's back wheel. Koerber then used her favourite place to attack (the bumpy field followed by a short downhill) and regained the lead of the race through the feedzone, with a view to attacking on the final climb. Unfortunately, Lechner regained the lead at this stage, and while the Italian had a clear route through several backmarkers who were walking the course, Koerber wasn't so fortunate.
Making the most of this situation, Lechner attacked, crossing the line with an expression of surprise to take her first World Cup win. Koerber followed some five seconds later, while Lisi Osl rounded out the top three and returned to form after a disappointing result in Dalby. Fourth, and ride of the day went to Julie Bresset, the under-23 rider passing Fullana and Catherine Pendrel in the final lap.
Koerber's only consolation is that she now takes overall lead of the 2010 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup XCO Series, and will be gridded number one rider when racing resumes in three weeks at Offenburg, Germany.
1. Eva Lechner (ITA)
2. Willow Koerber (USA)
3. Lisi Osl (AUT)
4. Julie Bresset (FRA)
5. Catherine Pendrel (USA)
43. Annie Last (GBR)
73. Lily Matthews (GBR)