London 2012 Olympic gold medallist and Czech mountain biking star Jaroslav Kulhavy added the UCI MTB Marathon World Championships title to his list of international titles when he powered to an emphatic win at a sun soaked Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday.
Kulhavy was satisfied with the way his race had gone and was relieved to tick off the marathon world title. ÔÇ£I am very happy because it was the last title that I didn’t have and really wanted to get. Today was a big day for me and I was really satisfied because this season hasn’t been that good for me. I was injured and had a lot of technical problems at cross-country races so it was really satisfying to win today.ÔÇØ
The race was characterised by the constant jostling of positions as the riders attempted to close the gap on Kulhavy. The Specialized Racing rider showed good form to stave off the attacks.
ÔÇ£My race went to plan even though it was was really hard,ÔÇØ said Kulhavy of his victory. ÔÇ£I decided to attack after the fifth feed zone on the downhill and got a minute gap. I pushed hard to the finish after that and didn’t look back.ÔÇØ
After a slow start, second place finisher Alban Lakata patiently manoeuvred his way through the field and established himself at the front of the field towards the end of the race. The Austrian star appreciated the performance from Kulhavy and admitted that the winner was in a class of his own.
ÔÇ£He (Kulhavy) was unbeatable today,ÔÇØ Lakata admitted. ÔÇ£Finishing second behind the Olympic champion, and ahead of a three-time World Champion, Christoph Sauser, is a great thing for me and I have now got three silver medals and one gold. I am happy about my race today.ÔÇØ
The race had its fair share of drama as defending World Champion Christoph Sauser suffered a substantial mechanical, which cost him valuable time and effectively ended his bid to defend his title. He proceeded to work his way back up the field to finish in third.
ÔÇ£First of all congratulations to Jaroslav, it was an awesome ride from him and he showed his form at Euros two weeks ago. It was all good today until the portage section of the course and I was on and off the bike the whole time and when I was carrying my bike and hit a rock with my chain ring and it took me forever to get it back working,ÔÇØ Sauser explained.
The South African charge was led by two-time South African marathon champion James Reid who finished 17th overall when he crossed the line ahead of compatriot Rourke Croeser. Reid was quick to describe the challenge of racing against the best riders in the world.
ÔÇ£It was brutal out there; it was a straight out sufferfest from the gun. I didn’t have a great grid position but I managed to get into the top 10 in the first three kilometres, which was about the highlight. The guys in the top 10 are in a different league and if you try and go with them you are going to be a firework, which I just avoided,ÔÇØ a relieved Reid mentioned.
Taking part in a world-class event on home soil was something that Reid knew was going to work in his favour and having raced the national championships at the same venue a few weeks prior to Sunday he had a good idea of what to expect.
ÔÇ£It wasn’t the most ideal build up but considering we raced this track two weeks ago it was solid. The best way to describe would be a cross-country race of 90 minutes with three hours bolted onto the end, that’s how hard these guys go out at the start,ÔÇØ the Trek SA rider added.
1 Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE) 04:15:587
2 Alban Lakata (AUT) 04:19:15
3 Christoph Sauser (SUI) 04:20:11
4 Urs Huber (SUI) 04:22:56
5 Jukka Vastaranta (FIN) 04:23:25
6 Bartlomiej Wawak (POL) 04:23:38
7 Roel Paulissen (BEL) 04:24:05
8 Robert Mennen (GER) 04:25:44
9 Periklis Ilias (GRE) 04:26:54
10 Moritz Milatz (GER) 04:27:09ÔÇ¿Also
17 James Reid (RSA) 04:34:09
18 Rourke Croeser (RSA) 04:34:53
Meanwhile, Denmark’s Annika Langvad wrapped up a hat trick of women’s world titles on Sunday entrenching her status as one of the best female endurance mountain bikers in the world.
The result was especially pleasing for the Dane who came to South Africa putting a lot of pressure on herself to win. ÔÇ£This win is just awesome!ÔÇØ Langvad said afterwards. ÔÇ£My previous two wins I wasn’t really expecting at all but this time I knew I could win and so I put a bit more pressure on myself around so to have come here and got the win despite that little bit of added pressure, is really pleasing! I didn’t expect to win so comfortably in the end though!ÔÇØ she added excitedly.
Familiar with the local conditions, Langvad looked to stamp her authority on proceedings early in the race, especially after the non-participation due to illness by Great Britain’s Sally Bigham and early withdrawal by fellow title hopeful Milena Landtwing.
It took Langvad until just after the first tech zone to make her decisive move and her lead was soon a significant one. ÔÇ£I think riding a full suspension made things a lot easier for me with this terrain and allowed me to recover a lot more,ÔÇØ she explained. ÔÇ£I also did the Cape Epic, an extremely hard stage race, leading up to World Champs and I came here today in a very similar mood to my Cape Epic mood so I managed to get into a rhythm and just keep pushing and all of a sudden the 74km actually counted down quite quickly!
ÔÇ£As I got closer to the finish line and I got told I had a good gap, I just said to myself ‘Okay, no mistakes now. Just get down safely and you’ve got the World Championships title again!’ and it was just amazing! I loved every minute of it!ÔÇØ
Germany’s vastly experienced Sabine Spitz showed her pedigree once more as she overcame the rest of the world-class field to clinch second place while recently crowned European Champion Tereza Hurikova (CZE) finished third.
ÔÇ£Early on I tried to go to front so I could keep the speed high because I’ve been involved in two crashes before when the speed was too slow but then Annika made her move between tech zone 1 and 2 and once she opened up a gap it just continued to grow and grow and grow!ÔÇØ said Spitz with a wry grin.
ÔÇ£Annika was just stronger than me, you have to accept just it when someone is stronger than you and she is a deserved World Champion!ÔÇØ she added gracefully.
The renowned competitor also had some high praise for Nick Floros’ widely anticipated course. ÔÇ£I really liked the course! My first impression of the course when I got here on Monday was very good and it didn’t change at any stage. It was different to the marathon courses we get in Europe where you ride mainly on gravel and can be quite boring. Here the landscape was so different and the course was just great!ÔÇØ said Spitz.
With the podium in a class of their own, 40-year-old legend of the sport Esther S├╝ss and fellow Swiss star Arian Kleinhans ÔÇô who now calls Stellenbosch home after marrying South African Erik Kleinhans ÔÇô were left to battle it out for the remaining top five positions.
South African national marathon champ Robyn de Groot had the ride of her life as she compiled her solid sixth place yielding effort while birthday girl Jeannie Dreyer finished eighth and was the second local lass across the line.
1 Annika Langvad (DEN) 03:50:44
2 Sabine Spitz (GER) 03:56:11
3 Tereza Hurikova (CZE) 03:59:41
4 Esther S├╝ss (SUI) 04:06:57
5 Ariane Kleinhans (SUI) 04:11:22
6 Robyn de Groot (RSA) 04:12:21
7 Jennie Stenerhag (SWE) 04:13:45
8 Jeannie Dreyer (RSA) 04:22:01ÔÇ¿9 Alice Pirard (BEL) 04:28:00
10 Regina Genser (GER) 04:28:41
Picture: Darren Goddard/Gameplan Media