The UCI mountainbike World Cup exploded into life in front of packed stands bathed in sunshine on Saturday as cross country stars Nino Schurter from Switzerland and China’s Chengyuan Ren stole the limelight on the penultimate day of competition and local favourite Burry Stander crashed out of contention.
In the elite men’s race Schurter showed just why he is the current world number one as he looked calm and in control throughout the exhausting race and stormed across the line to claim his third World Cup victory of his career.
“It was such an awesome race! I’m very happy to have finished ahead of Julien (Absalon) and its really great to have won the first World Cup of the year,” said an exhausted Schurter. “The win will give me good momentum so hopefully I can just keep my shape in the next few races,” he added.
The trio of Schurter, Julien Absalon of France and the Czech Republic’s Jaroslav Kulhavy got off to a dream start and set a blistering pace on the opening lap and it was up to current World Champ Jose Hermida of Spain to try bridge the gap.
However despite Hermida’s best efforts the front three were simply unstoppable and continued to stretch their lead as they circulated through the middle section of the race with Schurter and Absalon eventually shaking Kulhavy with just a couple laps to go.
Schurter waited until the penultimate lap to make his move and as he attacked the tricky, technical rock garden he caught Absalon completely off-guard and opened up what would prove to be a decisive lead.
“Julien (Absalon) made a small mistake before then and so I decided to push hard in the rock section and fortunately I managed to open up about a 10-second gap. I then had work really hard on the last lap and I’m very happy to have won,” said Schurter.
It was a day to forget for South Africa’s Stander after his hopes of a home win were dashed by a mishap early on the first lap and another spectacular crash on the last which saw the team Specialized Racing rider cross the line in a disappointing 11th place.
“I got off to a good start and was part of the lead group but I just lost concentration for a second, my wheel slipped out and over I went,” said Stander. “I damaged my derailer and only had three gears for the rest of the race!”
“I managed to to hold sixth place for most of the way but I could feel the guys getting close towards the end there and with the added pressure I went over again in the rock garden and I’m just happy to have finished in one piece!” he added.
American Willow Koerber, the world number two ranked rider, was a surprise omission from the elite women’s field, after withdrawing from the race after confirmation that she was pregnant, however the day belonged to China’s Chengyuan Ren as she came from the second last row of the grid to fight off the strong challenge of Julie Bresset of France and take the win.
Elisabeth Sveum of Norway powered her way around the demanding course en route to taking the women’s Under-23 title, finishing nearly a minute ahead of Poland’s Paula Gorycka. After breaking her frame in practise yesterday Hungarian Barbara Benko battled her way through the race on an incorrectly sized frame and claimed a highly commendable third place.
Earlier in the day Italian Gerhard Kerschbaumer took the men’s Under-23 cross country title in a thrilling duel with Austrian Alexander Gehbauer, who led for most of the race. Kerschbaumer went to the front on the fifth lap to secure the win over Gehbauer, with Pole Marek Komwa just more than a minute back in third.
South African Rourke Croeser bounced back from a bad start that saw him lagging in the bottom half of the 55 rider field to surge through to claim 13th place.
On Sunday’s final day a crowd of around 20 000 is expected to pack around the 3km┬á downhill course to cheer on the Pietermaritzburg hero Greg Minnaar in the finals of the downhill competition.
The world number two ranked rider is defending champion after his stirring win in 2009, and will be looking to feed off the crowd support as he tackles the classy challenge from British pacesetter Gee Atherton, the flying Aussie Michael Hannah who was the fastest man in qualifying, Aaron Gwin, Sam Hill and compatriot Andrew Neethling.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
1 Nico Schurter SUI 1.34:50
2 Julien Absalon FRA +00:16
3 Jaroslav Kulhavy CZE +01:07
4 Jose Hermida ESP +01:15
5 Marco Fontana ITA +01:46
6 Manuel Fumic GER +01:48
7 Inaki Lejarreta ESP +01:51
8 Staphane Tempier FRA +01:54
9 Carlos Coloma +02:33
10 Todd Wells USA +02:36
1 Chengyuan Ren CHN 1:32:36
2 Julie Bresset FRA +01:06
3 Irina Kalentieva RUS +02:18
4 Catharine Pendrel CAN +02:44
5 Lene Byberg NOR +03:16
6 Nathalie Schneitter SUI +05:01
7 Sabine Spitz GER +05:18
8 Maja Wloszczowska POL +05:26
9 Marie-Helene Premont CAN +05:33
10 Elisabeth Osl AUT +05:57
1 Gerhard Kerschbaumer ITA 1:22:48
2 Alexander Gehbauer AUT +00:18
3 Marek Konwa POL +01:10
4 Fabien Canal FRA +01:48
5 Michiel van der Heijden NED +02:08
6 Jordan Sarrou FRA +02:33
7 Piotr Brzozka POL +02:39
8 David Fletcher GBR +02:47
9 Marco Minnaard NED +02:58
10 Olof Jonsson SWE +03:11
1 Elisabeth Sveum NOR 1:22:11
2 Paula Gorycka POL +00:52
3 Barbara Benko HUN +01:14
4 Fanny Bourdon FRA +01:56
5 Kathrin Stirnemann SUI +04:35
6 Mariske Strauss RSA +04:53
7 Candice Neethling RSA +05:17
8 Serena Calvetti ITA +06:04
9 Rebecca Henderson AUS +07:29
10 Ekaterina Anoshina RUS +07:30