After last year’s Olympic distraction, the Mountain Bike World Cup returns for 2013 as the biggest challenge for a field of riders fresh from a winter’s training. With all the new kits on display and some riders on new teams, it’s that time to see who’s been doing their homework.
In the women’s race, it was Eva Lechner and Katrin Leumann who established themselves as contenders early on with Maja Wloszczowska closing in on them on lap three whilst Alexandra Engen and Tanja Zakelj joined the front group a lap later. Wloszczowska pushed hard to take the lead momentarily but Lechner’s speed, especially on the descents, kept her at the sharp end. Rain started on the last lap as Lechner used her skills to extend her lead, pulling a small gap of six seconds, which she held onto and extended slightly to take the win by eight seconds. Wloszczowska gave a very honourable chase while Leumann dropped back slightly but maintained third to take her best result. It was the strong display from the Italian National Champion to take the win that was the real story making it her first World Cup win since her 2010 victory in Houffalize. Showing that her dismal 2012 is well behind her.
The Men’s race started with a minutes silence to remember last years second place finisher in the series; Burry Stander, who tragically died in a car crash whilst on a training ride in January.
After the rain at the end of the Women’s race and some more in the time in between, the men were faced with a wet and very tricky track. But it did still start with a blistering pace set by teammates Florian Vogel and Nino Schurter leading out the first lap before encountering a few issues when Mathias Flückiger and Julien Absalon took to the front. It wasn’t long before the French National Champion Absalon started to pull away, being the only rider to clock up sub fourteen-minute laps. Racking up a substantial lead of thirty seconds by the second lap, Absalon continued to extend his dominance over the rest of the field, looking to be in the sort of form that has won him so many titles in the past. A great start on his new team, BMC, and World Cup debut on a 29er.
Drama struck when Absalon’s rear derailleur broke on the fifth lap whilst he was a minute ahead. He was a sight of dejection as he quickly realised he couldn’t mend it, carrying his bike on his shoulder with the wheel hanging out. His day ended when he left the course and returned to the pits.
Sergio Mantecon Gutierrez took the front following Absalon’s departure and was looking strong to take his first win but it was the Australian Dan McConnell who found a new pace and determination in the last three laps. Even managing to outdo Olympic Champion Kulhavy as they chased down Mantecon Gutierrez. With a few corners to go McConnell made the pass for the lead for which Mantecon Gutierrez had no answer.
In a day that saw misfortune for some of the big names of the sport, many other new ones shone through, most notably McConnell who having only finished in the top twenty once before has discovered a whole new presence. The season is looking set to give us plenty more battles with this much talent coming through, that’s for sure.
2.MANTECON GUTIERREZ Sergio