Cunny gives us the low down on the XCO Champs in Pietermaritzburg.
In a year that’s seen reigning champion Nino Schurter once again leading the World Cup series, with three wins under his belt, it was easy to say he was the odds-on favourite coming into this years World Championships. The opposite was true in the Women’s race, it saw defending champion Julie Bresset in need of a good result to make up for her poor World Cup campaign so far due to injury.
The dusty, technical and ferociously fast track in Pietermaritzburg took a few victims; strong favourites Tanja Zakelj and Eva Lechner in the women’s and Marco Fontana in the men’s all took themselves out of medal contending positions with crashes.
Her form steadily improving on her comeback trail, it seems Bresset has timed this just right and peaked perfectly to defend her rainbow stripes. The Frenchwoman was in fine form leading out every lap except one but Maja Wloszczowska was on her tail all that time, forcing Bresset to make a move in the final rock garden descent where she managed to pull out the five seconds with some brave riding that she held to the end.
Esther Süss had her best ride of the year by a long way to claim a bronze medal while Irina Kalentieva also had her best result to take fourth. Current World Cup series leader Tanja Zakelj could only comeback to finish fifth after her crash.
In the Men’s, Nino Schurter was impressively strong from the start, taking the lead straight out of the gate he set a formidable pace that made the first straight look like a pack of charging horses. Having been in dominating form for the whole of this season and the last, it looked like he had what was needed to control the race and at no point did anyone really have a chance to overhaul him.
The rider who has been able to stick it to Schurter on occasions this season, Julien Absalon, looked out of sorts reportedly due to a crash in practice. Making him unable to show the pedigree that has won him this title four time before. Disappointingly for the frenchman, the first tricolour adorned jersey to cross the line was not his this time but compatriot Maxime Marotte. The master of peaking for big events, Jaroslav Kulhavy was coming on strong at the end and finished in fifth, looking like if there’d been a few more laps he could have done even more.
Despite Schurter maintaining a lead of around twenty seconds over second place for most of the race, the two riders chasing rode incredibly with José Hermida looking almost capable at times of joining Schurter. Manuel Fumic pushed hard after a crash early on to turn around his fortunes this year that saw him break a collarbone at the first race of the year. Sticking a silver medal around his neck clearly had him excited as he jumped around on reaching the finish.
Bresset continues to hold the full house of rainbow stripes and Olympic Gold. Schurter may have missed out on that Olympic title but when he can ride in a style this dominating, there is certainly no question as to who is currently at the top of this discipline.
The only sad point of the day was that South African Burry Stander was not here to compete at his home World Championships after passing away last winter in a training accident. Sure to say that he was everyone’s minds, demonstrated by José Hermida as he pointed to the sky when crossing the line.
1 Nino Schurter (Switzerland)1:40:17
2 Manuel Fumic (Germany) + 0:07
3 José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spain)+ 0:21
4 Maxime Marotte (France)+ 0:53
5 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic)+ 1:17
1 Julie Bresset (France)1:42:54
2 Maja Wloszczowska (Poland)+ 00:05
3 Esther Süss (Switzerland)+ 01:06
4 Irina Kalentieva (Russian Federation)+ 01:29
5 Tanja Zakelj (Slovenia)+ 02:03