2013 UCI World MTB Championships

4 Sep 2013
Perfect weather conditions and a fast dry track were the order of the day for the elite riders at the 2013 UCI World MTB Championships in Pietermaritzburg. Each lap of the course was comprised of 2 loops, with the 2nd loop having some extremely technical sections, sure to have an impact in this race.

First up was the women's race, made up of a star-studded but small field of only 47 riders. Sabine Spitz, one of the favourites, was notably absent following a crash on the course earlier in the week which resulted in her breaking her collar bone.

The start of the 6 lap race was hard and fast, but was followed by a significant bottleneck on the first single track switch back climb. This allowed the early leaders to get a gap on some of the big favourites who found themselves caught amongst the traffic. By the end of Lap 1 a clear lead group had formed (Bresset, Lechner, Wloszczowska, Zakelj, Nash, and Engen) with 20 seconds to the next group of riders.

By the intermediate time check on Lap 2 Kalentieva had joined the lead group, with Stirnemann joining later. A significant crash for Lechner on Sharkas Play Ground, one of the more technical sections on the 2nd half of the lap, erased any hopes of a medal for the Italian. Lechner was slow to move after this crash, but to her credit straightened her handlebars, remounted her bike and battled on in what must be acknowledged as a gutsy display of both professionalism and sportsmanship. The fast mover on Lap 2 was Ester Suss, only 16 seconds down at the end of the lap.

Nearing the end of Lap 3, it was current World Cup leader Zakelj who was the next victim on this technical course. A high speed crash at the bottom of the Cork Screw descent and a short stop in the technical zone to correct twisted bars, culminated in Zakelj losing her position in the lead pack of riders. By the end of Lap 3 Wloszczowska (the 2010 World Champion) and Bresset (the defending World and current Olympic Champion) had broken away from the pack, and these two women, clearly the best on the course today, battled it out for the remainder of the race. Suss and Kalentieva found themselves in a similar situation fighting it out for the bronze medal.

At the end of Lap 5, Wloszczowska appeared to be assessing her tactics for the closing stages of the race when she out-sprinted Bresset for the lead into the most technical section of the course – the Rock Garden. Behind this pair, Suss and Kalentieva remained locked together until Kalentieva crashed in the Rock Garden, losing valuable time to Suss who was clearly on form today.

The last lap was all about Bresset and Wloszczowska. Wloszczowska, a 3 time silver medallist at the World Championships (2004, 2005, 2011) did not want to settle for silver for a 4th time, and fought hard in an all-out sprint for the lead for the final ride through the Rock Garden. But Bresset was ready and responded, this time holding on to her lead, then simply released the brakes and soared through the Rock Garden with an impressive demonstration of her strong technical skills. In doing so she created a gap that Wloszczowska was unable to close on the final sprint to the line. It was an absolutely spectacular race from two very talented riders. Bresset had timed her return from injury (collar bone fracture) earlier in the year to perfection, and whilst Wloszczowska had to settle for her 4th silver medal at these Championships, she could not be unhappy with her performance in this race. An absolutely elated Suss took out the bronze medal 1.06 behind, with Kalentieva in 4th at 1.29. Zakelj recovered from her crash to finish 5th. Engen, Stirnemann, Dahle Flesjaa, and Davison were 6th-9th respectively, and Lechner despite her significant crash, rode her way in to 10th place. She will have extra motivation after this race, and will be the one to watch in the final round of the World Cup circuit in Hafjell, Norway in 2 weeks time.

Unlike the women's race, the men's race was a one man show, with clear domination from defending World Champion Nino Schurter from start to finish. Schurter signalled his intentions early with a fast start, which he later proclaimed was a tactic to upset his main rival, Frenchman Julien Absalon, who tends to start a little more conservatively. By the end of the first lap Schurter had a opened up a 10 second lead on the chasers.

Laps 2 and 3 saw several casualties on this technical course. A season that has contained much bad luck and disappointment for Fontana continued today, when he was forced to stop at the technical zone on Lap 2 with a broken saddle. Lukas Fluckiger crashed out of the race on Lap 2, and Fabian Giger went down hard in the Rock Garden, but still managed to hold on to 5th position at the end of Lap 3.

On Lap 4, things had started to become a bit more spread out. Hermida, riding aggressively in 2nd, showed his frustration at being slowed by a lapped rider, allowing Schurter to slip further away. At the end of Lap 4 Hermida was 17 seconds in arrears, whilst Fumic, who had retained his composure after his crash, was now sitting in 3rd place only 22 seconds down. On Lap 5 Fumic passed Hermida, and while this pair worked well together, they could not eat in to Schurter's lead.

On the penultimate lap, it was Jaroslav Kulhavy who had found his rhythm and moved his way through the field into 5th place. Fumic was super slick through the Rock Garden, always taking the fastest and most difficult line, allowing him to create a 6 second gap on Hermida by the end of the lap. Heading in to the final lap, this race was Nino Schurter's to lose. He was fast and relaxed in the descents, allowing him to save energy to accelerate in to the climbs. There was a minor scare towards the end of the lap however, when Schurter's front wheel washed out on a dry bermed corner. He recovered quickly, but this mishap did allow Fumic to almost get within striking distance.

In the end it was Schurter who, like Bresset, had defended his World title, in a display of complete and utter domination. Fumic took the silver medal – a great comeback from injury earlier in the season. Hermida took the bronze medal, with Marotte and Kulhavy in 4th and 5th. A rare off-day for Absalon in 6th place, but he was perhaps feeling the effects of a crash that occurred in training. Milatz, Cink, Tempier, and Giger rounded out the top 10.

by Jeanette Gerrie

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