Vallnord, Andorra: World Cup 2013

1 Aug 2013
At 2000m altitude, with blustery head winds and searing temperatures, World Cup 4 in Vallnord proved to be a battle of attrition. Some riders opted to complete a training block at altitude prior to the event, but with many National Championship events held only one week before, this left little time for altitude acclimatisation.

The women's race was missing two big names in Canada's Catharine Pendrel (broken collarbone) and Emily Batty (illness). But with a number of newly crowned National Champions and in-form riders, there were many hungry for victory in this race.

An early lead group of 4 formed on lap 1 (Wloszczowska, Neff, Lechner, Nash), with Sabine Spitz and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa joining them early into lap 2. Wloszczowska dropped off the pace on lap 3 suffering from cramps. Neff also appeared to be a victim of the altitude on the steep climbs, but utilised her strong technical skills to rejoin the group several times, and was with the lead pack of 5 heading in to the final lap.

Nash was the aggressor on the final lap, attacking on the steep open climbs. Only Spitz could go with her, but Lechner and Dahle Flesjaa remained in striking distance. Coming in to the final straight, it was an elated Spitz who had the power required to take the win in her first World Cup race since injuring her shoulder in Albstadt, with a fast finishing Nash 1 second in arrears. Lechner crossed the line in 3rd place, a further 2 seconds back, with Dahle Flesjaa just behind in 4th. Tania Zakelj rode consistently to finish in 5th place, ahead of Leumann in 6th and the youngster Neff in 7th. Engen, Klememcic, and Bresset rounded out the top 10.

The men's race, like that of the women's, was a closely fought affair with plenty of drama to add to the excitement. The two race favourites, reigning World Champion Nino Schurter and former Olympic and World Champion Julian Absalon, both suffered mechanical issues early on in the race, leaving the race wide open for the contenders. Absalon experienced the greatest misfortune with a chain issue occurring only 40 seconds in to the race, leaving him entering the single track at the very back of the field with a large task ahead of him. Schurter was slightly more fortunate, puncturing whilst leading the race in lap 1, but being able to continue riding to the technical zone.

A large lead pack had formed going in to lap 2 of the race, with last year's Under 23 World Champion and recent Czech National Champion Ondrej Cink moving to the front. Schurter rejoined the first group in lap 2 of the race, whilst a fast moving Absalon demonstrated his current form by powering through the field to reach 22nd place by the end of lap 2.

Cink attacked early in to lap 3, and managed to create a decent gap between himself and the large group of chasers lead by Fabian Giger. There was drama a-plenty nearing the end of lap 4, with Absalon having another chain issue and again losing more places, and Fontana in the front chase pack puncturing a rear tyre effectively ending his bid for a podium position. Going in to lap 5 Cink had increased his lead to a healthy 39 seconds, with tactics of the lead pack into the headwind up the final straight playing into his hands.

Cink maintained a 29 second lead on a chase pack of 4 (Schurter, Marotte, Tempier, Kerschbaumer) going into the final lap. The chase pack was on the move however, with Schurter leading the charge. Schurter attacked on the long descent and caught Cink, then attacked again with an impressive display of power on the last long steep climb. Cink was not settling for 2nd however and fought to catch back on to Schurter's wheel on the final open grassy section. Tempier, pushing a bigger gear, was still in contention in 3rd. Schurter's final attack came on the single track section before the finish straight, giving him his 3rd consecutive World Cup victory. Cink signalled that he is the man to watch in the future with an impressive ride for 2nd, his best result in an Elite World Cup. The Frenchmen Tempier and Marotte finished 3rd and 4th respectively, with the German rider Kerschbaumer filling the final spot on the podium. Swiss riders Giger and Vogel were 6th and 7th, with Absalon securing 8th place despite all his misfortune. Fellow Frenchman Martinez finished 9th, and German rider Manuel Fumic finished 10th in his first World Cup race since his collarbone injury in Albstadt earlier in the year.

Nino Schurter now has a seemingly insurmountable lead in the World Cup standings after race 4 (820 points). Daniel McConnell (11th in Andorra) holds on to 2nd place with 540 points. Absalon (510 points), Cink (510 points), and Lukas Fluckiger (502 points) round out the top 5.

In the women's standings, Tanja Zakelj holds on to the leader's jersey (790 points), with Lechner (630 points), Nash (615 points), Wloszczowska (580 points), and Alexandra Engen (495 points) making up the top 5.

by Jeanette Gerrie

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