World Cup 6, Hafjell Norway

26 Sep 2013
The final round of the World Cup circuit was held at Hafjell, Norway – a brand new track on the World Cup calendar and the location for next year's World Championships.  The course was rough and rocky, with some steep climbs and technical descents.  

There had only been one World Cup race held in Norway prior to this, and Norwegian Gunn Rita Dahle (now Dahle Flesjaa) was the women's race winner.  Now all eyes were on the Norwegian as she tried to replicate this feat some 17 years later.

The women's 6 lap race comprised a relatively small field of 46 riders.  Lechner as expected, came out all guns blazing following her disappointment at the World Championships, and was the early leader in the race.  The technical nature of the course caused carnage on Lap 1, with some of the contenders involved (Nash crashed on the rocks, Stirnemann punctured twice, and Morath broke her seat post).  By the end of Lap 1, a lead pack of 4 riders had formed (Lechner, Bresset, Davison, Kalentieva).  

This lead group stayed together for the next two laps, and Dahle Flesjaa moved in to 5th place, but could not quite bridge the gap to the leaders despite the strong support of her home crowd.  On Lap 4 Davison started to show signs of fatigue, and dropped off the lead group finishing the lap 27 seconds down but still comfortably ahead of Dahle Flesjaa.  

On the penultimate lap,  Bresset opted to leave all her cards on the table when she attacked and broke clear of Kalentieva and Lechner mid way around the lap.  Her lead was short-lived however, when an untimely puncture caused her to slip back to 4th place, and 1.11 behind leader Lechner with just over a lap to ride.  The reigning World and Olympic Champion had been looking good for the win today prior to this.  

The final lap of the race was filled with action.  A fast and determined Bresset was on the move following her puncture, and made short work of Davison as she set out on the hunt for Lechner and Kalentieva.  Kalentieva had other ideas however, and attacked early into the lap, putting 31 seconds into Lechner by the intermediate time check.  This course was tailor made for the pint sized Russian, with her climbing prowess giving her the eventual win – the strongest performance we have seen of her in 2013.  This left Bresset and Lechner to fight it out for 2nd place.  In the last strategic all-out sprint for the final technical descent, Lechner fought gallantly to hold off Bresset, and consequently take the silver medal.  Bresset had to be content with 3rd, in a race that might have played out very differently had she not punctured.  Davison secured her best ever World Cup result with 4th, and Dahle Flesjaa finished a comfortable 5th.  

Perhaps the happiest rider of the day was Zakelj, who in 6th place had done enough to take the overall World Cup title (1080 points).  Lechner (960 points), Nash (955 points), Wloszczowska (890 points), and Engen (680 points) filled the remaining podium places.

Unlike the women's race, the men's race was not about the overall World Cup win, with that accolade already awarded (Schurter) in the absence of Absalon (injured with broken ribs sustained in practise on the World Championships course two weeks prior).  The only question was whether McConnell could take 2nd place from Absalon with a top 12 placing in this race.  

As we have become accustomed to, Schurter became the early leader in the race.  This time however, it was a case of de ja vu from the London Olympics, with Kulhavy and Fontana on his tail.  Cink and Fumic followed close behind.  This situation remained for the next two laps, but Cink joined the leaders.  On Lap 4 Mathias Fluckiger (identified as the one to watch today by his injured brother Lukas) joined the lead group.  Cink signalled his intentions and attacked on the switchback climb, moving to the front of the pack.  The group was still together at the end of the lap however, and Fumic was still in contention only 12 seconds behind.  

The deciding break happened on Lap 6 of the race.  By this stage the lead pack had been reduced to 3 riders (Fluckiger, Kulhavy, and Schurter).  Fluckiger, who had missed the World Championships due to illness, was determined to produce a good performance today but had no answer when Schurter attacked on the long steep climb.  Only Kulhavy could follow, and these 2 riders opened up a sizeable lead.

The final two laps of the race were a replay of the London Olympic Games – a game of cat and mouse between Kulhavy (the reigning Olympic Champion) and Schurter (the reigning World and World Cup Champion, and Olympic silver medallist).  This time it did not come down to the final sprint up the finish straight however.  On the last climb of the course, Kulhavy attacked and powering passed a tiring Schurter.  Schurter was unable to respond.  Kulhavy appeared relieved to take his first World Cup win since 2011, when he also won the overall World title.  He has had a difficult season with health issues and bad luck (most recently at the World Championships where he was held up behind a crash at the start), but this race has meant that he will finish the season on a positive note.  

Schurter ended his remarkable season with 2nd place.  Fumic was 3rd, Fluckiger 4th, and Fontana crossed the line with a trademark wheelie in 5th place.  

So in the end it was a case of 3rd time Overall World Cup Champion for Schurter (1180 points).  With 7th place today, McConnell had done enough to move into 2nd place (800 points) ahead of Absalon (760 points).  After his win today, Kulhavy moved into 4th (736 points) and fellow Czech rider Cink took the final podium spot (705 points).

by Jeanette Gerrie

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