Olympic champion Julien Absalon of France had to settle for second place behind Spaniard Jose Hermida in the UCI World Cup cross-country mountain bike race in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on Saturday.
In a thrilling race, near the KwaZulu-Natal city watched by 6,000 spectators, Absalon moved to the front at the halfway mark with only Hermida and South African Barry Stander able to respond.
The lead changed one lap later with Hermida building a 15-second advantage that kept him in front until the finish and Absalon held off a late Stander surge.
“I had a very good training plan ahead of this race and came to South Africa more rested than some of my rivals. Beating Julien is a fantastic result and I will try to maintain my lead,” said Hermida.
Austrian Elisabeth Osl won the women’s race for the first time with Russian Irina Kalentieva surviving a late challenge from Norwegian Lene Byberg to finish second.
American Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven-NoTubes) was the top North American finisher in fifth. The result marked McConneloug’s first trip to a World Cup podium in nearly three years.