For once, the two favorites won, with Catharine Pendrel (Canada) and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) taking the Elite cross-country titles on Saturday at the Mountain Bike World Championships in Champery, Switzerland. North American’s had one of their strongest championships in years, with Canadians Emily Batty and Marie-Helene Premont finishing eighth and ninth, and Americans Lea Davison and Heather Irmiger tenth and 11th in the women’s race. Todd Wells took seventh for the USA in the men’s race, and Geoff Kabush tenth for Canada in the men’s.
Both races came down to two rider battles, with Pendrel going up against defending champion Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) in the women’s six lap race. The pair dropped the rest of the field by the end of the start loop, and rode together until Wloszczowska flatted on the second lap, just as Pendrel attacked through a technical descent.
The Polish rider made a tremendous effort to ride her way back, coming from fourth and over a minute down after a wheel change, to less than 30 seconds back by the top of the final climb before the descent into the finish. However, it wasn’t enough, and Pendrel rolled in for her first world title.
“I was definitely kind of nervous knowing Maja was coming back for me,” agreed Pendrel. “At the beginning of the race I realized that Maja and I were riding very equally. She was climbing exceptionally well and so I tried to get a gap on that descent and that’s where Maja flatted. She was able to come back from that and that she started to bring in the time so I knew she was motivated.”
“I had gotten an email from former Luna teammate and former World Champion, Alison Dunlap, and she told me that at World Championships you’ve got to race that last lap like it’s a time trial. When she won the World Championships she went from third to first in the last lap. So I knew that I had to ride that last lap like a time trial as well, because Maja was going to ride it like a time trial.”
Lea Davison, having a very strong finish to the season, commented “My leg cramped up on lap three so I kind of took it back a couple of knotches and tried to conserve then. Then when one leg felt better the other one started cramping. So I was a little bit on damage control but it makes sense because this course is so muscular that it really takes a toll. But I was able to push through it so I was really happy with that. I was definitely hoping for top-10. I think if I’d got a better start then I could have done more but it is what is and I’m happy with it.”
Full Results: Elite Women’s World Championship Cross-Country
The men’s race saw a similar battle between Kulhavy and Nino Schurter (Switzerland). Schurter repeatedly attacked, and occasionally gapped Kulhavy, but the Czech rider would always close it back up. Rain started to fall heavily halfway through the race, making the already tough technical sections even more slippery and difficult. All the riders, riding semi-slicks, struggled in the conditions.
Kulhavy finally made his move on the sixth lap, and was ten seconds clear halfway through the lap, and 24 seconds up as he started the final lap, which he doubled by the finish. Schurter rolled in for second, and four-time champion Julien Absalon (France) took bronze, having passed defending champion Jose Hermida (Spain) on the fifth lap after the Spaniard flatted.
“The beginning of the race was very hard for me because Nino was very strong on the climb,” Kulhavy explained, “and I was dead there. But during the race I felt better and ended up feeling good. I attacked Nino after the drop because I felt really strong in the flat and then Nino was 10 seconds, 20 seconds behind me and I felt good so I kept going. I think the 29″ bike was the best choice for this course. Maybe in the corners it’s a little slower but over the technical parts and on the flats it was an advantage.”
Schurter was philosophical about losing, “Kulhavy was just stronger than me today but it was one of my most exciting races since it was in front of a home crowd. We [Florian Vogel and I] always try to ride together but we never choose a tactic before the race. If we have the chance we work together but unfortunately today he couldn’t follow.”
Wells, after a poor start, moved up steadily through the field, passing Kabush in 15th on lap four. Both riders began picking off riders in the slippery conditions of the second half of the race.
Todd Wells: “It started out horrible. I think maybe I was in 40th place after the start. And when you’re back there there’s nowhere to pass in the woods so you just have to be patient and save energy and then when the trail opens up, 5 people, 10 people, 3 people, and eventually I made it up there into the top-10. I was really hoping to get top-5 today because that is an automatic qualifier for our Olympic team but I ran out of laps—needed to be better at the beginning. The front’s a crap shoot if you’re not on the front row so today I just had bad luck at the start.”
Geoff Kabush: “I was able to just keep my rhythm and pick guys off. First lap or so I kind of got bunged up in the singletrack but after that it was pretty smooth. The season I haven’t been very satisfied with – the World Cup’s been pretty up and down. The North American ones were pretty decent. It’s nice to finish off with a good result.”
“I’ve been watching the forecast all week and it’s kind of been coming in and out. Started to feel a couple raindrops right before the start. Turned out the conditions really suited me. I’m pretty used to it so I was able to relax and let the bike move and not panic. Definitely I think the conditions helped me out a little in the second half. Helped me pick off a few guys.”
Full Results: Elite Men’s World Championship Cross-Country