Graves and Beerten take the World Cup four-cross opener; XC titles go to Hermida and Osl. Check back to Bikemag.com for updates, complete race reports, photos and live race coverage.
Cross-country: Great day for Osl and Hermida
The action began with the women’s cross country, the first ever World Cup in this discipline to be held in Africa. Fittingly, it was a newcomer to the podium who took the win – Austria’s Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost Pro Team), whose previous best World Cup result was sixth. Osl attacked early, dropping American Mary McConneloug and steadily increasing her lead over the chasers.
Russia’s Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) moved into second place late on the first lap and managed to hold off a late charge by Norway’s Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory Team) for second. Byberg and world champion Marga Fullana (Massi) of Spain chased up past McConneloug to finish third and fourth respectively, while the American champion took the final podium spot. France’s Julie Bresset (Breiz Mountain) won the U23 category.
“This was fantastic,” exclaimed a tearful Osl. “I cannot believe it. I won a Swiss Cup race last weekend, but I never thought that I could win a World Cup! I was first into the singletrack, and I was thinking ‘Come and catch me’, but they never did.”
Spain’s Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), who finished third overall in last year’s series, won only the fourth World Cup of his 12 year career in the men’s race. The men’s race quickly thinned down to a select group of six riders: Hermida, defending World Cup champion Julien Absalon (Orbea), world champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized Factory Team), South African Burry Stander (Specialized Factory Team), Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Massi).
Absalon, the Olympic champion, then attacked at the halfway point, with only Hermida and Stander able to respond. Hermida decided it was his turn to put the pressure on a lap later, and almost instantly took 15 seconds from his two rivals. Absalon dropped Stander in the chase to take second, while Stander, spurred on by his compatriots, finished third, winning the U23 competition in the process. Sauser hung on for fourth, just ahead of a late surging Wolfram Kerschat (Topeak Ergon) of Germany.
“I could feel my legs were very good, after last week’s race on this course,” explained Hermida. “I think I made a very good plan with my training to prepare for this race, and came here more rested than some of the other riders. For me this is a fantastic result, and I will try now to keep the jersey through the next races.”
4X: Honors for Beerten and Graves
Following the cross country, spectators immediately moved over to the 4X course to watch the riders prepare for their competition. 32 men and 8 women, over the course of an hour, were going to be whittled down to four riders in each Final.
The women’s race was expected to come down to the defending World Cup champion – Anneke Beerten (Suspension Center) of the Netherlands – and American Jill Kintner, who had previously dominated women’s 4X, before leaving the sport for a year to prepare for and win the Olympic bronze medal in BMX. The two had qualified 1-2, with Kintner four tenths of a second faster.
However, the meeting never happened, after Kintner had a poor first round, and did not move on to the final. Beerten, on the other hand, easily qualified, and was joined in the final by Fionn Griffiths (Norco World Team), and two Czech riders – Romana Labounkova and Jana Horakova. In the gold medal ride, Beerten was again well out in front to retain the leader’s jersey, followed by Griffiths and Labounkova.
“Over the last three days I have felt really good on this course, ” commented Beerten. “I’m sort of bummed that I didn’t get to meet Jill [Kintner – in the final], but I’m really stoked that I’ll be wearing the jersey in Houffalize [Belgium, the next round of the 4-Cross], which is almost like wearing it in front of a home crowd.”
In the men’s race, the two men who appeared to be the strongest were the world champion and defending World Cup champion Rafael Alvarez de Lara Lucas (Specialized Factory Team) of Spain, and Australian Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox Factory), the fastest qualifier. Both easily moved through the heats to reach the final, along with former world champion Michal Prokop of the Czech Republic and Roger Rinderknecht of Switzerland. Alvarez had problems in the first turn of the final, dropping back to third behind Prokop, while Graves once again took over the front spot to claim the win and the leader’s jersey for the first time in his career.
“I think my downhill background helped on this course,” explained Graves. “I like the high speed stuff, so this suited me well. The jersey will certainly drive me in my training for the next World Cup.”