Words and photos by Colin Meagher
The French and the Germans have been fighting over this little section of dirt on the fringe of the Black Forest since forever. Maybe it was for the wine. No matter; it was the Swiss that declared war in this year in the men's XC race, but the French—in the form of Julien Absalon—that prevailed. In the women's race, the Canadians came out swinging against the traditional European powerhouse winners of this race, and placed two women on the podium.
A rapidly drying course in Offenburg meant a good old-fashioned slug-fest was in the offering instead of the technical cat-and-mouse game that has been seen here in years past. The roots were only a bit slick from the soaking the track received earlier in the week, and for sure there were a few greasy spots, but the hot weather and clear nights had made the trademark technical bits of this track–the "Wolf's Drop", the "North Shore", the "World Class Drop", and the "Snake Pit"–non factors.
Racing started with the gun at 10:45 am, and Luna rider Georgia Gould took the bull by the horns in the pre-lap and surged to the lead. A front row start was a boost, but when the field hesitated near the end of the pre-lap, the Luna rider opted to "just go for it." With an ever lengthening lead, Gould was able to ride her own race for most of the first lap, until teammate and Canadian National Champ Catharine Pendrel was able to bridge up to her near the start of lap two. With time splits to the chase group of Elisabeth Osl, Julie Bresset, Esther Suss, Eva Lechner, and a hard charging Marie-Helene Premont rapidly caught up a lap later. Pendrel rode slowly rode away from Gould, and secured her second World Cup win, while Gould, who continued to ride her own race, secured second place as pay off for her bold attack at the start of the first lap, ending up 28 seconds back from her teammate.
Willow Koerber was unable to find her legs today, and finished thirteenth on the day, relinquishing the leader's jersey to Pendrel. However, her finish has her only 40 points back from the Luna rider, so it's still anybody's race for the World Cup overall title. Mary McConneloug was the second US rider home, punching the clock 3:44 back from Pendrel, good enough for tenth, with Katie Compton in nineteenth and Heather Irmiger in twenty-first.
The men went off some two hours later, and as the field of two hundred and forty six men thundered around the opening circuit, it looked to be business as usual. Schurter, Absalon, Hermida—the constant strongmen of the World Cup field—were all in prime position for an attack, but it was the reigning World Champ Schurter who gassed it first, walking away from all but Absalon. Absalon was content to sit in for a few minutes assessing the Swiss rider's form before edging past him on the first lap. He never looked back, coming in nearly a minute ahead of Schurter after successfully gapping him on the longest climb of the track in lap three.
The top North American was Geoff Kabush, who while he felt he had the legs, was caught in traffic on the pre-lap. "I started the first lap in fortieth position. Not so hot, but fifteenth on the day? I'll take it. I think I passed about ten dudes on that last lap, so I definitely have the legs."
The rest of the North American men didn't fare quite as well: Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski was fortieth, while Todd Wells was sixtieth, and Sam Schultz came in seventy-fifth.
With the win, Absalon notches his fourth win in a row at Offenburg, and regains the World Cup overall leader's title with a thirty-four point lead over Schurter.