By: Colin Meagher
The past two sunny days had done wonders to dry out the DH track, but that same sun had also made the 4X track extremely loose.
"The corners are pretty slippery, for sure," asserted Beerten. "There's gonna be some carnage there, I think."
There was, indeed some carnage: Luca Fusani took a helicopter ride out—injuries unknown. Additionally, Romain Saladini took a nasty crash during practice in the pro line, which effectively took the French rider out.
The women only numbered eleven in qualifying, so only 8 made it in. No real surprises, there, either. Only Anneke Beerten had mastered the pro line, and by taking not only the hole shot, but also the pro line of doubles, she sealed the deal in very short order. Anita Molcik took second, with Katy Curd and Joanna Peterson in fourth. The small final was won by Steffi Marth.
The men, on the other hand, had a full deck of racers: sixty four. Roger Rinderknecht was very on form, despite not being as powerful in the opening straight as some other riders. Specifically Jared Graves, who is so powerful that taking the hole shot against him is next to impossible. So in the finals, Rinderknecht used his wiles, diving inside on Graves in the second corner and holding him off for the win. There was some contact in there on Graves by someone, not sure who, that bumped him back to fourth. He tried to come back up, but by the last corner, the Yeti rider realized that fourth was where he was slated to be.
For the overall, Beerten padded her lead a bit: forty five points over Anita Molcik, Graves now leads the series by 135 points to Tomas Slavik; with a win awarding only 125 points, Graves gets to spend the next three weeks making room in his trophy case for the World Cup overall trophy.
It was a knock down drag out battle for the whole race here in Val Di Sole, Italy. From the gun, it was Willow Koerber, but the Trek/Subaru rider couldn't hold the front, and by the end of the first lap a hard charging Catharine Pendrel of Luna had moved to the fore, marked closely by Maja Wloszczowska. As those two duked it out, Katerina Nash began moving up, as did Katie Compton—the US CX National Champ. Heading into the final lap, a powerful Compton was in third and looking to attack, but faltered in the final climb, and was forced to settle for fourth. Katerina Nash, in the meantime, had secured fifth.
Up front, it came down to a sprint finish, with Wloszczowska able to lay down just a bit more power over Pendrel to take the win.
This was a short race—only 1:23:00 on the nose. Another lap might have seen a different ending, but as it was five—count 'em, five US women made the top 20; Compton in fourth, Georgia Gould in seventh, Koerber taking tenth, Mary McConneloug in thirteenth, and Heather Irmiger taking home seventeenth.
In the men, Absalon came out swinging, but Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel were able to utilize a bit of team tactics to put the hurt on him. Additionally, Absalon prefers to attack on hills, but the steep grades of the climbs made attacks almost impossible. A rider could go, but getting an escape from the chasers was simply not happening.
Essentially, it boiled down to an extremely tactical race with Vogel, Schurter, and Absalon off the front, maintaining contact and trying to get away, but with Absalon against two Swiss Power riders, it was going to be extremely hard for the Frenchman to put his stamp on this race. In the closing meters, this race also came down to a sprint finish, with Schurter able to take the win over Absalon by four seconds. Vogel took third another sixteen seconds back, followed by Mathias Fleukiger (+1:26) and then Ralph Naef (+1:46)
With the win, Schurter takes the World Cup leader's jersey from the Orbea rider, surging ahead in the overall by a narrow margin: twenty-six points. Likewise, the women saw a change in the leader's jersey, as Eva Lechner came in twelfth on the day, and was forced to surrender the lead to Catharine Pendrel, who now leads by 54 points. With a win worth two hundred and fifty UCI points, neither lead is secure heading into the World Cup finals in Windham, NY at the end of August, making the XC finals at Windham one of the tightest battles for the overall in years.