Absalon Continues XC Domination in Houffalize
You know how major road races have TV helicopters circling the field? And euro techno is pumped at levels guaranteed to measure on the Richter scale while a polished announcer rattles off commentary with machine-gun precision? Well, all that and more transpired at the Houffalize World Cup cross-country race this weekend—it was serious business.
The start is critical in Houffalize. Mathias Flueckiger—all 130 lbs of him (and that's dripping wet)—was decimated on the initial climb. Sharp elbows will only help you if you've got a bit of weight and power on your side. And he wasn't alone.
But most of the racers who took the early lead stayed with it and fared well. The usual suspects were all there: Julien Absalon, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Ralf Naef, Jose Hermida, Marco Aurelio Fontana, Burry Stander—basically a lot of really fast guys who'd eat most of us for breakfast. One surprise in the bunch was Wolfram Kurschat, who finished second— that guy is having the season of his career. That's three podiums in a row for Kurschat.
From the gun, Peraud, Naef, Absalon, Kurschat, Stander and Hermida seemed to be playing a rotating game of "Tag" with the lead. Lap one saw Peraud holding the spotlight. Then Naef in lap two. Lap three was Naef again—damn, that Merida team is strong. Absalon took control of the fourth lap, with Naef stalking. Lap five was Absalon with a throttle-hold on the win, as contenders blew up trying to maintain his pace. The fight for second place became a battle of attrition, a battle Kurschat won. The final order was Absalon, Kurschat, Naef at +00:52, then Stander at + 01:15, and finally Peraud at +01:26.
Adam Craig was the top-placing North American, but he finished a disappointing 29th. "I just didn't have the legs today," Adam said. "I've never had a good start here, and today was no exception."
The rest of the North American men experienced an equally dismal day. Wells was so sick he just blew off the race. Kabush blew up, pure and simple; lap one saw him even with Craig, and then the wheels came off. He finished 45th. Sam Schultz must have gotten screwed in the start—Big Country was relegated to pack fill halfway through the first lap and landed at 128. I have no idea what happened to Mike Broderick (143), but it likely began with a bad start. I do know that Jeremiah Horgan-Kobelski (DNF) continued his streak of bad luck: word has it that in his effort to make up ground during the first lap, he ate a barbwire fence. Ouch. That about sums it up for the North American men.