Madrid’s weeklong heat wave leading up to the World Cup XC race in Casa de Campo Park subsided just before the race—replaced by a deluge of rains—but the action was still scorching hot.
On a course that was equal parts greasy mud and sticky clay, Julien Absalon and Margarita Fullana pulled away from the pack of chasers and widened their respective World Cup overall leads.
But the wins didn’t come easy. The gamesmanship began even before the race started, as riders and mechanics scrambled to find the right tires—something that would offer traction in the sand, but not pack up too much in the sticky clay. Sunday started with rain slicked streets, keeping even the most seasoned racers second-guessing tire choice.
“I finally settled on Maxxis Crossmarks,” Luna rider Catharine Pendrel said before the start. “They seemed to give me enough traction in corners, and it’s drying out so they aren’t packing up, but if we get any more rain….”
And the rain wasn’t the only thing gumming things up. In an attempt to speed things up, the UCI threw its own kinks into the procedure. Typically, the UCI likes things to run on a tight leash, but even it has been forced to embrace the Spanish cultural phenomenon known as the siesta. If organizers wanted fans on the track, the racing needed to finish by 3 p.m. The women’s race was cut to four laps, and sections of the course were removed, including one of the tougher climbs.
Once the women’s race started, Margarita Fullana broke way with Marie Helene Premont and Lene Byberg midway through the first lap. With those three working together and with only a disorganized pursuit behind them, it quickly became obvious that there would be a three-way battle for the top step of the podium.
“We worked together, the three of us, and we were able to stay away,” said Rocky Mountain-Maxxis rider Marie Helene Premont.
One rider caught out of the break was Pendrel. An ill-timed slip in one of the corners allowed Fullana, Premont, and Byberg to increase their lead over Pendrel. The Luna rider fought to bridge up, but every lap it seemed that she’d find a bit of grease in one corner or another and lose another 10 seconds.
Meanwhile, in the break, Lene Byberg took a long pull—maybe too long—and when she tried to hook back on, she missed Fullana’s wheel. Premont had the front, but it wasn’t a position she likely wanted, given how Gunn Rita Dahle had drafted her wheel the previous year. She had little choice but to try and put the screws to Fullana. But Fullana was just too sly, and too powerful. Somewhere in the last lap, she made her move on the Canadian, and got away. Premont tried to shut it down, but in the end, Fullana just had too much under the hood. Fullana took the win, just four seconds ahead of Premont. Byberg finished 3rd (+00:15), followed by Sabine Spitz (+02:17) and Pendrel (+02:19). The win puts Fullana 190 points in the lead on the World Cup overall.
American women delivered solid performances, with Georgia Gould coming in 14th, Willow Koerber taking 18th, just in front of Mary McConnelog, and Heather Irmiger holding down 31st place.
With siesta hour looming, the UCI wasted no time starting the men’s race. At precisely 12:30 p.m., the bunch was loose on the course for six circuits. A harsh sun had dried the track, and the pace was brutally fast from the start
“Oh man, that start was hard,” said Burry Stander. “It was like, worse than any road race I’ve ever done. Just full on the gas and then some. Nowhere to rest.”
The Merida army put in a hard effort off the line, and local favorite Jose Hermida and Ralf Naef took the early lead. Both riders are capable of taking it to Julien Absalon, and Naef broke away in the first lap. Absalon was able to bridge up in short order, however, and by the second lap, the two riders were working together to put some distance on the chasers.
“We used the road tactics wisely,” Naef said afterward, “and we were able to keep away. Half lap was him, half lap was me. Until the second to last lap.”
That’s when Naef made another move on a section of the course where Absalon had shown some difficulty. He almost made it stick, but Absalon was able to reel him in. Naef kept trying to break away, but the effort eventually caused him to crack enough that Absalon caught him and then, reached down deep and put the hammer to Naef.
“It was not possible for me to keep his wheel. It was a really strong attack: only 10 seconds, but it took me two kilometers to catch him again,” Absalon said. “But when he exploded at the start of the last lap, I was able to pass him. After that, it was 15 seconds of full throttle for me.”
The acceleration by Absalon took the fight out of the Swiss rider and he lost a minute and six seconds to the Frenchman. However, he was still able to hold off teammate and hard charging German Molitz Marlitz (+01:59). Rounding out the podium was Marco Aurelio Fontana (+02:00) and Nino Schurter (+02:02).
Americans put in some solid efforts. Todd Wells was leading the charge aboard his Specialized 29er, and came in 16th on the day. Jeremiah Horgan Kobelski finished in 35th, also aboard a 29er, as was Big Country Sam Schultz in 43rd. Canadian Geoff Kabush started strong, and had a solid effort, but faded near the end, taking 34th.