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MTB World Championships - CM
Livigno, Italy, August 31-September 4, 2005
Race 1 - August 31: Team Relay
Spain with first gold
By Rob Jones in Livigno
The 2005 Mountain Bike World Championships opened today in the Italian mountain village of Livigno, nestled in the Alps, up against the Swiss border near St Moritz. Spain, anchored by Jose Hermida, pulled out a last lap victory ahead of crowd favourite Italy, after France's Cedric Ravanel flatted in the final kilometres while leading. France managed to hold on for third.
The Team Relay is as much about tactics as it is riding hard. Each team sends out four riders for a lap - an Elite man, Espoir man, Junior man and Elite woman. Besides having to have strong riders, the teams need to decide on a strategy: start fast with your elite man and hope to hold on until the end, or save the strongest until last, and hope your rider can catch the leaders.
The altitude (1800 metres at the base and over 2000 at the highest point) put additional pressure on the riders, as did the long main climb and the final flat drive into a headwind. The cross-country course is set up in a figure eight, and the Team Relay did the longer 8 kilometre loop of the two legs; one lap for each of the four riders.
Canada, the defending champions and perennial favourites, looked strong again, with Geoff Kabush (fresh off winning the Norba cross-country and short track titles) scheduled to lead out, and Alison Sydor riding clean up. Unfortunately, Kabush's bike did not arrive with him in Zurich yesterday, so Ricky Federau got a last minute call to take his place. Federau suffered stomach cramps in his lap, finishing 12th. The Canadian team recovered a few spots to end up 9th.
World Cup winner Marco Bui put the Italians in the lead after the first lap, but his usual fast start was marred by pedal problems, so he handed off to Espoir rider Tony Longo with a slim 15 second lead over Switzerland. The Swiss took the lead on the second leg and appeared to be in a winning position at the end of the third lap, as other favourites such as Spain and France faded. Italy continued to ride strongly with their second and third riders, and the United States and New Zealand both moved up, with the U.S. moving into second for the final rider, and New Zealand to third. France was back in sixth place, and Spain mired in 11th, 3:36 behind Switzerland.
However, the Swiss rider began to falter, and France had put Ravanel, their strongest rider in the anchor spot. Ravanel picked off the Italian (Johannes Schweiggl) and Pole (Adrian Dzialakiewicz)on the main climb, and then went by Swiss Junior Martin Fanger at the feed station. Very quickly his lead had grown to 45 seconds, and it looked to be a clear win for the French.
"Before the last climb there is a creek bed, that you go through really fast, and that is where I got the flat." explained Ravanel. "I had to do the last four kilometres on the flat - it was really horrible for my heart, I was over 200 (beats per minute). Then, in the final kilometre Hermida passed me with the Italian and the Swiss. I was able to re-pass the Swiss for the finish, but it was very disappointing for what would normally be an easy win in that position."
The Spanish victory was unexpected for everyone, including Hermida. "When I started my lap I didn't think about the win, I just wanted to close the gap as much as possible. I started the first climb a little quiet to get my rhythm.
For me, the race was divided into the first half and the second half. For the first I was in the field, and it was a psychological challenge to get through them. It wasn't until the top (of the main climb) that I realized that I had energy to challenge in the second half. My thought was just to catch as many as possible - I didn't know my position, and it was only when the team told me that I was close to the front that I went hard." (Hermida recorded the fastest lap of the day)
The World Championships continue tomorrow with the first of the cross-country races, for Junior women and men.
*Germany's Sabine Spitz was back on her mountain bike for her first race in five weeks, after injuring her right knee at the European championships. Spitz went over the handlebars, hyperextending her knee, and has been restricted to road riding until last week. She rode well today to anchor the German team, with the seventh fastest time.
*Hermida was asked if he had thought at all about last year's world championships, when he was not allowed to race after recording a high hematocrit. "This year I am relaxed, I have forgotten about what happened last year. I have the proper papers now for my hematocrit, so this is just a normal Worlds for me. Of course, if I can show that I am racing well and I am strong, that is good, but now I am tranquilo."
*Riders are divided in their opinions about the unusually long (12.1 kilometre) course. The course is considered to be very hard, with a lot of climbing, and the descents are extremely steep, leaving little time to rest. However, there is very little technical riding. If it rains, the grass sections will become very slippery on the climbs.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com
1 Spain 1.26.02 Ruben Ruzafa Cueto Oliver Aviles Gilabert Rocio Gamonal Ferrera Jose Antonio Hermida Ramos 2 Italy 0.19 Marco Bui Tony Longo Eva Lechner Johannes Schweiggl 3 France 0.30 Alexis Vuillermoz Stéphane Tempier Séverine Hansen Cédric Ravanel 4 Sweden 0.41 Emil Lindgren Mattias Wengelin Maria Ostergren Fredrik Kessiakoff 5 Switzerland 1.22 Florian Vogel Nino Schurter Petra Henzi Martin Fanger 6 Poland 2.00 Marek Galilski Dariusz Batek Maja Wloszczowska Adrian Dzialakiewicz 7 USA 2.11 Adam Craig Samuel Schultz Kyle Hammaker Mary Mc Conneloug 8 Germany Stefan Sahm Heiko Gutmann Benjamin Rudiger Sabine Spitz 9 Canada 2.54 Ricky Federau Martin Lazarski Neal Kindree Alison Sydor 10 New Zealand 3.22 Kashi Leuchs Marcus Roy Clinton Robert Avery Rosara Joseph 11 Slovenia 6.58 Miha Solar Mohor Vrhovnik Nina Homovec Luka Kodra 12 Estonia 7.11 Caspar Austa Taavi Selder Tanel Kangert Maaris Meier 13 Russian Federation 7.16 Yury Trofimov Denis Vorontsov Dmitry Medvedev Evgenia Belozerova 14 Argentina 13.19 Carlos Franco Gennero Carlos Rodrigo Sigre Margarita Noelia Rodriguez Sebastian Luciano Blanco 15 Hungary 16.49 Andras Parti Adam Gulyas Emese Simon Mate Palfy