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Mountain Bike World Championships - CM
Val di Sole, Italy, June 17-22, 2008
Race 1 - June 17: Team relay
French team captures a slippery opening relay
By Sue George in Val di Sole, Italy
In a show of dominance, the French led from during the first lap until the end of the fourth and final lap for victory in the team relay. The pre-race favourite and 2007 World Champion Switzerland finished second, and home team Italy captured third place.
The on and off again rain started up again just in time for the start of the relay and racers faced a slick track with thick mud in sections after plenty of racers pre-rode the wet course this morning. Each team sent one rider after another out for a lap - for a total of four laps.
After Frenchman Jean-Christophe Peraud won the first lap battle with Switzerland's Florian Vogel for the lead, France led for the rest of the race and finished in a final time of 1:24:45 and with a winning margin of 2:23.
"The start of the race was particularly challenging with the Swiss team right there," said Peraud after the finish.
"I wasn't strong enough," said Vogel candidly. "When Jean-Christophe Peraud dropped me on the last uphill [on the opening lap], it was mental. I didn't have the legs to follow him."
For France, Arnaud Jouffroy, Laurence Leboucher and Alexis Vuillermoz raced laps two through four. Each tried to maintain and when possible grow the team's winning margin. Matthias Rupp, Petra Henzi and Nino Schurter followed Vogel for the Swiss.
"Except for Nino [Schurter], the rest of us didn't have the best day," said Vogel. "The best we could do was second."
"I was stressed at the beginning as the person doing the fourth lap," said Vuillermoz of the pressure he felt as the French team's anchor. "But I put in a good race." In fact, he grew the French lead from 15 seconds with one lap to go to over two minutes during his effort.
The team standings shuffled each lap as many chose different start orders for their elite man, elite woman, U23 man and junior man. A majority of teams raced their fastest racers, their elite men first, although notably, the American team was the only one to send their elite woman, Georgia Gould, first. That put the American squad in second-last position after lap one and the remaining team members worked to move the US up the ranks - a strategy they successfully deployed in 2007, but netted them only eighth today. Nonetheless, anchor leg Adam Craig, who said he was looking forward to the conditions while waiting in the ready area for his turn, put in a strong effort for the second fastest lap of the day (19:49).
Showing his form, Liam Killeen logged the fastest lap of the day in 19:32 as the third rider for Great Britain, while Peraud's opening lap was good enough for third fastest lap (19:55).
Medalling on home turf
Marco Aurello Fontana started off Italy's race with the first lap. "The start was very hard," he said. "But even if I fell behind on the first lap [Italy was eighth at the end of lap one - ed.], it was a good race for us."
The Italians went on to win a bronze medal after Gerhard Kerschbaumer, Eva Lechner and Critian Cominelli took their turns. "It's great to race in front of the home crowd. If I'd had a better lap, we could have done more," said Fontana.
Slippery when wet
Overnight with regular rain showers and more pre-riding the course condition deteriorated. The obvious tracks through the grassy and wooded sections grew wider and wider as riders rode closer to the tape and fencing lining the course's edges in search of better traction. By the time the team relay started, parts of the course were shoe-deep in peanut buttery and in places, soupy mud, while most non-paved surfaces were slick.
"It's not a good course if its rainy. It's too much grass and very slippery when wet," said Vogel. "We had to run two of the climbs - they were too slippery to ride. It will just get worse if the weather stays like this." A mix of more showers and some sun is expected for the next few days.
Cross country action will continue Wednesday with the junior and U23 women's races. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com
1 France (Jean-Christophe Peraud, Arnaud Jouffroy, Laurence Leboucher, Alexis Vuillermoz) 1.24.45 2 Switzerland (Florian Vogel, Matthias Rupp, Petra Henzi, Nino Schurter) 2.22 3 Italy (Marco Aurelio Fontana, Gerhard Kerschbaumer, Eva Lechner, Cristian Cominelli) 2.23 4 Poland (Marcin Karczynski, Marek Konwa, Maja Wloszczowska, Dariusz Batek) 2.48 5 Czech Republic (Jaroslav Kulhavy, Jakub Magnusek, Katerina Nash, Jan Skarnitzl) 3.25 6 Canada (Raphael Gagne, Catherine Pendrel, Derek Zandstra, Evan Guthrie) 7 Netherlands (Bas Peters, Erik Groen, Laura Turpijn, Jelmer Jubbega) 5.26 8 United States Of America (Georgia Gould, John Bennett, Sam Jurekovic, Adam Craig) 5.27 9 Sweden (Emil Lindgren, Alexandra Engen, Olof Jonsson, Alexander Wetterhall) 10 Ukraine (Sergiy Rysenko, Andriy Gumenyuk, Mykhaylo Batsutsa, Nataliya Krompets) 5.38 11 Slovakia (Peter Sagan, Milan Barenyi, Janka Stevkova, Martin Skopek) 6.11 12 Australia (Lachlan Norris, Daniel Mcconnell, Charlton Durie, Dellys Starr) 7.10 13 Germany (Heiko Gutmann, Fabian Strecker, Ivonne Kraft, Jochen Kass) 8.13 14 Great Britain (Ian Bibby, Alex Paton, Liam Killeen, Fiona Macdermid) 10.34 15 Slovenia (Matej Lovse, Blaz Znidarsic, Luka Mezgec, Tanja Zakelj) 11.53 16 Japan (Ken Onodera, Keisuke Goda, Rie Katayama, Kohei Yamamoto) 12.28 17 New-Zealand (Kashi Leuchs, Rosara Joseph, Joshua Barley, George Bennett) 14.01 18 Israel (Shlomi Haimy, Amotz Nehoray, Inbar Ronen, Rotem Ishai) 15.53 19 Chile (Javier Eduardo Puschel, Mario Rodriguez Bravo, Ricardo Hazbun Velasquez, Francisca Campos Salas) 16.44 DNF Spain (Ruben Ruzafa Cueto, Umbert Almenara Verges, Anna Villar Argente, David Lozano Riba)