Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) had been looking forward to racing the European Cross Country Championships in her home nation of Russia on Sunday, but the race did not go according to plan. Pouring rain and technical problems came to define the race in Moscow this past weekend. Representing Russia, Kalentieva was not spared its wrath.
The women's race took place in some of the most extreme, wet conditions imaginable and some likened the conditions to those raced at 2002 Worlds in Kaprun, Austria and at the 2009 World Cup in Bromont, Canada. Pouring rain turned the 4.1km course into a huge mud bath, with the addition of lots of sand, and resulting in clogged bicycles. Because of this, the race resembled a killing field for bikes. Technical defects were the order of the day for almost everyone taking part. Kalentieva suffered as components were defeated by the conditions.
The race started well, as the two-time former world champion found herself in a good position in a lead group of five riders made up of nearly all of the favourites. After the eventual winner, Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) managed to pull away at the end of the second lap, Kalentieva was part of a four person chasing group, fighting for the remaining medals.
However, the second lap was also when problems with braking started to plague her, then the mud made shifting impossible. "The cassette was just completely blocked. I couldn't change gears," said Kalentieva. On the fourth lap, she stopped in the feed zone and tried, together with the team mechanic Lars, to get everything working again, unfortunately without success.
Riding the final lap, Kalentieva had a bike virtually without brakes, and which was restricted to one gear. By the time she completed the 22.5km, she had fallen back to ninth position.
"Naturally I am very disappointed. I was really set on winning a medal here," the 34-year-old said after having called the European Championships her second most important race of the season. "It would have been difficult to beat Gunn-Rita, but the silver or the bronze should have been possible. I felt really good when I was in the chase group."
"For everyone involved, it was really quite hard to take. All of the preparation had been perfect, and the training and power readings were excellent. Then it just comes down to the weather and the conditions."
The good news from the day is that Kalentieva felt like her form was moving in the right direction. She had skipped the recent La Bresse World Cup to do high altitude training in preparation for the Olympic Games in London in August. The Olympics are Kalentieva's top priority in 2012.
"I saw that as far as the Olympics are concerned, I am going in the right direction," she said.
See Cyclingnews' coverage of the European Cross Country Championships.