By Steve Medcroft
The UCI held its sixth round of World Cup cross-country racing and fifth round of downhill last weekend in Balneario Camboriu, Brazil. Citing the difficulty and expense in traveling to South America between two North American World Cups (Mont Sainte-Anne, Quebec, June 24-25 and Angel Fire, New Mexico), many top pro cross-country riders passed on the event though. Notably missing were series leader Christoph Sauser (Siemens-Cannondale), Canadian national champion and NORBA series leader Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) and women's cross country sensation, Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects).
Most of the usual suspects in the gravity world showed up though and contested downhill and four-cross on Saturday. For Brazilian Markolf Berchtold (Maxxis-MSC), the first ever South American MTB World Cup was a chance to perform well in front of a home crowd. Coming second to Greg Minaar (Team G-Cross Honda) by less than a second in a nail biting finish, Bechtold didn't disappoint and almost pulled off the dream upset.
But under sunny skies (temperatures in the mid eighties, sixty-five percent humidity and negligible inland breezes) on a dusty clay course that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean and included rider-high boulder drop-offs and launches, it was Minaar on the top step of the podium. Again: the win in Brazil is Minaar's fifth podium in 2005 (two second's a fourth and now two wins) and plants him firmly on top of UCI World Cup series standings.
In the women's event, Tracy Moseley (Kona Les Gets) earned her second World Cup win in a row which puts her just 30 points behind Sabrina Jonnier after the Frenchwomen was only able to post a third place in Brazil against only a fifteen-woman field.
But fifteen starters was a better field than the women's four-cross drew; only four women toed the start line and Jill Kintner (USA) managed to take the win. The men's 4X race was a little more competitive. Roger Rinderknecht (Commencal Oxbow) edged out Cedric Gracia (Siemens Cannondale) and Nathan Rennie (Aus) in the final for the win.
As for Sunday's cross country: without many top-name World Cup competitors, the race was an open door for Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida) and Gunn-Rita Dahle (Multivan Merida) to bolster their World-Cup series rankings.
For Dahle, winning meant that her World Cup points lead was back in safe territory (barring extreme misfortune in the remaining races) and the win was somewhat of a redemption for her Mont Sainte-Anne performance where, for the second time in 2005, she fell to Premont. It must have been a bittersweet redemption though since Premont wasn't in attendance and Dahle only overtook second-place Sabine Spitz (Specialized) after Spitz broke a chain and lost momentum.
No worries though; a better opportunity for Dahle to assert her dominance (or be challenged for it) will come next weekend (July 10) in Angel Fire, New Mexico where Premont is expected to attend.
The men's race was much more dramatic. Hermida won with a more than five minute margin, beating Roel Paulissen (Giant) Ralph Naef (Multivan Merida) and Adam Craig (Giant). Hermida's win pulls him within 85 points of series leader Christoph Sauser.
On a course that featured 1,500 feet per lap of climbing up beach front granite bluffs, Hermida also showed the kind of form that earned him a silver medal in Athens in 2004. US rider Craig, the only North American in attendance, said Hermida looked comfortable on the hot, steep climbs. "Every time I could see him on a climb, Hermida was charging," Craig said.
Behind Hermida, more than two thirds of the seventy or so confirmed starters originated from South America. With so many racers who don't usually compete in world-class competition, confusion reigned. "We heard someone say we had 15 seconds to go then this air horn blew," said Adam Craig from his hotel room after the race. "Everyone was looking around at each other not knowing whether that was the sign to go or not." Then a wave of riders began to roll and the pre-race favorites lost valuable ground. "The locals went nuts, blocking, throwing elbows." Meaning Craig, Paullison and Naef struggled in traffic while Hermida stormed off at the head of the race.
The only other international name in attendance was Australian Olympian and former national cross-country champion Sid Taberlay (Specialized), who seems to be recovering from the shoulder injury he suffered in the World Cup Marathon event in Mont Sainte-Anne: Taberlay grabbed the final spot on the podium.
Although Brazil, with its thin fields of international competitors, was a chance for riders to advance themselves in the standings, there should be another shuffling of the deck after next week's Angel Fire, New Mexico cross country event since some of the European pros - like Spaniard Hermida - are expected to skip the race in favor of a little prep time for the latter part of their seasons.
Here are the daily race reports and results: