By Rob Jones & Sue George
Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Irina Kalentyeva (To Peak) won the second round of the UCI Cross Country World Cup in Offenburg, Germany this weekend in front of 15,000 spectators. It was Kalentyeva's first World Cup win since 2004 and Absalon's first of the year. In both races, the weather made for some interesting conditions.
The women were lucky enough to start in dry conditions, but the rains started on the third lap. Kalentyeva had attacked just before the heavy downpours, but she seemed to revel in the wet conditions.
"I was really, really hoping for the rain," she revealed afterwards. "I like those conditions very much, and I was using some special Continental tires for the wet and mud."
The Chinese team, who put two riders on the podium in the opener in Houffalize, seemed to struggle a bit on the technical circuit. Opening round's winner Chengyuan Ren dropped back to 15th by the end of the first lap, but she would come back to finish seventh and hold on to her World Cup lead by 10 points over Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida).
Early in the women's race, Sabine Spitz (Ghost), Marga Fullana (Spiuk), Kalentyeva, Dahle Flesjaa and Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) were the riders setting the pace. Premont dropped back on the second lap when she tangled with Fullana. Spitz later lost five minutes to repair a broken chain. Premont then took over second spot from Spitz, while Fullana and Dahle Flesjaa battled for third. The Norwegian would take the bronze after a slow-speed muddy sprint.
The men didn't fare so well. They started in the rain, but it didn't deter Absalon from a dominating performance after officials shortened the race by one lap.
Soon after the start, Roel Paulissen (Cannondale-Vredestein) assumed the lead, with world number one ranked Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) of Canada well-positioned in fifth. However, Kabush fell victim to a series of mishaps, beginning early in the race, and would eventually finish 51st.
Absalon, Hermida, Fredrik Kessiakoff (Cannondale-Vredestein), Kashi Leuchs (Cannondale-Vredestein), Roel Paulissen (Cannondale-Vredestein), Nino Schurter (Swisspower), Florian Vogel (Swisspower), and Christoph Sauser (Specialized) made up the front group, but it was soon decimated by mechanicals and crashes.
Kessiakoff crashed out, while Vogel and Schurter suffered broken derailleurs. Paulissen faded over time, and Hermida suffered chainsuck in the mud and dropped off the other leaders. Meanwhile, Absalon gradually rode away from the field, to win by nearly three minutes. Cedric Ravanel (Lapierre) worked his way up to second, with Lukas Fluckiger (Athleticum) passing Jean-Christophe Peraud (Orbea) in the final lap to take third.
Absalon attributed his success to good condition and luck and the technique of taking a bottle in each feed zone to clear his chain of mud. Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) could not repeat his Houffalize ride. He finished eighth and lost the overall lead to Absalon. Schurter retained his lead in the U23 World Cup standings.