By Steve Medcroft
Gunn Rita-Dahle (Norway) and Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland) pulled on UCI Marathon World Championship jerseys after winning the Lillehammer, Norway marathon Worlds race August 20.
The three hundred strong World Championship race was held in conjunction with the 12,000-participant Birkebeiner marathon. Starting on a fire-road run from Rena, Norway the 116-kilometre course ended on a tough singletrack loop around Lillehammer, site of the 1994 Olympics.
Dahle took the win in front of home fans, finishing 1:43 ahead of silver-medalist Blaza Klemencic of Slovenia.
In the men's race, Frischknecht, in a statement to media and fans, said he felt strong the morning of the race and was able to avoid the mechanical and physical struggles that are so common in endurance racing. “Not that I haven't won any big races before,” he said. “But one that goes with no problems, doubts and struggles; one that unfolds just the way I planed it, never happened before.”
Knowing that the first 85 kilometres of the race would run over mostly on fast, predictable fire roads and the final loop around Lillehammer on more technical singletrack, Frischknecht says he gambled his bike set-up that the race would be decided in the final twenty kilometres. “Most riders set their bikes up for the first part of the race; hardtail, skinny tires with lots of pressure.” Frischknecht rode full-suspension.
Frischknecht also said that he felt marking Bart Brentjens would be a key to the race. “Brentjens wanted to win badly (it's the only title he hasn't won yet).” Brentjens attacked early in the race and split a lead group off the front containing Karl Platt (Germany), Dario Aquaroli (Italy) and team-mate Maarten Tjallingii (Netherlands). Frischknecht bridged up and the five got away.
Then, “Bart flatted and got a wheel from his team-mate. We waited since it was still a long way to the finish and we needed his power on the flat sections.” Frischknecht says he could see Brentjens suffering and struggling a little in the technical trails with his fire-road bike set-up so he attacked early on the last loop, risking a physical blow up. “The problem was that I had no information on the gap to the others, which is common thing in marathons (especially point to point races). Even though I had a good feeling I was safe, I looked back so many times the last 10 k's.”
Frischknecht had reason to worry. He's been caught from behind before. “Two years ago at worlds in Lugano, Bart came back on me just 3 km to go.” But Frischknecht got the word from trailside friends trailside with one kilometre to go; he was two minutes up on the field and could sail to the World Championship Jersey. “The last 1000 meters with the thousands of crazy Norwegian spectators was pure enjoyment,” he said. “I realised that this was probably the best race of my career. Just perfect!”
Brentjens came in second, Aquaroli in third.
Frischknecht says he's happy he chose not to retire after the 2000 Sydney Olympics. “This is my tenth MTB World Championships medal (including gold, silver and bronze and one previous Marathon gold), 15 if you count Cyclocross. And the season is not even over yet. I believe in my chance for number 16 in two weeks in Livigno.”
American Gretchen Reeves (Boulder, Colo.) scored a top-ten finish at the Marathon World Championships with a ninth-place effort in the 72-mile off-road race. Reeves clocked a time of four hours, 16 minutes and 45 seconds. Melissa Thomas (Boulder, Colo.) also put forth a solid effort with a 13th-place finish, completing the course with a time of 4:22:46.
In the men's competition, Jay Henry (Avon, Colo.) and Michael Janelle (Avon, Colo.) placed 54th and 65th respectively.
For complete results and pictures, click here.