By Luke Webber in Fort William
Marie Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain), overall leader of the World Cup series, has always finished consistently. Podiums at every event have put her amongst the best, if not the most feared. But her victory in the cross country at Fort William in Scotland left everyone with something to think about heading into the second half of the season.
After a fast start on yet another perfect day in Fort William, Premont and Marga Fullana (Massi) both distanced themselves from the chasers. Neither looked likely to be caught but on the downhill it was obvious Premont wanted to get into clearer air. On lap two she got that break but it came to nothing. Fullana was too strong, countering on the brutal climb and making a gap of her own.
Premont was patient though, waiting for the time when Fullana would tire which eventually came on the final lap. With nowhere to hide Premont overtook her competitor on the upper slopes and attacked again on the downhill without fear of repercussion and claim her first victory of the year.
After the race Premont spoke about the closing stages. "I took some risks on the final downhill, I had to," she said. "On lap two I tried to get away but when Marga could follow me she could keep up but not on the final lap. I'm really happy that I have finally won a race. Marga was very strong today I knew it was her kind of course and I had to stay with her if I was to get a result.
"The longer I could stay on her wheel the better, but on lap three she got a gap," said Premont. "I kept trying though and on the last lap I gave it everything I had. I knew I was faster on the downhill but it was not easy. Tomorrow I go back home to train and rest for the worlds where I can hopefully keep my good form going."
In the elite men's cross country, the podium was an all Swiss affair with Florian Vogel (Swisspower Mtb Team) winning in a time of 2.06.27. Nino Schurter (Swisspower Mtb Team) and Christoph Sauser (Specialized Factory Racing) rounded out the top three after the two Swisspower team-mates worked over the lone Specialized racer.
With the Worlds and Olympics just around the corner Vogel explained why the Swiss riders were so strong, "Right now we are in the selection for the Olympics, too, and that is what is producing so many [good] rides; we all want in and it's so competitive."
Experienced pays off at Big Bear
The third event of the 24 hour National Points Series (NPS), the 24 Hours of Big Bear, started just days after heavy rains the previous week threatened to make the technical, wooded course slick. Racers and support crews also battled intense heat over the weekend which altered the normal expectations of cooler conditions in the Appalachian highlands of West Virginia.
1996 Olympian-turned endurance specialist Tinker Juarez (Mona Vie / Cannondale) had his own doubts about his ability to win the men's solo division. The southern California native and resident is a bit out of his element on technical, muddy East Coast courses, but in the end his experience mitigated any unfamiliarity with regional course conditions.
Juarez used a familiar race strategy from his days on the international cross country scene: a fast start to open up a sustainable gap on his competitors. With a time of one hour, 16 minutes, he was the third on his first lap and racing with some of the team riders. For the next five laps, Juarez stayed in the top ten places in the overall standings, before stepping off the gas slightly.
Meanwhile, Ernesto Marenchin (Asylum Cycles) of Stow, Ohio, followed the reverse plan. Holding back slightly in the opening three laps, by nightfall Marenchin was turning nearly equal lap times with Juarez, leading to significantly faster laps number 10, 11 and 12 on Sunday morning. Juarez kept his cool in the sweltering heat, however, and the late charge by Marenchin was not enough to erase the gap sustained by the consistent, measured effort from Juarez, who took the win with 15 laps ridden and a 52 minute advantage over Marenchin.
"Marenchin deserves to be commended. He kept the pressure on me the whole race. I knew that I shouldn't panic, though, and just focused on my own performance and keeping it steady," said Juarez.
In the women's solo race, a racer registered mysteriously as "Ms. Cookie" displayed her own experience and consistency to win the class. Further research revealed "Ms. Cookie" to be the pseudonym of Carol Clemens (Dirt Rag), a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, resident who finished second in 2007. The early challenge was mounted by Liz Baumgardt-Kays (A&B Machine) of Rockford, Illinois, who turned two fast early laps before fading to third overall behind the quickening pace of Clemens and Heidi Schilling (Ellsworth) of Whitehall, Ohio.
"I knew from previous years that you can't start out too fast,and have to really gauge your efforts to survive the whole race," said Clemens, displaying the wisdom of a seasoned 24 racer.
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the 24 hours of Big Bear.