By Luke Webber in Schladming
Christoph Sauser (Specialized Factory Racing) ended his most successful season to date with a win last weekend in Schladming, Austria, at the World Cup finals, beating a resurgent Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) and earning second place in the overall standings to go with his rainbow jersey. Olympic champion Julien Absalon (Orbea) claimed the overall World Cup title.
Sauser and Hermida ended up at the front battling with Adam Craig (Giant), Roel Paulissen (Cannondale-Vredestein) and Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez (Giant Italia). Craig eventually fell off the pace while Paulissen feel off a bridge on the course, catapulting over the bars and sustaining a concussion which resulted in an overnight stay in hospital.
That left Sauser and Hermida away to do battle along with Alvarez Gutierrez. Hermida was on the attack all day, but Sauser waited patiently executed his single, winning attack. He then took advantage of the resulting 10 second gap to go for it.
"I really wanted to win today and it feels so good to end the season on top," said Sauser.
For Hermida, it was more about salvaging something from a lacklusture year in which he has suffered bad luck with mechanicals and illness. Only in Madrid did he show a glimpse of his talent translated into a top result, but this has only served as motivation for him for the coming 2009 season.
"Only in the last month have I started to come back to my normal self - but maybe that is a good thing!" said Hermida. "Battles like today take years off your life! But I am still having fun on the bike and this is the most important thing."
Two-time Olympic champion Absalon did not finish the race, but was happy with his overall title.
"It was just so fun here, I have won the overall already so there was no pressure. Today was just for fun and it was fun to ride just as much as I wanted, nothing more."
In the women's race, Maja Wloszczowska (Halls Professional MTB Team) surprised everyone by taking her first World Cup win over from behind.
Wloszczowska and Marga Fullana (Massi) ended up duelling for the final win, and in a race which was short at under one and a half hours, every second counted.
Wloszczowska who got the better of a weakening Fullana, who slipped to fourth behind Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) and Marie Helen Premont (Rocky Mountain).
Speaking after the race, Wloszczowska said she was happy with her first ever World Cup win, which came as much as a surprise to her as it did to her rivals. "Finally I come first!" she said.
"I was second here in 2004, but after the Olympics I did not expect to win here," said Wloszczowska. "I haven't trained as much as I would have liked and that showed in the start, I did not get away well. But from then I could get faster and faster, when I saw Marga it gave me the extra power to push on and win the race, it was a great motivation."
With her final performance, Premont assured herself the overall World Cup win.