By Steve Medcroft
The 2005 Mountain Bike World Championships was a showcase for the best in the world to prove why they’re the best. Defending Champions and Olympic Gold medalists Gunn Rita-Dahle (Norway) and Julien Absalon (France) reclaimed the Cross Country titles on Sunday. Former multi-time downhill winner Anne Caroline Chaussen snuck off with one more World Championship jersey before retiring. Frenchman Fabien Barel, after winning his National Championship and the European Championship already in 2005, took care of business in the men’s downhill.
The exceptions to the show of European dominance came from a pair of Americans (Brian Lopes and Jill Kintner) winners in the Four Cross competition. Kintner earned her first World Championship jersey and former Champion Lopes was just back to World Championship competition after two years lost to injuries. Here’s a quick run down of the action:
The women’s Cross Country field might as well get used to coming second to Gunn Rita-Dahle. The Merida/Multivan pro recently said in her Cyclingnews diary that she’s signed a six-year deal with her sponsors and is committed to at least three more years of racing; she intends to defend her gold medal in the 2008 Beijing. Since she’s won about 80 percent of her major races and 100 percent of her championship attempts in 2005 (Word Cup, Marathon and European and now World Championships), every other woman in racing better think solely on how they’re going to unseat the Norwegian if they want to place better than second place.
Dahle put her phenomenal dominance on display at the UCI World Championship races this past weekend, opening a thirty-five second gap on her chasers in the first of two and a half laps and never giving a second of time back. “Today was a perfect day for me,” she understated after the race. Poland’s Maja Wloszczowka took the silver and Switzerland’s Petra Henzi took third.
In men’s Cross Country competition, 2004 Olympic Gold medalist Julien Absalon (France) successfully defended his World Championship title but not with the ease that Dahle defended hers. From the gun, Marco Bui (Italy) strung out the field. Absalon was locked in a chase group with UCI World Cup leader Christoph Sauser (Switzerland), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Sweden) and Ralph Naf (Switzerland).
“My strategy for today’s race was to control my rivals then attack after,” Absalon said in the post-race press conference. In the race, Bui blew up after the first lap and the lead shook out with Absalon and Sauser up the trail and Jose Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spain) chasing in third. “I gave my best effort in the second lap to keep the front position,” Absalon said.
But effort was not all that was needed; a little luck was just as necessary. “I flatted in the last lap,” Absalon said. “I noticed that I was losing pressure at the first feed area, but I didn’t think it was a flat so I climbed the big uphill with the tire (like it was). I stopped at the 2nd feed area to fix it and I noticed that Christoph (Sauser) also flattened.” Absalon said he was nervous, but knew as long as he could retain the advantage, he could win. And he did.
On the eve of her retirement, the women’s Downhill crown went to Anne Caroline Chausson (France); her nineteenth world title. At the post-race press conference, she was asked about returning to BMX for the Beijing Olympics, but said that she is finished with all competition. "I am stopping because I don't want the stress of racing anymore. It was my plan to stop last year, in France (at the Worlds in Les Gets), but I broke my collarbone during training and could not race, so I decided to go one more year.” Chausson has a three-year contract with sponsor Commencal-Oxbow and says she’ll spend the rest of her career focused on freeride.
In the men’s downhill race, 2003 World Champion Greg Minnaar (South Africa) has locked up the World Cup title already and was showing the kind of control in downhill that almost certainly means a win. But just like in the Cross Country races, the defending champion, Fabien Barel (France) was in a winning mood of his own. He wanted a trio of 2005 championship jersey collection to rival Dahle’s having won the European Championship and his National Championship earlier this year. Barel posted a .77 seconds faster time than former Junior World Champion Sam Hill (Australia) to win. Minnaar came in third.
The men’s Four Cross came to halt after 2003 World Champion Michael Prokop (Czech Republic), took a nasty spill off berm and had to be carried off the course on a stretcher with what appeared to be a broken leg. Brian Lopes (USA), who had qualified well and worked his way through the brackets, found himself in the final against with Jared Graves (Australia), Mickael Deldycke (France) and Greg Minnaar (South Africa) but was able to hold a super-fast start all the way to the finish for the win.
Kintner says she prepared herself for the 2005 World Championship Four Cross race through focused training, diet and by working on techniques she struggled with. When it came to Championship race time though, she narrowed her focus down to having solid gates. "I think the key here was to qualify well and get the inside gate,” she said after the race. “After that, it was 'stay calm, do a good gate, and don't make mistakes in the first turn'." Kintner had the advantage after the first double in a final alongside Katrina Miller (Australia), Tara Llanes and Melissa Buhl (both USA) and held on to claim her first World Championship jersey.
MTB World Championships, Ita (CM) Aug. 31-Sept. 4: