By Sue George in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec
Clad in their rainbow striped jerseys, world champions Melissa Buhl (KHS) Rafael Alvarez de Lara Lu marched through qualifying and finals to win the World Cup 4X in Mont-Sainte-Anne in Canada.
Buhl defeated Mio Suemasa (MS-Intense Factory Racing), Fionn Griffiths (Norco World Team) and Anneke Beerten in the big final. Beerten crashed in the final, but managed to get up and ride to the finish.
"I had an outside lane choice which gave me a disadvantage from the start," said the American winner Buhl. "I had a lot of track to make up there. Anneke had a good start but then she slid out." The turn in question one was the only turn with two options, according to Buhl.
"If you stayed below the lower rock," said Buhl, "you could get on the inside. Problem was we ran out of real estate, and I almost missed the blue gate. It was a bit of a scramble, but I'm glad I didn't miss it and was able to get out." On that turn, where Beerten crashed, Buhl came underneath to make a pass. "I was in front of her when she crashed. I'm not sure what happened."
In the men's race, Alvarez de Lara Lu beat Romain Saladini (Team Sunn), Guido Tschugg and Cedric Gracia in the Big Final.
"It was an easy race as I was first through each round," said Saladini through a translator after his final run. Saladini was all smiles after his race and he said he was not nervous for his first World Cup appearance since winning the World Championships just over one month ago. "I tried to race as if it was the same as any other race. It wasn't any different."
Behind Alvarez de Lara Lu was a chasing Romain Saladini (Team Sunn). The Frenchman was content after his race, his first back after breaking a finger at the Fort William round of the World Cup in early June. "It was smooth for me," said Frenchman Saladini. "I didn't see the crash."
Neither he nor Alvarez de Lara Lu knew what was going on in their wake, where Tschugg and Gracia tangled.
The weather caused the 4X qualifications to be postponed from Friday evening until Saturday and they were sandwiched between the downhill finals and the 4X finals. Plenty of rain in the days previous had super saturated the course with water, which caused damage like ruts and mud holes and soft approaches to jumps. Some of the jumps' approaches were covered with plywood for a more solid take-off.
"We were all kind of thinking that we weren't going to race 4X, but I'm glad we did," said Buhl, who had expressed doubt about competing earlier in the day along with concerns about safety on the damaged course. Organizers had deployed an army of personnel working all day Saturday to make emergency repairs.
"For the level of water they got, they did a good job with what they had," said Buhl. "The changes they made were really smart - they listened to the riders. It was good racing.
"The track in the days before was challenging due to the rain, but today it was perfect," said Alvarez de Lara Lu.