Marco Aurelio Fontana and Eva Lechner won the Marlene Südtirol Sunshine Race in Nals, on Sunday. Fontana took his first win in this race ahead of Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez and Josè Antonio Hermida. In the women's race, Italian Champion Lechner won ahead of Elisabeth Osl and Nathalie Schneitter. It was the third time Lechner won this race, tying the record of Olympic Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa.
Racers competed on a 5km circuit with five laps for the women and seven for the men. A total of 670 racers from 20 nations started on a warm, spring day.
Multiple-time Italian champion Marco Aurelio Fontana completed the 36.7 km in 1:37:10, followed by two-time Nals winner (2008, 2009) Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez from Spain at five seconds. Third place went to 2010 World Champion José Antonio Hermida at 13 seconds.
"This was a very hard fought race. I could finally make history here in Nals capturing the gold," said Fontana.
The race was thrilling to the end. Manuel Fumic from Germany took the lead right at the start and all through the starting loop and the first of seven laps of the circuit. Then Fontana and Gutierrez took over as the lead duo, closely followed by Fumic and Hermida.
Fontana dialed up the speed in the third lap, increasing his lead to Gutierrez by 22 seconds. But the Spaniard did not relent and even narrowed his gap. The two racers traded the lead through the fourth, fifth and sixth laps.
On the last uphill, Gutierrez' distanced himself from Fontana but had to deal with unexpected seat problems which gave way to Fontana, a good downhiller, to go on and win the race.
"Gutierrez slipped away in the fourth lap, and I thought he is making a comeback on the last uphill, but then I pushed hard and was able to edge out those deciding seconds during the last downhill section going on to win the race," said Fontana.
"I am actually a little disappointed with the silver medal because I really wanted to win today," said Gutierrez. "I know this course so well. It is challenging but also very beautiful. I've been out of luck this year and last, because one time the seat broke and the other time it turned. But that is totally my fault. I'll be back next year and will definitely go for my third win here."
"I am pleased with my third place on this course," said Hermida. "It was my first time here at the Marlene Südtirol Sunshine Race, and I had a lot of fun. The level of racers was extremely high with top athletes at the start. This is a very important season for all of us because of the Olympics later this year. Everyone wants to accomplish good results."
Pre-race U23 favorite Gerhard Kerschbaumer, finished third and commented on his race. "I started out in the top group but then my legs got heavy. I fell behind but then I just tried really hard. I had to race on my old bike because my new one was stolen last night. There were so many spectators in Nals who gave me their audible support. Let's face it, it was a home game..."
Eva Lechner from South Tyrol dominated the women's race once again after winning here in 2009 and 2010. She distanced herself from the Austrian 2010 World Cup winner Elisabeth Osl from nearby Kirchberg in Tyrol (Austria) by eight seconds after 1:27:54. The bronze went to Nathalie Schneitter from Switzerland; she had won in 2008 and is also Lechner's teammate.
"I am extremely pleased with my first win of the season. It was hard for me to find the right rhythm at the beginning," said Lechner.
Three-time Nals winner and Olympic Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa placed fourth. Dahle and Osl had a magnificent start but then Dahle fell behind while Osl and Lechner pushed ahead and were leading at the finish the first lap. Blaza Klemencic from Slovenia followed closely and then Adelheid Morath from Germany and Nathalie Schneitter from Switzerland were not much further back.
Osl and Lechner also set the tone in the second lap followed by Schneitter with a 10-second delay. Lechner staged an attack in the third lap clearly taking the lead with 21 seconds ahead of Osl who was able to close the gab in the fourth lap down to nine seconds.
It looked like it might come down to a sprint finish. Osl attacked Lechner in the uphills and was at times in front of her. But Lechner stayed the course, knowing that she would be the stronger downhiller. And that is exactly where Lechner was able to edge out the clear lead.
"Lisi (Osl) is very strong on the uphills which is why I concentrated real hard on the downhills trying to get some distance," said Lechner.
Runner-up Osl said, "I felt surprisingly good. Very strong on the uphills, but Eva kept close and I had clearly no chance in the downhills. Eva is probably the strongest technical mountain bike racer in the world. And I am proud that I didn't fall too far behind on her very own turf. I would also like to congratulate the organizers for staging this super event."
Schneitter said, "I had absolutely no chance racing against Lechner and Osl today. I just wasn't able to keep up, partly because I was still tired from yesterday's city-cross race. I was able to get somewhat closer to the lead in the third lap, but too many junior athletes were on the course and that messed with my rhythm as I wasn't able to overtake them."
Dahle-Flesjaa reflected on her day, which was started off poorly when she discovered her bike was stolen and had to borrow a teammate's bike. "It is always better to win but I am also pleased with my fourth place as I am still not in top shape which I will probably reach in about two months. February is my hardest training month, and I had to deal with some illnesses which is why I am still trying to catch up on my training. Add to it that my bike was stolen last night which is why I had to race on a bike I borrowed from Hermida. Yes, Eva has now matched my record. She is very strong, and she is also 10 years younger. In any event, this was a great training opportunity for me."
The City-Cross race was staged through downtown Nals on Saturday. The popular sprint race was won by Daniel Federspiel from Austria ahead of Thomas Lütscher from Switzerland and Lukas Kaufmann also from Austria. In the women's category, local favorite Eva Lechner won ahead of her team colleague Nathalie Schneitter from Switzerland.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Marco Aurelio Fontana (Cannondale)||1:37:10|
|2||Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez (Elettroveneta)||0:00:04|
|3||José Hermida (Merida Multivan)||0:00:12|
|4||Manuel Fumic (Cannondale)||0:01:07|
|5||Thomas Litscher (Felt Ötztal X-Bionic)||0:03:37|
|6||Luca Braidot (Gruppo Sportivo Esercito)||0:04:09|
|7||Alexey Medvedev (Elettroveneta)||0:04:33|
|8||Tony Longo (TX Active Bianchi)||0:04:47|
|9||Michele Casagrande (Elettroveneta)||0:05:13|
|10||Daniele Braidot (Gruppo Sportivo Esercito)||0:05:25|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Eva Lechner (Colnago Farbe)||1:27:54|
|2||Elisabeth Osl (Ghost-Factory)||0:00:07|
|3||Nathalie Schneitter (Colnago Farbe)||0:01:35|
|4||Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Merida Multivan)||0:02:11|
|5||Adelheid Morath (Felt Ötztal X-Bionic)||0:02:30|
|6||Blaza Klemencic (Felt Ötztal X-Bionic)||0:03:15|
|7||Tanja Zakelj (Salcano Factory)||0:06:24|
|8||Rie Katayama (Specialized Japan)||0:07:09|
|9||Serena Calvetti (Torpado Surfing)||0:08:07|
|10||Alexandra Engen (Ghost-Factory)||0:09:00|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Luca Braidot (Gruppo Sportivo Esercito)||1:41:19|
|2||Daniele Braidot (Gruppo Sportivo Esercito)||0:01:16|
|3||Gerhard Kerschbaumer (TX Active Bianchi)||0:01:39|
|4||Nicholas Pettinà (Gruppo Sportivo Esercito)||0:02:34|
|5||Maximilian Vieider (Sunshine Racers ASV)||0:07:20|
|6||Gregor Raggl (Hai Powerbiketeam)||0:08:26|
|7||Pietro Sarai (Giant Italia Team)||0:09:29|
|8||Denny Lupato (FRM Factory Racing)||0:10:31|
|9||Markus Preiss (RC Asvö Volksbank)||0:11:33|
|10||Tobias Reiser (Notebooksbilliger.)||0:12:01|