In his 14-year-long career, Jose Antonio Hermida had never won an elite men's world championship cross country race. All that changed on Saturday afternoon at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec, Canada. In taking the victory, he also brought Spain its first elite men's cross country gold medal. Jaroslav Kulhavy earned the silver medal for Czech while Burry Stander gave South Africa its first elite cross country medal with the bronze.
After a careful look over his shoulder, an emotional Hermida stopped and lifted his bike high in the air to celebrate as he crossed the line as the new world champion.
"I can't even talk. I'm full of emotions. I really wanted to win Worlds this year," said Hermida. "Last year I was close, in fourth."
The men faced two starting laps plus six full laps, mostly after the morning rains had ceased although it rained at times after the start gun fired. Over 80 men were on the start line vying for the hole shot and not everyone would come out well.
Multiple time world champion Julien Absalon (France) was one such rider. "I was in the crash after 200m. A guy in front of me went down. I crashed and maybe broke my little finger, and it took me a long time to disentangle my bike from the others."
The Frenchmen, with years of experience racing and winning at Mont-Sainte-Anne, made a remarkable recovery as he chased the leaders which included a fast starting Nino Schurter (Switzerland), Kulhavy and Stander. Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy) and Ralph Naef (Switzerland) were also up there in the early laps. Despite his inauspicious start, Absalon was soon back in with the top eight riders.
Schurter and Kulhavy took turns at the front, but the seasoned Hermida and the first-year elite rider Stander were never far behind the two leaders.
Defending champion Schurter seemed on track for a possible repeat, but then bad luck struck. With three to go, Schurter stopped in the pits to change a tire and lost several spots. He didn't give up though and kept on, soon working his way back to fourth.
Meanwhile, Absalon's luck didn't improve. The Frenchman had a flat that required a pit stop and wheel change.
"I had too many problems today. To win the world championships, you have to have the perfect race," said Absalon, who would know about world championships and perfect races as well as anyone. "It was not the perfect race. Sometimes you have a bad day and there is nothing you can do. It was one of those days."
Schurter and Absalon chased together for awhile, even after Schurter's bad luck continued with a second puncture.
"The shit hit the fan and I flatted a second time. It wasn't my day," said Schurter, who was spotted later in the evening racing the pump track. "I felt in good shape, really strong in the beginning, but the luck was not there. I'm a bit disappointed, but that's mountain biking and next year is another chance."
With favorites Absalon and Schurter out of medal contention, Kulhavy and Stander took turns leading the race, but they were never far apart. With one and a half laps to go, Hermida saw his chance.
"Today was like a dream with a small crash in the beginning. After that it was like being at Disneyland," said Hermida, whose sense of humor throughout the years has won him many friends and fans in the peloton and among the spectators.
Hermida had been caught in the same crash as Absalon at the start, but recovered well and rode free of mechanicals. "From the beginning, I had trouble in the first corner, but I knew it was a long race. It was hard to catch back up, but at Mont-Sainte-Anne, it's important to get to the first climb first. You have to be in the top five in the downhill sections."
"I struggled for a few laps, then I didn't really attack. I knew from my anchor leg in the team relay that I could get more speed on the last two laps. I just had to go 30 seconds faster by picking better lines."
Stander, Kulhavy and Hermida had been together, but Stander faded slightly off the pace of the Czech and Spaniard. Then the head games began.
"Jaroslav is really strong," said Hermida. "I was wondering, 'Is he saving energy or playing with me? On the gravel road climb, I decided I had to push it to the limit."
The ever humorous Hermida laughed as he said, "I knew I would have five months recovery after today, so i said 'Ok, I have to give everything now.' I had one second, then two seconds. I knew if I got 10 seconds, they wouldn't catch me."
That's exactly what happened as Hermida went on to collect the win, with time to enjoy every second as he celebrated across the line.
"I was always close to winning the big races and I've been second to Absalon, and now I have my title," said Hermida.
Last weekend's World Cup winner Kulhavy, who won the 2003 junior world title, was feeling the effects of his efforts at Windham and said, "The race was very tough. I was trying to look out for the lead the whole race, but in the end Jose was just stronger and I came in second." Kulhavy was part of the medal-winning Czech team relay team earlier in the week, too.
Stander said he had an up and down season, but proved that he could make a good transition from under 23 ranks to elite ranks. Last year's Under 23 world champion was content with third place among the elites. "I could feel my legs coming around last week at Windham and today, I felt good." The South African was onboard the 29er that he's raced about 50 percent of the races this season.
Schurter was fourth and Absalon finished fifth.
Geoff Kabush (Canada), another rider caught up in the early race crash, seemed to get stronger as the race progressed. He had his best finish of the season, in eighth, and was spurred on by the loudly cheering crowds. "It was so loud you could barely hear yourself think. It really helped on the sections where you had to hurt."
Kabush wasn't surprised by Hermida's win. "I think Hermida showed in his relay lap that he's on form. He's one of the best technical riders and he had a great ride here. It's great to see him finally take the title after so many years."
The best American finishers were Sam Schultz in 20th and Todd Wells in 21st. Adam Craig was 29th and JHK 34th. Schultz narrowly nipped Wells at the line. National Champion Wells called it a "tough race" while Schultz was pleased to log his best finish in three years of elite racing at Worlds.
"The start was chaos. There were so many crashes," said Schultz. "I felt good at the end and was wishing there was one more lap - something I never wish for. The course was so rad."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spain)||1:52:26|
|2||Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic)||0:00:29|
|3||Burry Stander (South Africa)||0:01:10|
|4||Nino Schurter (Switzerland)||0:02:03|
|5||Julien Absalon (France)||0:02:23|
|6||Carlos Coloma Nicolas (Spain)||0:02:43|
|7||Liam Killeen (Great Britain)||0:02:51|
|8||Geoff Kabush (Canada)||0:03:58|
|9||Florian Vogel (Switzerland)||0:04:14|
|10||Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez (Spain)||0:04:30|
|11||Ralph Naef (Switzerland)||0:04:35|
|12||Cédric Ravanel (France)||0:04:57|
|13||Manuel Fumic (Germany)||0:05:23|
|14||Moritz Milatz (Germany)||0:05:41|
|15||Stéphane Tempier (France)||0:06:37|
|16||Martin Gujan (Switzerland)||0:07:42|
|17||Lukas Flückiger (Switzerland)||0:07:58|
|18||Maxime Marotte (France)||0:08:21|
|19||Emil Lindgren (Sweden)||0:08:31|
|20||Samuel Schultz (United States Of America)|
|21||Todd Wells (United States Of America)||0:08:32|
|22||Fabian Giger (Switzerland)||0:08:45|
|23||Jan Skarnitzl (Czech Republic)|
|24||Tony Longo (Italy)||0:09:13|
|25||Martino Fruet (Italy)||0:09:23|
|26||Oliver Beckingsale (Great Britain)||0:09:39|
|27||Jukka Vastaranta (Finland)||0:09:45|
|28||Kohei Yamamoto (Japan)||0:10:18|
|29||Adam Craig (United States Of America)||0:10:29|
|30||Catriel Andres Soto (Argentina)||0:10:37|
|31||Inaki Lejarreta Errasti (Spain)||0:10:51|
|32||Christoph Sauser (Switzerland)||0:11:23|
|33||Marek Galinski (Poland)||0:11:34|
|34||Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (United States Of America)||0:11:55|
|35||Rubens Valeriano (Brazil)||0:12:18|
|36||Christoph Soukup (Austria)||0:12:20|
|37||Derek Zandstra (Canada)||0:12:38|
|38||Sergio Mantecon Gutierrez (Spain)||0:12:55|
|39||Max Plaxton (Canada)||0:13:10|
|40||Evgeniy Pechenin (Russian Federation)||0:13:16|
|41||Michael Broderick (United States Of America)||0:13:25|
|42||Karl Markt (Austria)||0:14:06|
|43||Raphael Gagne (Canada)||0:14:39|
|44||Maxim Gogolev (Russian Federation)||0:14:44|
|45||Matthew Hadley (Canada)||0:14:48|
|46||Ruben Ruzafa Cueto (Spain)||0:15:13|
|47||Magnus Darvell (Sweden)||0:16:26|
|48||Carl Decker (United States Of America)|
|-1lap||Hannes Metzler (Austria)|
|-1lap||Lachlan Norris (Australia)|
|-1lap||Andrea Tiberi (Italy)|
|-1lap||Matous Ulman (Czech Republic)|
|-1lap||Jelmer Pietersma (Netherlands)|
|-1lap||Ricardo Pscheidt (Brazil)|
|-1lap||Robert Mennen (Germany)|
|-1lap||Kris Sneddon (Canada)|
|-1lap||Wolfram Kurschat (Germany)|
|-2laps||Andrew Watson (Canada)|
|-2laps||Edivando De Souza Cruz (Brazil)|
|-2laps||Cristobal Silva Ibaceta (Chile)|
|-2laps||Chun Hing Chan (Hong Kong, China)|
|-2laps||Rotem Ishai (Israel)|
|-2laps||Sven Nys (Belgium)|
|-2laps||Ignacio Torres Acosta (Mexico)|
|-2laps||Michael Northcott (New Zealand)|
|-2laps||Luis Anderson Mejia Sanchez (Colombia)|
|-2laps||Zhiqiang Duan (People's Republic of China)|
|-3laps||Spencer Paxson (United States Of America)|
|-3laps||Anton Gogolev (Russian Federation)|
|-3laps||Jianhua Ji (People's Republic of China)|
|-3laps||Seiya Hirano (Japan)|
|-3laps||Kyosuke Takei (Japan)|
|-3laps||Shun Matsumoto (Japan)|
|-3laps||Stuart Houltham (New Zealand)|
|-3laps||Hector Daniel Gasco (Argentina)|
|-3laps||Ryo Saito (Japan)|
|-4laps||Emmanuel Valencia (Mexico)|
|-4laps||Hector Fernando Riveros Paez (Colombia)|
|-4laps||Andrew Blair (Australia)|
|-4laps||Eudaldo Asencio (Puerto Rico)|
|DNF||Jochen Kass (Germany)|
|DNF||Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy)|
|DNF||Michal Lami (Slovakia)|
|DNF||Dario Alejandro Gasco (Argentina)|
|DNF||Rudi Van Houts (Netherlands)|