Lechner returns to top step of World Cup podium

Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol) won her first career World Cup cross country race in Houffalize, Belgium, in 2010, the same season in which she finished third overall in the World Cup ranking. She followed it up with her second-ever World Cup cross country win in Albstadt, Germany on Sunday.

"I am very content with myself," said Lechner after her victory. "My aim was a top 10 finish, but as I had good legs and believed in myself, I was able to win the race. It is very special to win the first World Cup of the season."

Albstadt was hosting a UCI MTB World Cup event for the first time, which meant the course was new to most World Cup participants. Lechner felt good about the course from her first course inspection. It was a technical course, with short, steep uphills and plenty of long, technical downhill sections.

In the six-lap race, Lechner had a good start and quickly joint the under 23 world champion Jolanda Neff (Giant XC), who took the early lead, and eliminator World Cup winner Alexandra Engen (Ghost Factory) and Katrin Leumann (Ghost Factory).

After three laps, former World Champion Maja Wloszczowska (Giant XC) was moving up and joined Lechner and Leumann at the front, while Neff had dropped back. Engen was joined by Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools), but the duo was already 13 seconds behind at this point.

With one lap to go, Leumann, Lechner and Wloszczowska were six seconds ahead of Zakelj, and the gap to Engen was 18 seconds. The women were by no means assured of their podium positions as it suddenly started to rain, and the course became very slippery and even more difficult to handle.

Lechner was able to open a gap on one of the short steep uphill sections in the final half lap, and she crossed the finish line eight seconds ahead of Wloszczowska and 16 seconds ahead of Leumann.

"After it started to rain in the last lap, it was much more difficult. The course was very slippery, it was like riding on ice," said Lechner. "As I was able to open a little gap on the last uphill, I took no risk on the last downhill."

In the year after Lechner's first World Cup win, she she claimed the bronze medal at the 2011 world championships in Champéry, Switzerland, and ranked fourth in the overall UCI ranking.

During the Olympic season of 2012, she had mainly focused on the Olympic competition, but ended up in 17th position. Even though she had won both the European and world championships team relay competitions and finished top six in the eliminator Worlds, she was not satisfied with her season.

Heading straight into the 2013 cross country season after a long 'cross season, in which she finished seconds off the podium at Worlds, Lechner has been on form thus far. She has won all of Italian national series races so far, except for one. She shares the leader's jersey in that series with Tanja Zakelj from Slovenia.

Lechner was eliminated in the quarter finals of the eliminator World Cup on Friday, two days before the World Cup cross country. That may have been a blessing in disguise as she could conserve energy.

Her team manager Edmund Telser said, "Being eliminated already in the quarter finals of the eliminator race two days ago certainly motivated Eva even more to do well in this race. It is always difficult to know how strong your athletes are before they meet their competitors in the first World Cup race. When I saw Tanja Zakelj closing up from behind, I knew Eva could keep her pace until the end of the race, as she had been riding with Tanja in the Internazionali d'Italia series for the past few months."

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