Naef wins men's eliminator world championship

Ralph Naef (Switzerland) powered to the first elite men's eliminator world championship in Saalfelden, Austria, on Sunday afternoon. Naef defeated top qualifier Miha Halzer (Slovenia) and home crowd favorite Daniel Federspiel (Austria) in the men's big final. It was a beautiful sunny day, and huge crowds came out to watch and cheer.

"I'm happy to be the first world champion in the sprint eliminator," said Naef.

As the fastest qualifier, Halzer always got to pick his starting gate, and he consistently chose the favorite lane 2. He marched steadily through the heats, often winning by a huge gap over those he faced.

From the start of the men's final, the Slovenian set out as he usually did - blasting to the front. He was chased first by Federspiel and then by U23 rider Christian Pfäffle (Germany). Naef was a bit off the back in fourth place, but he'd come from behind in some of his earlier heats, too.

"My plan was to go in second position after the start," said Naef. "The guys were just faster. I had to go with plan B. I knew I had to pass them on the straights. I knew I had to do this just before the last corner."

Halzer's initial burst of speed looked like it might be good enough for the win, but after lap one, Naef moved up into second place and jumped onto Halzer's wheel. Maybe the Slovenian could be beaten after all?

It wasn't until the final sprinting stretch that Naef burst around Halzar, who quickly realized he was blown and would be beaten.

"They went really fast in the start. This is not my strength. So I had to follow," said Naef. "Miha had a big gap. I knew if I could catch him and go with him, maybe I could sprint him. I'm a cross country racer and am used to the long distances. It was hard to close the gap to him."

To the delight of fans enjoying the tight race, Naef took the victory. It was a victory he said was especially difficult the day after having done the cross country race, but his endurance paid off.

"It was great for me that this race was a little longer than normal," said Naef of the two-lap format used at this first Worlds. "If it was one lap, I'd have had no chance against Miha. You need a lot of luck in the final - like four cross. I knew I'd need all the luck and all the power I had to even get a medal."

Halzer said, "It was my plan to lead the races and try to go hard in the technical sections. And then I knew it would be hard until the end. Daniel started very strong in the final. So I needed to go all out to pass him, and in the end, my legs weren't so good and Ralph was super strong."

Naef commented on being the first-ever world champion in the young and still evolving mountain bike discipline.

"Yes, it's important for me. In the past, I was always a short race rider," he said. "I always wanted a world championship out of the shorter race. I thought maybe I'm too old for this and the young guys might be too much for me."

Behind the two top finishers was another battle that had fans excited. Federspiel was in fourth place going into the last lap, but dug deep to come around Pfäffle and take the final medal on offer - a bronze.

For Federspiel, who was racing in front of a boisterous home Austrian crowd, it was a dream come true. The cheering was always louder for the heats in which he was participating.

"It was so loud and the fans were so amazing. It was the greatest feeling in my life," said Federspiel. "Last year, when I heard the first eliminator Worlds would be here, I focused the whole year on eliminators. They are my favorite. It's my my first world championship medal and a first for Austria."

"I was really nervous before the start. In the small final I had a sprint finish with Paul van der Ploeg, so luck was on my side. In the final, I was just empty. I just finished. I started the second lap in fourth and used everything in my body to sprint and get the bronze medal."

Full Results

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Big Final
#Rider Name (Country) Team
1Ralph Naef (Switzerland)
2Miha Halzer (Slovenia)
3Daniel Federspiel (Austria)
4Christian Pfäffle* (Germany)
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Small Final
#Rider Name (Country) Team
5Manuel Fumic (Germany)
6Fabrice Mels* (Belgium)
7Simon Gegenheimer (Germany)
8Paul Van Der Ploeg (Australia)
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1/4 Finals
#Rider Name (Country) Team
9Mirco Widmer* (Switzerland)
10Geoff Kabush (Canada)
11Simon Stiebjahn* (Germany)
12Jan Nesvadba* (Czech Republic)
13Kenta Gallagher* (Great Britain)
14Martin Gluth* (Germany)
15Andy Eyring (Germany)
16Daniel Mcconnell (Australia)
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1/8 Finals
#Rider Name (Country) Team
17Martino Fruet (Italy)
18Heiko Gutmann (Germany)
19Chris Jongewaard (Australia)
20Gregor Raggl* (Austria)
21Urban Ferencak* (Slovenia)
22Henrique Avancini (Brazil)
23Tim Lemmers (Netherlands)
24Matthias Stirnemann* (Switzerland)
25Luiz Cocuzzi* (Brazil)
26Julian Schelb* (Germany)
27Emil Lindgren (Sweden)
28Fabien Canal (France)
29Anton Cooper° (New-Zealand)
30Michal Lami (Slovakia)
31José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spain)
DNFRok Korosec* (Slovenia)
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Rankings by nation
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResultHeader Cell - Column 3
2Switzerland65Row 1 - Cell 3
3Australia56Row 2 - Cell 3
4Slovenia44Row 3 - Cell 3
5Austria43Row 4 - Cell 3
6Belgium27Row 5 - Cell 3
7Canada23Row 6 - Cell 3
8Czech Republic21Row 7 - Cell 3
9Great Britain20Row 8 - Cell 3
10Brazil19Row 9 - Cell 3
11Italy16Row 10 - Cell 3
12Netherlands10Row 11 - Cell 3
13Sweden6Row 12 - Cell 3
14France5Row 13 - Cell 3
15New-Zealand4Row 14 - Cell 3
16Slovakia3Row 15 - Cell 3
17Spain2Row 16 - Cell 3


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