World Champion Nino Schurter (Switzerland) reigned supreme in the battle of the titans that took place at Cascades MTB Park late on Sunday afternoon as mouth-watering action of the elite men’s cross country event of the UCI MTB & Trials World Championships unfolded in front of thousands of vocal and enthusiastic supporters that flooded the Pietermaritzburg facility.
Schurter never relinquished the lead once. “It was just a perfect race for me and I am just really satisfied at the moment,” explained Schurter. “Coming into the race I didn’t feel any more pressure than I do for any other race as I knew I was in great shape and that the course really suited me, plus I was in a really good mood beforehand and just felt great.”
With compatriot Mathias Flückiger unable to fly to South Africa due to illness, and brother Lucas Flückiger forced out of the contest after a crash on the start line, Schurter‘s primary challenge was always likely to come from Frenchman and world number two Julien Absalon.
Schurter’s early tactic however had precisely the desired effect as the blistering early pace immediately splitting the field and Absalon – struggling to recover from a big crash in training a few days ago – becoming one of the early casualties, unable to stay on the leader’s wheel.
“My goal always was to go as hard as I could on the first lap because I knew my biggest rival was going to be Absalon and he often struggles with a high pace early on,” said Schurter. “I had a five-second lead after the first lap and from there I just raced at my own pace, keeping things consistent and never really going into the red zone.”
With only Fabian Giger (Switzerland), José Hermida (Spain) and Manuel Fumic (Germany) able to respond to Schurter’s early antics, it was near disaster for Fumic as an error in the Tree House rock garden on the opening lap saw him re-join the race down in fourteenth and with a lot of work to do in order to salvage his medal hopes.
Fumic found himself tangled in the wheel of Giger midway down the rock garden after the Swiss rider got it all wrong, crashing through the barrier tape. Once free of the carnage and now racing like a man possessed, Fumic somehow managed to claw his way back up to second placed Hermida early on the fifth lap, and over the next two laps managed to pull away from the Spaniard to eventually claim a deserved silver medal.
“I felt I was well prepared coming into the race. After I broke my collarbone in May and then had a very speedy recovery I was able to focus on this race,” said Fumic. “I had a few problems in the rock garden but I never gave up and managed to catch José on lap five. José was always putting pressure on me though, I could feel him breathing on my back most of the last two laps, so I knew I had to keep pushing and I’m really happy to have got the silver medal in the end.”
For Hermida Ramos, the early pace eventually took its toll and the 35-year-old was eventually left to ensure he hung onto his third position and claim the final step on the podium.
“Nino started really quickly so the rest of us just had to suffer right from the start,” enthused the hugely popular MTB character. “I knew being thirty-five I won’t have many more chances to try win a world championship so I tried my best to stay with Nino for as long as I could but he was just too strong. Then when Manuel came passed I thought I’d just stay on his back wheel but I couldn’t and then I had to try and just keep up my speed and stay on the podium.”
The bubbly, comical Spaniard successfully clung to that bronze medal position and as he crossed the line paid tribute to fallen friends of the cycling community and in particular the late South African cycling legend Burry Stander.
“For sure my signs at the finish were for Burry. For Burry and for Iñaki (Lejarreta) as well as Erwin (Wildhaber) who have passed away this season and for everyone else who passes away every season on the road, on the tracks and just doing their hobby,” explained a somewhat emotional and deeply sincere Hermida.
“I think Burry’s memory in particular – especially with us being here in Pietermaritzburg – but the memory of all three of the guys that have passed away recently too, gave each and every one of us a little extra energy out there today and my signs at the finish just showed that we all had him in our minds!”
Despite having missed out on a podium place, Maxime Marotte of France put in a performance of Schurter-like consistency as he slotted into fourth position early on and would not be moved from there at any stage of the encounter.
Behind Marotte though was action-a-minute as the battle for fifth position to-ed and fro-ed throughout the seven-lap affair as broken saddles, crashes and fatigue kept things interesting throughout.
In the end it was 2012 London Olympic gold medalist Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) who came home ahead of Absalon, Moritz Milatz (France), Ondrej Cink (Czech Republic), Stephane Tempier (France) and Giger.
A notable absentee from the action at the front end of the field was Australia’s Daniel McConnell who, having suffered a near race ending crash when he collided with a troupe of monkeys whilst training on the road a week ago, struggled to find his prime form and disappointingly slipped back early on in the clash.
The day was also not a good one for the local lads as top South African rider Philip Buys struggled to stay on his bike, leaving Renay Groustra and Matthys Beukes to fly the flag for the host nation as they came home in 47th and 49th position respectively.
The first ever hosting of the UCI MTB & Trials World Championships on African soil culminates on Sunday in the elite men’s (14:45) and women’s (14:00) Downhill competitions where PMB local Greg Minnaar will look to defend his world title, whilst the Cross-Country Eliminator events start at 09:45.
The UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from 26 August to 1 September 2013. More information can be found atwww.mtbworldchamps.co.za
Summary of Results – UCI MTB & Trials World Championships
XCO Elite Men
1 Nino Schurter (SUI) 1:40.17
2 Manuel Fumic (GER) +00.07
3 Jose Hermida (ESP) +00.21
4 Maxime Marotte (FRA) +00.53
5 Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE)+1.17
6 Julien Absalon (FRA) +1.31
7 Moritz Milatz (GER) +1.45
8 Ondrej Cink (CZE) +2.04
9 Stephane Tempier (FRA) +2.19
10 Fabian Giger (SUI) +2.30
11 Jan Skarnitzl (CZE) +2.50
12 Marco Fontana (ITA) +3.06
13 Alexander Gehbauer (AUT) +3.08
14 Emil Lindgren (SWE) +3.11
15 Kohei Yamamoto (JPN) +3.14
16 Marek Konwa (POL) +3.36
17 Florian Vogel (SUI) +3.43
18 Miguel Martinez (FRA) +3.50
19 Martin Loo (EST) +4.00
20 Martin Fanger (SUI) +4.10