Madrid once again proved to be an exciting venue for the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano. Both World Cup leaders Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Marga Fullana (Massi) extended their leads in the overall standings with wins in this fourth round, but the racing was no less exciting: Fullana won by only four seconds, and in the men’s race there was a four-way sprint for third place.
Women’s course shortened due to rain
After a second night of heavy rain, the decision was made to shorten the women’s race from five laps to four. The wet ground made some of the climbs unrideable, and every corner had to be negotiated with care. A group containing Fullana, 2008 World Cup Champion Marie-H?l?ne Pr?mont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), world number one ranked Catharine Pendrel (Luna) and Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory Team) split away from the field.
Fullana then made her first testing attack, to which only Premont and Byberg were able to respond. Pendrel dropped back to sit solo in fourth, with a chase group containing round one winner Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost Team), Maja Wloszczowska (CCC Polkowice) and Eva Lechner (Colnago Cap Arreghini) forming behind. The front three began getting reeled in from behind on the second lap, both by Pendrel and the chase of Osl, Lechner, Wloszczowska and the Olympic Champion Sabine Spitz.
Race down to two riders
Pr?mont was getting concerned about being caught, and upped the pace, dropping Byberg with less than a lap and a half to go. Byberg would hold on for third, but the race for the win was down to two riders. Fullana made the winning move on the final long climb, launching an attack that Premont could not respond to immediately, and then holding on to win her second consecutive World Cup. Behind Byberg, Pendrel was caught by Spitz and Osl, after some mechanical problems, but managed to hold on for the fifth and final podium spot behind Spitz.
Fullana’s win has increased her lead in the standings: with 850 points she is 190 points clear of Osl, with Byberg in third place (565 points).
"It is a great honour to win in my home country; this was one of my big goals for the season," said Fullana. "Of course, I was very concerned about Marie-H?l?ne, because she is always strong, but I could see that I was better on the climbs, and I knew that I had to attack there in the final lap."
Drier conditions for men’s race
By the time the men were ready to start their six lap race, the ground had nearly dried out, and all sections were rideable. Multivan Merida’s Ralph N?f had his patented fast start, and a sizable group of contenders formed at the front of the race by the midpoint of the first lap. However, there were two big names missing from the front – World Champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized Factory Racing) and the number two ranked rider in the World Cup, Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon). Both had poor starts, and had to chase up through the field all race.
At the front, the lead group was being rapidly whittled down, and by the third lap it was just Absalon and N?f in front, with a chase group of four at 29 seconds – Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), Roel Paulissen (Cannondale Factory Racing), U23 series leader Burry Stander (Specialized Factory Racing) and Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower). A second group, at 44 seconds, was being led by Olympic silver medalist Jean-Christophe Peraud (Massi), and the two groups would merge late in the lap, to create a seven rider chase.
N?f launches attack
However, they weren’t making any headway on the two leaders, who continued to add seconds to their lead on lap four. By the fifth lap, N?f felt it was time to put some pressure on Absalon, and launched a powerful attack near the end of the lap, gaining 11 seconds as the pair began their final lap. But the move proved to be premature, as Absalon steadily reeled him in, and then dropped the tiring Swiss rider to solo in by over a minute for his 19th World Cup victory.
"It was a bit of a tactical race with Ralph," admitted Absalon. "He did a very good attack on me, and took some seconds. I wasn’t able to keep his wheel when he went. But I think maybe it was too much for him to keep going, and I was able to come back to him."
Sprint for third
Behind, the chase was down to four riders for the last kilometre, with N?f’s team mate Moritz Milatz taking third, one second ahead of Marco Fontana (Cannondale Factory Racing), and three seconds ahead of Schurter and Peraud.
Absalon’s lead in the series is becoming almost insurmountable, as the Olympic champion now has 950 points to second place Kurschat’s 625, while Stander sits in third at 580 points, and leads the U23 standings.
The next round of the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano for the XCO riders takes place in two months in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada.
Photo: ? SRAM