One week after the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Canberra, Australia, the Nissan UCI World Cup presented by Shimano restarted with round seven of the cross-country series in ChampÃ©ry, Switzerland.
The hard fought races saw round one women's winner Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost Team) return to the top spot on the podium, and reclaim the overall lead in the series from Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory Racing), who finished third behind Anna Szafraniec (JBG-2 Pro MTB Team).
In the men's race, U23 World Champion Burry Stander (Specialized Factory Racing) took an historic first ever cross-country win for South Africa, in a stunning upset over World Cup leader Julien Absalon (Orbea). Absalon locked up the men's series title with his second place, ahead of Ralph NÃ¤f (Multivan Merida).
Osl will take the leaderâ€™s jersey home
The women's five lap (plus start loop) race saw traditional fast starter Eva Lechner (Colnago Cap Arreghini) jump into the lead, to be joined by Osl. The duo distanced themselves from chasers, with Osl opening a slight margin on her rival on the second lap. The gap would remain small until Lechner flatted shortly before the start of the final lap, eventually finishing fourth. Szafraniec moved into second, with Byberg having worked her way back from a slow start to take third.
Going into the final round, in Schladming, Austria, next weekend, Osl holds a slim 65 point lead over Byberg, with Canada's Catharine Pendrel (Luna) sitting in third, 150 points further back.
"Yesterday I woke up with a cold, and my head felt thick," revealed Osl, "so I didn't think it was possible to win here. When Eva and I were away in front, I was being more cautious in the technical sections, because it would have been easy to make a mistake, and lose a lot of time.
"But I was faster [than Lechner] on the climb, and when I went into the lead it wasn't really an attack. I could see that she was at her limit and I was still able to go harder. But the gap was small until Eva flatted, and it was only then that I knew that I could win.
"It is really cool to win, and become the leader as the World Cup goes to my home country. This makes me happy with my decision not to go to the World Championships."
Stander catches Absalon in spectacular fashion
The Men's race started in a predictable fashion, with Absalon moving up to catch early leader Alexis Vuillermoz (Lapierre International) on the third lap of the six lap race. It appeared Absalon was well in charge, with his lead over Stander over a minute with two laps to go. However, on lap five the first indication that this might be a historic day occurred when Stander began to slowly pull back the Olympic Champion, knocking 20 seconds off the lead. An interesting and unprecedented situation was unfolding: Absalon was fading while Stander was getting stronger. The South African caught Absalon on the final climb and pulled away to win by 15 seconds, with NÃ¤f taking third only nine seconds behind Absalon.
"For sure, this is a huge victory for me, my first World Cup win," agreed Stander. "I had a good week, resting up from Australia, so I think I came into the race well prepared. The start was pretty fast, so I lost a few spots, but I was able to move up on the first lap, and by lap two I was in a good spot. For the last two laps, I was hearing that I was getting closer to Julien, so it gave me lots of motivation, especially when I could see him on the climb. When I caught up to him, I could see that he had nothing left, so I just went."
Photo : Victory of Burry Stander (RSA)