The 2012 UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships concluded in Saalfelden, Austria, on Sunday with a new event to the programme - the Cross-country Eliminator. Alexandra Engen (Sweden) and Ralph Naef (Switzerland) are the first World Champions in this discipline.
After a two lap qualification time trial on the 560 metre course through the streets of Saalfelden, the top 32 women and men advanced to the racing heats. Racing in heats of four on a short urban circuit, two riders advanced in each round until the final four battled for the world title. With both flat out sprinting and various technical obstacles, the Eliminator proved to be a thrilling conclusion to the 2012 World Championships, with thousands of fans all around the circuit.
Engen qualified first in the women's field, and advanced through three rounds of racing to make the Final, winning each of her heats. She was joined in the Final by the Under 23 cross-country World Champion Jolanda Neff (Switzerland), Aleksandra Dawidowicz (Poland) and Ramona Forchini (Switzerland).
Neff took an early lead in the race on the opening climbing, but was passed by Engen, and then the Swiss rider retook the lead with a bold pass at the start of the second lap. Engen bided her time before accelerating to the front on the final straight to claim victory by two bike lengths over Neff. Dawidowicz took the bronze medal.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," explained Engen. "After the qualification I knew that I had golden legs and could do something today. The Final with Yolanda was a real battle, back and forth. I had to think about places to pass, and it was only in the last straight that I took the lead to win."
Elite Men : Naef comes from behind
Naef had a slightly harder path to victory, after qualifying well down in 28th place, giving him a less desirable lane choice for the start of each heat. Nevertheless, the 2006 Marathon World Champion won both of his opening heats, but finished second in the semi-final round to Miha Halzer (Slovenia), the fastest qualifier.
Naef and Halzer were joined in the Final by Daniel Federspiel (Austria) and Christian Pfaffle (Germany). Naef had a poor start and was sitting back in fourth spot after the first half lap, while Halzer had opened up a sizable gap at the front, and looked to have the title in his grasp with a lap to go. However, the experienced Naef calmly chose his moments to pick off the riders in front, one by one, and was on Halzer's wheel as they entered the final straight. In the final 100 metres, the Swiss rider used his cross-country endurance to accelerate around the tiring Halzer and take the title. Federspiel gave Austria its first medal of the championships with the bronze placing.
"I had the worst lane in the Final," explained Naef. "I knew that I would have to pass to win, but I didn't expect to be in fourth, I thought maybe second. Being really fast at the start is not my strength, so it was good for me that it was two laps. I'm a cross-country rider, so I thought I would be stronger at the end, and when I caught Miha on the final straight I knew that I had a chance."
Photo (Andres Jaramillo/flipper) : Alexandra Engen (SWE) beats Jolanda Neff (SUI) to become the first Cross-country Eliminator World Champion