Once again, Houffalize proved that it is one of the classics of mountain biking, with exceptional racing at the second round of the RockyRoads UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano. In front of a huge crowd of enthusiastic spectators, World Champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna) and Julien Absalon (Orbea) won decisive victories.
Pendrel, who was third on the opening round of the World Cup last month in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, took the lead from defending UCI World Cup champion Julie Bresset (BH SR Suntour Peisey Vallandry) in the third lap of the five lap race with an attack on one of the climbs. She steadily increased her lead through the remainder of the race to finish with a time of one hour, 31 minutes and 15 seconds, 48 seconds ahead of Bresset. Maja Wloszczowska (CCC Polkowice), the winner of the first round of the 2012 series, was third at one minute and 24 seconds.
Pendrel and Wloszczowska are tied at 410 points each, however, Pendrel takes the lead in the World Cup by virtue of the more recent victory. Bresset moves into third, just ahead of Emily Batty (Subaru-Trek), second in the opening round.
"I just felt awesome today," stated Pendrel. "It was a good course, I really liked it. It felt a lot like my trails at home, and definitely had steep climbs. There was one section that I knew Julie [Bresset] was really strong on, so my focus of the race was riding that section as smooth as I can, and then just go as hard as I could on the climbs."
Third victory for Absalon in Houffalize
In the men's six lap race, Julien Absalon took his third Houffalize title, finishing with a time of one hour, 34 minutes and 42 seconds. Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower), the winner of the first round, was second at 38 seconds, with Marco Fontana (Cannondale Factory) third, one minute and three seconds in arrears. Absalon and Schurter broke away from the rest of the field by the second lap, and then Absalon dropped his Swiss rival in the final lap to solo in for the win.
"I was feeling good, but I was thinking "Okay, I need to attack Nino before the last lap, because I know he is always strong on the last lap". I knew there was no chance to win after that, because I knew he is faster than me on the last downhill. So my tactic was to attack before the downhill, so I attacked on the fifth lap.
"Houffalize in incredible, all the spectators, lots of fans from France and Belgium behind me, so maybe that is why I push like this. I am really happy because it is always special to win in Houffalize."
Schurter continues to lead the RockyRoads UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano, with 450 points, followed by Absalon at 400 points. Burry Stander (Specialized) sits in third place with 350 points.
The Eliminator was introduced last year as a test event, and this year becomes a full-fledged World Cup series, with three races and a world title on the line. The top 32 qualifiers from a timed lap of the circuit for both the men and women move onto the main competition: single lap races by heats of four riders, with the top two moving on to the next round.
The women's field saw Dutch rider Anne Terpstra (MPL Specialized) qualify first, followed by Kathrin Stirnemann (Sabine Spitz Haibike) and former Downhill World Champion Tracy Moseley. Last and co-favourite Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol) qualified further back, in seventh and ninth respectively.
However, once the racing started, the skills and strength of these two cross-country competitors ensured that they would be in the final four. They were joined by Terpstra and unheralded Jenny Rissveds (Team Sweden).
In the final, Last was joined by Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol), Anne Terpstra (MPL Specialized) and Jenny Rissveds (Team Sweden). Last got the holeshot out of the start, with Lechner having an uncharacteristically bad start and dropping to fourth at the bottom of the climb. By the top, Lechner was into second, but there was nowhere to pass on the narrow, twisting descent. The Italian did try a last ditch pass in the final corner, but caught her bars on last, taking both riders down. Last was first to regain her feet, and took the win. Rissveds took third, followed by Terpstra, who had also crashed in an attempted pass of Lechner earlier in the heat.
"I am really pleased with this," commented Last. "It is a really, really tough course. The steep ups and downs mean you have to get a good start, or people can come around you on the hill. Getting the lead after the start makes a massive difference, it means you have a bit more control of the race. You come out of the corner with a bit more speed. That one climb on the back you have to really jive."
"I almost lost in on the last corner. Eva tried to go to the inside, and we both went down. It was fine, cuz where it was was ok, no one else was there to come around."
"I had a very bad start on the final and was last for the climb," explained Lechner. "I tried to get to the front before the downhill but could only get to second. Then, I tried to pass in the final corner, but there was not enough space and I crashed. I'm happy with second, I tried for the win."
Lopes was untouchable in the men's competition, bursting down the start ramp and opening bike lengths before the riders even hit the climb. He would lose ground a bit on the climb, but then open it back up on the descent. Two favourites that did not make through qualifying were the Cannondale Factory team duo of Manuel Fumic and Marco Fontana. Fumic crashed on the descent, while Fontana slipped his pedal early on the climb, landing on his top tube.
For the final, Lopes was joined by three relatively unknown riders - Daniel Federspiel (Notebooksbilliger.de), Simon Gegenheimer and Severin Disch (Thoemus Racing). Again Lopes got a strong start, however, he lost some ground on the first corner of the climb when he had to put his foot down. It made no difference, as he soon opened up a gap again to cruise to the win, followed by Federspiel, Gegenheimer and Disch. The win means that Lopes has World Cup wins in Dual Slalom, Four-Cross and Eliminator disciplines.
"Oh I am just happy," commented Lopes. "I have been training a few months for these things and it is nice when you put in a lot of hard work and it pays off. I didn't think at 40 years old I'd be racing World Cups again, but I'm back. It's nice to get a victory."
"I've been racing BMX, Four-cross and so on since I was 4 years old and my specialty has always been getting a good start, getting out in front. I gotta be honest, I was a little worried with this course, a lot of climbing, a lot more climbing in it than I was training for and a lot different than the previous test events."
Here is the schedule for round 2 of the 2012 UCI World Cup XCO and round 1 of the XCE in Houffalize, Belgium.
You will be able to watch all the action right here on extreme.com, LIVE courtesy of Red Bull.