World Championships: Naef and Engen crowned first ever eliminator champions

Switzerland’s Ralph Naef was crowned the first ever men’s cross-country eliminator world champion in Saalfelden, Austria, on Sunday.

Ralph Naef (Switzerland) won the men’s race ahead of Miha Halzer (Slovenia) and Daniel Federspiel (Austria)

The 32-year-old claimed gold in the final over two laps of the 560m city centre course ahead of Miha Halzer (Slovenia) and Daniel Federspiel (Austria).

Halzer went into the final as favourite after qualifying fastest and strolling through the heats and the Slovenian was first out of the start gates in the final.

Federspiel and Germany’s Christian Pfäffle, who would later finish fourth, chased down Halzer, with Naef working his way up to second before powering past Halzer in the final sprint.

“They went really fast in the start. This is not my strength, so I had to follow,” said Naef. “Miha had a big gap. I knew if I could catch him and go with him, maybe I could outsprint him. I’m a cross country racer and am used to the long distances [but] it was hard to close the gap to him.”

Sweden’s Alexandra Engen edged out Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff in a thrilling women’s race

Meanwhile, Sweden’s Alexandra Engen won the women’s eliminator, with Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff and Poland’s Aleksandra Dawidowicz claiming silver and bronze respectively. Swiss rider Ramona Forchini finished out of the medals in the four-rider final.

Engen qualified fastest and flew out of the blocks but Neff remained glued to her wheel and moved past her rival with one lap to go.

The duo swapped the lead back and forth on a thrilling final lap but it was Engen who prevailed, sprinting past Neff on the finishing straight to secure gold.

“You never know the outcome in a sprint because it’s so tight and short, and Jolanda gave me a hard time,” said Engen. “It was like heart attack, euphoria, heart attack, euphoria… I searched the opportunities and took them when I could.”

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