Extreme XC at Fort Bill - Bike Magic

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Extreme XC at Fort Bill

Irina Kalentieva came out ahead of a chasing group for third place

Spitz: Second at Fort William, second in the World Cup

With World Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle 390 points clear going into the final round at Fort William, the questions being asked before the race were things like, “How much will Dahle win by?” and “Who’ll come second?”. For the riders left bobbing in the Norwegian’s wake, though, the question of who would come second was of more than academic interest. Only 40 points separated second-placed Sabine Spitz from Marie-Helene Premont (the only racer other than Dahle to win any rounds this year) after Round 7, so Spitz absolutely had to beat her Canadian rival around Leanachan Forest to maintain her series position.

Few would dispute that the Witch’s Trail course is one of the toughest on the World Cup circuit. It’s got the lot – fast fireroads, singletrack, actually quite fearsome technical bits (certainly when tackled on a full-bore race hardtail) and plenty of climbing and descending. With 336m of ups and downs per 9.4km lap, the course is a real test of all-round ability.

Perhaps surprisingly, Gunn-Rita Dahle didn’t ride off the front immediately – the whole pack was together a whole 2km into the race. But it wasn’t long before the Norwegian started to stretch out in characteristic style, opening out a 24 second lead by the end of the first lap and extending it each lap thereafter. Dahle didn’t do a lap slower than thirty minutes, a feat that no-one else could match. Indeed, if you don’t count the slightly shorter opening lap, no other rider in the race managed a lap quicker than thirty minutes…

Spitz may not have been able to stay with Dahle, but her job of defending her series standing was made easier when Marie-Helene Premont pulled out on the second lap – she’d had a bout of food poisoning during the previous week and clearly hadn’t fully recovered. The German champion pretty much ended up riding around on her own, unable to close on Dahle but not really threatened by the rest of the field.

Definitely not riding on their own was the bunch behind. Dahle’s Merida-Multivan team-mates Irina Kalentieva and Nina Göhl were locked in battle with Petra Henzi and Kiara Bisaro for the whole race. Mary McConneloug put in a huge effort on Lap 3 to try and join the party, but having got up to the group she didn’t have enough left to stay with it.

Gunn-Rita Dahle made it look easy

Dahle crossed the line a massive five minutes ahead of Spitz, and that’s having collected a bottle of champagne on the last straight – she crossed the line in a shower of bubbly, and had almost concluded her post-race photo session and interviews before anyone else showed up. The pace of the battling group behind Spitz had closed the gap to the second-placed rider, but not enough to concern her unduly. The race for the remaining podium places went right to the wire, though, with Kalentieva just getting the best of Henzi and Göhl. A particularly good day for Merida-Multivan, with three riders in the top five.

In the overall standings, Dahle ended up with a preposterous 440 point lead, having won six out of the eight races. Spitz was second with an increased margin over Premont, who held third despite her DNF at Fort William. Kalentieva was fourth and MaryMcConneloug fifth.

Fredrik Kessiakoff set a blistering pace, but couldn’t maintain it to the end

Oli Beckingsale grits his teeth on the final lap

Liam Killeen had a bad start but hauled himself up through the field

The men’s World Cup series already had a winner before the final round, too – Christoph Sauser had an unassailable lead. Again, the rest of the podium was a movable feast, though, with the likes of Roel Paulissen and Julien Absalon still able to improve their overall standing.

It was Sauser’s Siemens-Cannondale team-mate Fredrik Kessiakoff who made the early running at Fort William, though, finishing the first lap with a 40-second gap on a chasing group containing Bart Brentjens, Lado Fumic, Jose Hermida, Sauser, Roel Paulissen, Manuel Fumic, Julien Absalon, Thomas Frischknecht and British National Champion Oli Beckingsale. Liam Killeen, meanwhile, had got snarled up at the start and was down in 19th place.

Kessiakoff maintiained his pace through lap two, posting the fastest lap of the race (a mind-blowing 24:32). But Sauser had managed to get a hint of a gap on the following group, which had also divested itself of Beckingsale but gained Ralph Naef, who’d worked his way up from the teens. Kessiakoff was still out in front after lap three, still with a minute in hand but no longer the fastest man on the course – that honour went to Naef, who’d managed to hang with the chase group as it shed more riders. The group was now down to Hermida, Absalon, Naef and Sauser.

Another lap and and Kessiakoff was starting to look more vulnerable. Naef and Sauser had split away from their group and between them were making inroads into the Swede’s lead. During lap four they both passed him, remaining locked together right to the finish. Naef was putting in a superhuman effort on the closing stages of the final lap, trying desperately to get clear of the World Cup Champ. He couldn’t get clear, but he could stay in front – just. Naef took his first World Cup win by just one second.

A fading Kessiakoff held on for third, still comfortably ahead of Hermida. Julien Absalon was fifth. And the Brits? Oli Beckingsale caned himself to try to stay inside the top ten, but it proved just slightly too much – he came in a still-impressive 13th, one place ahead of a late-charging Liam Killeen who’d hauled himself up from the early 20s.

So Christoph Sauser successfully defended his series title and Hermida held on to second spot. Roel Paulissen DNFed at Fort William, dropping him from third to fifth in the overall standings – Absalon moved up to third and Kessiakoff ended up fourth.

Ralph Naef gave it everything on the last lap


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