Madrid hosted round three of the World Cup this weekend and remains the only event in a capital city on the tour making for something very different than your usual fast-guys-around-the-woods scenario. Held in the city park of Casa de Campo, the new status symbols of city blocks and skyscrapers are clearly visible from the race track. Strangely, there’s also a cable car, although that doesn’t imply frenzied descending – this track is a bit like a five-mile cyclocross track on mainly smooth trails, the only omissions being barriers, run-ups and mud.
Weather was typically Mediterranean, the sun high in the sky for the women’s race and temperatures hitting high twenties. Thankfully conditions cooled, with the threat of a thunder storm during the men’s race coming to nothing. Thick clouds of dust kicked up by big pelotons through the feed zone continued, as did a local football match that was being played and stopped as the race passed.
Taking place in the centre of town, the crowds were varied and wandering with whistle-blowing marshals having a particularly busy weekend. Irina Kalentieva – women’s World Champion and winner in Offenburg last week – decided to give this week a miss. Her sore throat, which even prevented her giving me a post-race interview after the win, was enough to stop her contemplating choking in a dust cloud for two hours. Skipping races is becoming a habit this year for some top riders, all with the Olympics in mind so don’t expect this to be the last big-name absentee over the coming months.
Out on a course that many say closely resembles the Beijing track, this was an interesting test of strength, group riding, tactics and acclimatisation to the heat – something that a returning Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja managed superbly. Her first win in over a year signalled a return to form following illness in 2007 and warned everyone that she will still be the rider to beat in Beijing.
Marie-Helene Premont was second again, losing out on the sprint finish but capturing her third podium in three races and with it the leader’s jersey. Houffalize winner Ren Chengyuan had a disappointing race and struggled to finish in the top twenty.
The men’s race was even more exciting with several breaks failing in the opening stages before an informal group of around 20-30 riders formed. For a while nobody wanted to make a move, conscious that this track was not suited to an individual breakaway. Unfortunately two more laps only thinned the group slightly making for an extremely unpredictable finish which would not favour the top riders. Through a mix of anger after last weeks mechanical and inspiration from the home crowd Jose Hermida made the first meaningful attack. For the first time Absalon looked troubled but – ever the professional – he upped the pace and in the closing stages launched an attack to carry him to a narrow victory.
It was a good race for British National Champion Oli Beckingsale, just breaking into the top 20 in 19th place, while Liam Killeen came in in 35th.
The cross country now takes a break for three weeks, but the World Cup continues as the downhillers open their accounts in Maribor, Slovenia. Will Sam Hill continue to dominate or will Peaty get back on track? Find out here, next week.
Madrid: Take twoBM member (and ex-pat) Andy Gwatkin was also trackside at Madrid. Here’s his perspective.
A fast and dry circuit characterised by short, sharp climbs and descents awaited the world’s fastest in the Casa de Campo just a few kilometres from the heart of the Spanish capital. From the start/finish near the lake the riders headed out on the flat until hitting the first climb up to a lookout point. A few short descents and climbs followed before plummeting down to begin the “subida infernal”, a climb that really is “hell” as its name suggests – a sharp, all-out effort until the right turn at the tree and then two tight switchbacks to finish. After a brief return to the arena the riders then climbed again, heading north before looping back to the highlight of the course, the promisingly-named “Cuesta de la Muerte”, or “Slope of Death”! With that survived there was the second “subida infernal” to cope with and then two short climbs back to the finish area.
Although the course wasn’t particularly technical in nature it was certainly punishing and by the end of the races the strongest riders had come to the front. In this Olympic year Gunn-Rita seems to have recovered her form and Julian Absalon looks unbeatable at present. Crowd numbers were down compared to previous editions in the Casa de Campo, however that was mainly due to a public holiday in Spain. Despite that the weekend was a success and Madrid will be hoping that it contributes positively to its candidature for the Olympics in 2016. That may all be too far in the future for many riders as no doubt that all the top contenders only have China on the mind at the moment.
Pics: Andrew Gwatkin