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Belgians suffer, Spanish and Canadians play jokers

Specialized rider
Caroline Alexander came into this round determined to make the most of her
excellent current form after struggling with the technical descents of the
Italian round, due to lack of off road training in her native Cumbria. Here’s
how she got on in Houffalize.

For the past few years we have been blessed with warm sunshine for our annual
pilgramage to Houffalize , the World Cup’s longest standing and argueably
most popular venue. However when I opened the curtains on Friday morning the
sky was grey and overcast . Overnight rain had left the track extremely
slippy and although the downhills were 100% rideablble , I found I was forced
to walk a number of the more technical climbs during my practise laps later
that day . I did not despair though as underneath the ground was rock hard
and the forecast for the weekend was good .

Due to the number of races being run on Saturday , the time trial was pushed
back to late afternoon and so the organiser had sensibly decided that we
should only ride the final 3 kilometres of the lap . However the U.C.I. in
their wisdom choose Friday evenings manager’s meeting to inform the Teams
that the time trial would infact cover a full lap of the course ! Personally
I enjoy racing the time trial – it gives me something to focus on instead of
simply spending another day ” waiting ” , but the extra work incurred by the
support staff is huge . If the guy’s are still racing at 5.30 in the
afternoon , then it means that the mechanics are cleaning and preparing the
bikes for half the night ! Nobody wants to make a time trial effort on a full
stomach , but it is imperative that you have sufficient stores for the ” real
” race the next day . In between warming down , stretching and massage ,
there isn’t a whole lot of time left for carbo loading !

As in Sarrentino , my hardtail was the prefered machine and I stuck with a
Rockstar on the front , but as the mud was still pretty sticky , replaced my
rear tubular with a 1.5 Hardpack . By the time 3 o’clock came conditions were
near perfect for me – still heavy going , but almost all rideable . As a lap
was almost 30 minutes , it was important to measure your effort and I felt
like I paced myself well . Posting the 3rd fastest time behind Marga and
Annabella Stropparo was a big boost for my confidence .

Gridded on the front row as a result of my performance in the time trial , I
hoped to avoid any crashes , however a ” chute ” in the opening few metres of
the race delayed my progress . I chased hard though and cresting the opening
climb I could only see my two Specialized team mates , Barbara and Marga
ahead of me . G.T’s Alison Dunlap managed to nip in front of me just before
the next singletrack climb , but hit a root so hard that her bike reboubed
into her body , forcing her back down the slope and needless to say taking
her with me ! While we untangled ourselves Annabella passed us and Laurence
Leboucher too . It took me almost a lap to make contact with Leboucher , but
no sooner had I made it both her and Dunlap pulled away . The course was now
really fast and speed is a weapon that I do not have in my armory . Despite
feeling strong and very fresh I steadily lost time on those I pursued . I
crossed the line in sixth place , a full five minutes behind Marga who
notched up her second win in as many weeks .

I was totally spent at the finish and so have to be satisfied with my result
. This week it was not my bike handling that let me down , but a lack of
basic speed . I hope that I will be able to rectify this before the North
American races though , as I will be riding the Hewlitt Packard – a 12 day
stage race in June , but for now I’m spending two weeks in St.Moritz
recovoring from my efforts and rebuilding my base condition inbetween bouts
of the Giro d’Italia on Eurosport !

While Caroline “made do” with 6th, it was a lot harder for the rest of the
British contingent. Here’s the WCPP team story from Manager Simon Burney;

If there is a “Classic” race in the relatively young sport of mountain bike
racing then it is the Houffalize World Cup; the eleventh consecutive World
Cup race held here, with two years’ of preceding Grundig European Cup events,
makes this not only the longest running, but also the toughest, the best
organised and most watched race on the World Cup circuit.

For round three this weekend typically untypical Belgian weather brought out
40,000 spectators for the races on Sunday, and as they don’t sell suncream in
Belgium due to poor sales figures, the majority will have had very burnt
faces on Monday morning! The high temperatures and hot sun dried out the
shortened 7.7km circuit perfectly after heavy rain on Thursday and Friday had
made it extremely muddy and technically challenging in the woods. By Sunday
lap times were down to 22 minutes, faster even than the one lap TT held on
Saturday. The TT events are proving to be an important addition to the
weekend; all riders are definitely giving everything on the single lap
effort, and certainly the separate leaders jersey is being keenly contested.
Further down the field a poor TT performance or a bike problem means no race
Sunday as only the fastest 160 race the following day, and with 220 on the
start sheet for the TT, many would be disappointed.

It was to be a mixed weekend for the small British contingent; an unfortunate
clash with a rescheduled Thetford NPS round kept all those with domestic
obligations away from the closest World Cup to home. On Saturday “English
Potential” squad Juniors Phil Spencer and Graham Martin finished 12th and
17th respectively in a very strong Junior field, with Spencer losing time
after a second lap puncture that cost him a top 10 in his first off-road race
of the year. With National teams present from Switzerland, France, Czech
Republic, Norway and Belgium, however, it shows our current best Juniors are
competitive with their likely competitors at the end of season

After the Juniors had raced it was TT time, and after an early season filled
with misfortune it was first race start for Sue Thomas who placed an
encouraging 26th with team mate Victoria Wilkinson 42nd. World Champ Marga
Fullana once again made the rest look very ordinary, beating Italian
Stropparo by 33 seconds with Caroline Alexander in 3rd, 1 minute 20 secs

TT jersey holder Marco Bui was an outstanding winner of the Mens race by a 16
second margin over Roland Green; with Bui out of the top 20 in Sundays’ race
it is clear he is now targeting this classification to keep his team happy!
Liam Killeen dragged himself out of his sick-bed where he had spent the
previous 36 hours trying to fight off illness to still be best of the Brit’s,
with an improved Ian Wilkinson close behind, both in the 50’s.

While Liam crawled back into bed, it became apparent that Tim Morley and Phil
Dixon would not be making the fastest 160, but despite a heavy fall Jody
Crawforth did make the cut, placing just outside the top 100. After some
confusion on race distance, with the number of laps changing three times
between the race meeting on Saturday evening and the race start on Sunday
morning, the UCI finally found someone who could work out how many 22 minute
laps would add up to a 2 hour race.

Fullana led from the first road climb and was never seen again. Caroline
Alexander, hoping for a podium place, struggled to make the front of the race
on the first lap and finished 8th. (Err no she didn’t Simon) Sue flatted on
lap 2 and a broken thumb made for a difficult tube change as she finished
34th, with Victoria 48th. 2nd placed Barbara Blatter now leads overall due to
Fullana’s no-show at Napa.

The Men’s race proved to be the first win by a North American (Canadians now
count as North Americans, particularly when Americans struggle to place
anyone in the top 50 nowadays!) since Ned Overend won on Elba too many years
ago to remember; Trek VW’s Roland Green dominated the race, following an
early break with Michael Rasmussen and Bas Van Dooren from which Rasmussen
was first to crack, followed on lap 3 by the Dutchman, leaving Green to win
by over a minute. Another good “first” for Trek was the fact that Roland was once again on his
favourite “Fuel” full-suspension bike.

Liam woke up feeling like five laps was possible, and although he was feeling
slightly better he was still running on reduced power. By the end of lap 1
Wilko had moved through nicely to join Liam in 50th/51st and eventual
placings of 44th for Wilko and 53rd for Liam (8th and 10th U23 respectively)
were very respectable. Overall, after three rounds, Green now leads from
Hermida, with Liam 34th (5th U23) and Wilko 55th (9th U23). Next mountain
bike race for the team will be NPS round 2 at Plymouth, Sunday 3rd June,
although Mssrs Wilkinson, Killeen and Morley will be willing domestiques for
Bradley Wiggins at the Fleche Du Sud stage race in Luxembourg later this
week, the team being completed with Men’s Endurance riders Rod Ellingworth
and Tim Buckle.


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