UCI Mountain Bike World Championships
17 September 1999
Anna Szafraniec won the first gold medal of the 1999 World Mountain Bike Championships for Poland in the two-lap junior women’s cross-country race on Friday morning.
On a 10km course made treacherous by wet and windy conditions, Szafraniec crossed the line in one hour, 24mins 42 seconds, 27 seconds ahead of Lea Flckiger of Switzerland in silver. Sonja Traxel, also of Switzerland, took the bronze at 1 minute 35 seconds.
The result upset the expected order of French domination, as defending world champion and reigning European champion Ccile Rode was pushed back to fourth place at 1 min 56secs. In 1998, the nation made a clean sweep of the medals and looked invincible.
Low temperatures from the start threatened the young women’s performances. Szafraniec, from the Krakow area of southern Poland, admitted she nearly collapsed on the start line as the wind chill factor hit hard. I’m skinny and I got very cold, she said, I had to pedal hard to warm up. The conditions were terrible, said Traxel, but I didn’t notice I was racing so hard.
The race was competitive from the gun, with only 35 seconds separating the first four at the halfway point. Szafraniec lead out up the first climb, with Traxel and Lucrezia Lamastra of Italy on her heels. A duel developed as Sverinne Hansen, the 1998 World runner-up, caught and overtook Szafraniec and began to break away. But on the descent to the town centre at the end of the first lap, Hansen crashed, and her bike rolled down into the river. On retrieving it, she slipped again, injured her knee and could not continue. Szafraniec was on the front again, hotly pursued by Flckiger, then Rode, who was still in a medal position, then Traxel.
By this stage the steepest climbs and the descents beside the tumbling mountain stream and down the hairpins were either unsafe or impossible to ride, forcing even the leaders to push and scramble. Further down the 30-strong field, competitors complained of cramp, hair plastered to their mud-spattered faces.
Szafraniec could never relax with the Swiss and French breathing down her neck, but she held a narrow lead with confidence born of five years’s MTB racing. The Polish junior champion took the bronze medal at the 1997 Worlds, was eighth in 1998, and worked the 1999 season to peak for this event. Two weeks earlier she finished runner-up at the final World Cup round in Houffalize, and a week ago she won a round of the German series.
Switzerland landed three girls in the first six, Poland two in the first seven. France lost out with Hansen’s withdrawal, while Marion Thevenet boosted the national status with an eighth-place position.
Anna Szafraniec, gold
I took the lead at the beginning of the second lap, but the competition was vey strong, and it was hard.
Lea Flckiger, silver
I was surprised when it was Anna who went, not one of the French girls, but I was concerned with myself. I had some difficulties on the last lap, I crashed and had to walk the bike a bit.
Sonja Traxel, bronze
I had a battle with the Frenchgirl (Ccile Rode) for third place, but got faster and moved away.