29 August 2013
Italy claimed the first gold medal of the UCI MTB World Championships at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on Wednesday afternoon after edging out France in the cross-country team relay.
Led by elite star Marco Fontana, the Italians got their World Championship campaign off to a perfect start as they raced to a well-constructed yet narrow victory in the fading light of Wednesday afternoon.
The event requires male riders from the elite, under-23 and junior categories, as well as female rider from any category.
To start, the Azzuri opted for an aggressive approach by sending out Fontana first and it instantly paid dividends as he powered through the first lap in a very fast time of just 13 minutes and 39 seconds.
“I thought a hot lap would be around 15 minutes, so I am really surprised it was so fast. It was the perfect start,” Fontana said afterwards.
“The course is getting faster as more riders train on it. I hope I can do seven 13 minute laps on the weekend.”
After Fontana’s strong effort, men’s junior star Gioele Bertolini took over and dug deep. Despite ceding some time to the chasing pack, he ensured Italy remained in the lead by the time he handed over to elite women’s star Eva Lechner.
Lechner’s leg, the third of four, marked the first time that the Italians surrendered the lead as Canada flew past, with France in hot pursuit. The Canadians’ lead was, however, short lived as Sandra Walter was unable to hold off the final leg riders of Italy, France and Germany.
“We had some good fortune today.” said Lechner. “This was the tenth time we have raced the world relay, and we have two European titles and two World titles now.
‘A great start’
“It is a great start to this competition because individually it gives us all a lot of confidence for the individual races on the weekend.”
The powerful French team of Jordan Sarrou, Raphael Gay, Maxime Marrot and Olympic champ Julie Bresset, the fastest of the female riders on the day, had to settle for silver, after losing the sprint for the finishing line by the smallest of margins.
“No regrets,” said Bresset. “It was a good relay by our team and we gave everything.”
The Germans were pleased with their medal, particularly after they lost their key female rider Sabine Spitz in a crash on Tuesday, which ended her World Championships’ challenge before it started.
“Hanna (Klein) did a really good job today,” said Manuel Fumic, the third place finisher in the cross country at the 2012 UCI World Cup Pietermaritzburg, after bringing the team home with a storming final leg.
Boosted by the local support, Team South Africa started brightly through Phillip Buys but soon found themselves locked in a mid-field tussle with New Zealand and the USA. It ended in high drama for the home team as Sybrand Strauss had to run his bike across the line after breaking a chain and suffering a flat rear tyre.
Out of the race
The strong team from the Czech Republic was banking on a storming finish by Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy. However, that plan unravelled when he broke his chain, which forced the Czechs out of the race.
On Thursday, medals will be won in the men’s and women’s juniors cross country, while downhill training and elite trials are also on the schedule.
Cross Country Team Relay