It’s been only a week since Champery and another round of the World Cup races were held in Val di Sole, Italy. Val di Sole is a rather vague term, it took some digging until I was able to figure out where exactly will the race be held (Commezzadura). The venue might be familiar to some as the World Championships were held here in 2008, two months before the Olympics in Beijing.
The scenery, as it is normally in the Dolomites, was breathtaking, so I didn’t mind the 40 min drive from my hotel to the race center. This was the first weekend this year, when there were races held in all three disciplines (cross-country, downhill and four-cross) over the course of two days and we got to see some fine racing in all disciplines.
With four rounds already behind us, theoretically, it should have been more or less clear who could possibly win the overall World Cup titles, but that weren’t the case, maybe with the exception of the women’s downhill and the men’s 4x. But let’s start at the beginning.
Saturday – women’s XCO, Round 5
Catherine Pendrel started the race well and was part of the leading pack all the way through the race. She didn't ride well a week ago in Champery, so she had to work hard if she wanted to be a strong contestant for the overall title.
She rode brilliantly but the majority of the journalists still find it difficult to spell her name. Maja Wloszczowska was behind Pendrel all the way through and she managed to clinch the victory in a final sprint. This was her second-ever World Cup win, I saw her winning for the first time in Schladming, back in 2008.
Willow Koerber was mainly eyecandy for years but this year she had had a really strong season beginning. She finished twice at second place and once third, however the 11th place in Offenburg and the 10th this weekend means that she is almost 60 points behind Pender and 5 behind Eva Lechner, before the last round in Windham, USA.
Nathalie Schneitter won her first ever World Cup race last Sunday in Champery, but she couldn't match that performance on this Saturday - she finished 9th.
One of the best cyclo-cross riders, Katherine Compton was a nice addition to the podium - she finished fourth. I had a quick chat with her after the race and she told me that even though she is taking the Worlds seriously, her focus remains 'cross. Well done, Katherine!
Emily Batty - enough said.
British rider Annie Last finished 3rd in the U23 women's race, her first U23 podium.
Trek World Team post-race catch-up
The women's podium.
Saturday – men’s XCO, Round 5
The men's race started at 2:30pm, in scorching heat and top riders in the front row chose different ways to survive the heat.
Julien Absalon shields himself from the sun before the start of the elite men's race.
Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar came down again, just like in Champery, to watch the elite men's race. Minnaar checks the start list - maybe he's looking for his favourite rider?
Julien Absalon, Nino Schurter and last week's winner, Florian Vogel were riding together for the better part of the race.
You gotta love the man (Burry Stander) for that stubble.
Jaroslav Kulhavy had a solid season so far, rode consistently and earned his place on the podium at every race. This weekend wasn't that successful for him, finished only at 6th place. He did remain in 3rd place overall but it he cannot close the gap in between him and Absalon and Schurter and thus the World Cup effectively has became a two-horse race.
Nino Schurter leads the pack, Absalon follows closely behind.
Schurter leads the race in the last lap, Absalon is on his rear wheel and there's a massive gap between them and their pursuers.
Schurter secured the win in the finishing strait, outsprinting Absalon, who not only lost the race but the World Cup leader's jersey as well. Schurter's leading by 26 points, so the race for the overall title is wide open between them.
Saturday – 4X, Round 5
The sun sets in Commezzadura and the 4X race is about to start.
Michal Prokopp, just like the other riders in the final, got through all the early finals by winning all of them.
This guy was hilarious. First, he had a smaller accident at the top of the course. He wasn't injured but he was obviously eliminated. He didn't give up, asked his girlfriend to give him a spare wheel so he could roll down to the bottom of the course. However, he didn't get far...
... a bit further down the course he had a flat tyre. Fate didn't want him finish the course, obviously.
I met Roger Rinderknecht a couple of weeks ago, at Bikeradar Live 2010, where he had a really strong race and came second in the dual slalom. We had a chat after the race and he said he had had a pretty rough season beginning due to an injury and a good result was still to come. His performance this weekend was a loud and clear declaration, that he was back. He run the fastest qualifying time on Friday and he glided through the runs in the finals with admirable ease. The final run was a bit controversial - his elbow and Jared Graves' throat got into contact but Graves didn't contest it after the race, the judges didn't say anything afterwards, thus Rinderknecht won his first World Cup race this year.
Photographer Colin Meagher congratulates Rinderknecht.
Sunday – women’s and men’s DH, Round 5
Even though it rained earlier the week, the track became very-very dusty by Sunday. It was great, that we there was no mud involved, finally, however, the dust created different challenges. This would have been my favourite photo of the weekend if I had been able to compose the entire front wheel of Ludovic Oget, a talented French U23 rider during the morning practice.
This happened, if you hadn't chosen your shooting position properly. Tracy Moseley run the second fastest time during the qualifications, so she had pretty good outlook for the race in the afternoon.
The sunshine through the leaves and the dust created an truly unique and amazing backdrop for the race.
Andrew Neethling had a pretty good run and qualified at 4th place.
World Cup leader Greg Minnaar blasting through combination of corners. It didn't seem too tricky but he swerved to the side and was forced to stop. He pushed his bike back up a bit and did this section another go - this time without errors.
Emilie Siegenthaler seems a little bit surprised during her run in the final.
Sabrina Jonnier was leading the World Cup before the race and even though she didn't win, she still leads by big margin and current World Champion Emmeline Ragot has only mathematical chances to win the overall title in Windham.
Emmeline Ragot's season started slow with an 11th place in Maribor and a 5th place in Fort William, however, she came 2nd in Leogand and won both in Champery and here, in Val di Sole. Her recent winning streak catapulted her into the second place in the World Cup standings, but she's 175 points behind Jonnier; she needs to win and Jonnier needs to ride awfully, which doesn't seem too likely, but you never know.
Greg Minnaar qualified only with the 15th best time, so when he reached the finish line with the then-fastest time, there were quite a few good riders to come down.
Not many people would have bet before the race, that Marc Beaumont would be the fastest men, but he was the fastest, indeed.
Beaumont admitted after the race that he was a bit surprised to win the race.
With the points for the good qualifying run, Atherton took over the lead of the World Cup, the difference between him and Minnaar is a mere 7 points so the race is still open between the two of them for the overall title.
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