By Andrew Hood
A pair of teenagers from Down Under proved Australia isn’t just for downhillers, sweeping the junior cross-country races at the mountain bike world championship in Kaprun, Austria on Friday. Inspired by the likes of Cadel Evans, Mary Grigson and Paul Rowney, youngsters Lisa Mathison and Trent Lowe each took wins on a sunny and muggy day in this picturesque ski town an hour drive from Salzburg.
For Lowe it was his second trip to the world’s podium, adding rainbow stripes to a bronze-medal effort last year at Vail. The 17-year-old took the lead on the first of three laps around the tough Kaprun track and never looked back, outgunning Russian Iouri Trofimov by 1:58 after finishing the 21.6km race in 1:17:14. Italy’s Tony Long was third, at 2:13. Canadian Frederic Bussieres was the top North American, taking 24th at 8:33.
“I’m over the moon right now,” said Lowe moments before calling his parents to tell them, “Hi, I’m world champion.”
After finishing 2:31 behind junior champ Iñaki Lejarretta in 2001, Lowe said he’d been pointing to this race ever since and it showed. The Melbourne resident added to his lead at nearly every time check, going from 15 seconds up on Trofimov at the end of the first lap, to 0:36 ahead midway through lap two and 0:49 at the end of the second lap.
“Last year was kind of a surprise, but I learned a lot and winning this race was my main goal from then on,” Lowe explained.
Lowe also attributed much of his success to friend and mentor Rowney, who helped get Lowe a sponsorship deal with Yeti-Pearl Izumi and even kicked in some of his own money.
“When I met him last year he was so talented and so young, and I just knew he had a good shot at the rainbows,” said Rowney, who will race in the men’s cross-country on Sunday. “Today was more nerve wracking for me than when I race myself.” While Lowe was celebrating, Max Plaxton could only lament what could have been. Early in the race the Canadian had climbed as high as third. But a gash in the sidewall of one of his tubeless tires sent him spiraling off the front, and he eventually dropped out of the race.
It was also a rough go for the Americans, whose highest placed rider was Aaron Bradford in 39th, 11:34 off the front.
In the women’s race, Mathison took control of the two-lap race on the steep climb of the first lap. Mathison, a 17-year-old from Brisbane, hammered past eight riders after coming through the start loop. She overtook Czech rider Petra Bublova on the final section of switchbacks and held the lead to the finish.
“I’m not the fastest starter, but I knew this course would be very difficult, so I just took my time,” said Mathison, who won a Swiss Cup race two weeks ago in what’s been her first and very successful trip to Europe. “I was hoping for a podium finish today, so to win is wonderful.”
Local favorite Elisabeth Osl took second at 2:31 back to snag what could be host country Austria’s only medal unless Petra Bernhard comes through in the women’s downhill. Osl shared the lead with Italy’s Eva Lechner in the start loop, but couldn’t hold off the Australian.
“I didn’t feel any pressure at all. Instead, it gave me extra motivation to ride well,” said Osl, who lives in Austria’s Tyrol region. “I had a big fan club here today, so it was fun to race before them. They really helped me today.”
Bublova came across third at 3:35 back while Magen Long was the top American at 12th at 9:30 back. Long will also compete in the junior women’s downhill race Saturday.
“I crashed twice in the start loop. I’m usually a strong starter but I just didn’t have a good day,” Long said. “I felt like I could have done a lot better, but I had a lot of pain after crashing. It’s really hard to move up on this course.”
— Frischy calls Kaprun toughest world’s course ever
Thomas Frischknecht called the Kaprun world’s course the toughest ever, saying the punishing climbs and harrowing descents will make the race Sunday a survival test.
“This is harder than any other world championships that I have seen,” said the Swiss rider, who has been at every one since 1990. “The climbs are very, very difficult and the descents are very technical.”
Frischknecht won here last year at a World Cup race, but the course design was changed to include more climbing and to keep the action closer to the start-finish area.
“I was looking forward to coming back, but it’s going to be very hard now,” he said.
— Hoydahl a question mark for Sunday start
Rune Hoydahl, the Norwegian Giant rider, crashed hard during practice Thursday and might not start Sunday’s cross-country race. Hoydahl, 33, landed hard on his right shoulder while negotiating a tricky stream crossing high on the Kaprun course.
“I saw a new line and went as hard as I could, but when I hit the stream my shock went to the bottom and I just flew off my bike,” Hoydahl said. “I had all the air knocked out of my lungs and I was rolling around there in the creek for like five minutes.”
Hoydahl was transported to a local hospital where X-rays revealed no broken bones, but he was so stiff Friday in training he said he wouldn’t make the call to race until Sunday morning.
— Lugano to host 2003 worlds
Lugano, Switzerland was introduced to the press Friday as the host the 2003 world championships. The posh lakeside city in Switzerland’s Ticino city also hosted the 1996 road world championships. Thomas Frischknecht is designing the cross-country course while two-time Olympic champion Paola Pezzo has been brought on to help with publicity. The 2003 championships are set for Sept. 1-7.
— Florit on 2003 XTR
Argentinean Jimena Florit is one of several cross-country riders running Shimano’s new XTR group here in Austria. And while Florit claimed to like the new set up, a string of Band-Aids across her knuckles seemed to indicate otherwise. The blisters were the result of the new shifting mechanism where a rider pushes up and down on the break levers with their fingers to change gears. Florit added that the change from old to new XTR was in part driven by the desire to have disc brakes, which could prove to be a necessity if the weather turns wet for Sunday’s race.
— What’s up Saturday at the worlds
Gravity takes center stage Saturday, with a full day of racing action. Junior women’s downhill scheduled for 10:30 a.m., with junior men at 10:55 a.m., followed by elite women at 12:20 p.m. and elite men at 1:20 p.m. The women’s world trial championships are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the cross-country course is open for training in the afternoon. The first-ever four-cross world championships kick off at 8 p.m.
MOUNTAIN BIKE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS; KAPRUN, AUSTRIA; AUGUST 29-SEPTEMBER 1; JUNIOR CROSS COUNTRY; MEN; 1. Trent Lowe (Aus), 21.6km in 1:17:14; 2. Iouri Trofimov (Rus), at 1:58; 3. Tony Longo (I), at 2:13; 4. Lukas Flueckiger (Swi), at 2:36; 5. Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czh), at 2:39; 6. Rudi Van Houts (Nl), at 3:05; 7. Benjamin Rudiger (G), at 3:08; 8. Jiri Friedl (Czh), at 3:37; 9. Fabio Bernasconi (Swi), at 3:47; 10. Thomas Paccagnella (I), at 3:52;North Americans; 24. Frederic Bussieres (Can), at 8:33; 28. Jeremy Trudel (Can), at 9:54; 39. Aaron Bradford (USA), at 11:34; 49. Ivan Ortiz (Mex), at 12:36; 50. Ignacio Acosta (Mex), at 12:54; 52. Adam Coates (Can), at 13:11; 52. Ryan Iddings (USA), at 13:11; 59. John Devine (USA), at 14:32; 65. Derek Zandstra (Can), at 16:59; 75. Adam Swartzbaugh (USA), at 19:20; 78. Brent Bookwalter (USA), at 23:29; 82. Todd Henriksen (USA), at 27:09; — Max Plaxton (Can), DNF; — Ryan Thorpe (Can), DNF
WOMEN; 1. Lisa Mathison (Aus), 16.6km in 1:14:08; 2. Elisabeth Osl (Aut), at 2:31; 3. Petra Bublova (Czh), at 3:35; 4. Sarah Koba (Swi), at 3:50; 5. Bettina Schmid (Swi), at 4:47; 6. Daniela Graf (Swi), at 6:05; 7. Nina Homovec (Slo), at 6:10; 8. Agata Jazic (Pol), at 6:27; 9. Maureen Guichardot (F), 7:09; 10. Adelheid Morath (G), at 8:42;North Americans12. Magen Long (USA), at 9:30; 19. Sabra Davison (USA), at 16:31; 20. Liza Winne (USA), at 16:43; 22. Elsie Torresan (Can), at 19:54; 23. Jean-Ann McKirdy (Can), at 20:09; 24. Mathilde Hupin-Debeurme (Can), at 21:14; 25. Molly Hummel (USA), at 22:08; 26. Kate Scallion (Can), at 22:31