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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
For the second week in a row flat tires were the story in the men’s World Cup cross country race, and once again Roland Green was a victim. This time, however, Green had plenty of company, and that helped 20-year-old Julien Absalon get his first career World Cup win, taking race No. 5 in Durango, Colorado.
First to go down with tire problems was cross country No. 4 winner, Christoph Sauser (Volvo-Cannondale). A week ago Sauser was handed the win at Grouse Mountain when Green flatted on the last lap. But this time around Sauser barely broke a sweat, flatting twice less than 10 minutes into the race on and around the Fort Lewis College campus. Sauser dropped out.
The next to encounter trouble was the star-crossed Green. Just as he had done a week ago, the Canadian took the early lead and built up a solid advantage, which peaked at 1:15 halfway through the four-lap, 43.4km race. But on the third lap the rear tube on Green’s full suspension Trek Fuel began to slowly leak air. Three times Green jumped off his bike and re-inflated the tire with his quick fill, but each stop cut into his lead, and near the end of the third lap the chasers were closing in. Absalon (Bianchi Motorex) led that group, just 12 seconds back. Behind him were a pair of Volvo-Cannondale riders, Cadel Evans and Kashi Leuchs, :31 back of Green.
Finally during the final lap, Green’s two quick-fill cartridges ran out of air, allowing his three pursuers, plus Jose Antonio Hermida (Bianchi Motorex) to go by. From there Evans put the hammer down on Absalon, and near the end of the penultimate climb of the last lap he had built a 24-second gap over the young Frenchman, with Leuchs another six seconds behind.
But like Green, Evans would have his day ruined by a flat tire, his coming on the final descent of the race.
“I was being super conservative,” a dejected Evans said afterward. “I thought I had it in the bag, but I just touched a rock. I probably had like 800 meters to go before I got to the bottom.”
With Evans slowed, Absalon took over the lead on the final climb, and held off Leuchs to win in 2:00:14. Leuchs took second, at :12, with Evans another 15 seconds back. Hermida grabbed the fourth spot, and Green, who rode the final two climbs with almost no pressure in his tire, miraculously held on to claim fifth.
“It seems like I’m off the front every week, but for some reason things aren’t always working out,” Green lamented. “I don’t know what to think at this point.”
Despite the tough day, Green lost little ground in his quest to become the first male North American World Cup overall cross-country winner since John Tomac in 1991. The fifth place finish in Durango kept Green in first place with 851 points. Second-place man Hermida, gained 20 points, and has 750 overall. Reigning Olympic, world and World Cup champion Miguel Martinez (Full Dynamix) had a horrible day, finishing 20th, but remains third overall with 643 points. Evans and the quickly rising Absalon round out the top five.
Absalon also reclaimed to under-23 leader’s jersey, which he had temporarily surrender to Canadian Ryder Hesjedal last week at Grouse.
Americans had a better-than-average day at the last 2001 World Cup race on home soil. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (RLX Polo Sport) was the top finisher in 15th. Todd Wells was 19th, and last year’s U.S. Olympians, Tinker Juarez and Travis Brown, were 30th and 32nd respectively. Horgan-Kobelski’s placing is the best for a U.S. rider this year.
TISSOT-UCI WORLD CUP CROSS COUNTRY NO. 5/DOWNHILL DUAL NO. 4, Durango, Colorado. July 14-15.
Cross country; Men; 1. Julien Absalon (F), Bianchi Motorex, 45.4km in 2:00; 2. Kashi Leuchs (Nz), Volvo-Cannondale, at :12; 3. Cadel Evans (Aus), Volvo-Cannondale, at :27; 4. Jose Hermida (Sp), Bianchi Motorex, at :38; 5. Roland Green (Can), Trek-Volkswagen, at 1:20; 6. Roel Paulissen (B), GT, at 1:43; 7. Thomas Hochstrasser (Swi), Giant, at 1:58; 8. Lado Fumic (G), T-Mobile, at 2:05; 9. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 2:22; 10. Liam Killeen (GB), Great Britain, at 2:38; Others; 12. Bart Brentjens (Nl), Giant, at 3:11; 13. Jose Adrian Bonilla (CR), Café Costs Rica, at 3:12; 14. Geoff Kabush (Can), Kona-Ford Focus, at 4:11; 15. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (USA), RLX Polo Sport, at 4:21; 18. Ziranda Madrigal (Mex), at 5:04; 19. Todd Wells (USA), at 5:04; 20. Miguel Martinez (F), Full Dynamix, at 5:35; 29. Andreas Hestler (Can), Rocky Mountain, at 7:11; 30. Tinker Juarez (USA), Volvo-Cannondale, at 7:13; 32. Travis Brown(USA), Trek-Volkswagen, at 8:04; 34. Marc Gullickson (USA), Mongoose-Hyundai, at 8:58