By Ari Cheren, VeloNews Correspondent
The Tissot-UCI Mountain Bike World Cup wrapped up a four-week European spring tour Sunday, as Maribor, Slovenia hosted round two of the Downhill and 4X series. After the rain and mud of Scotland’s downhill last week, riders were looking forward to the typically sunny weather of this scenic country north of Italy.
But with sporadic rains keeping mechanics scrambling to choose correct tires and bolt-on fenders for the downhill finals, many got a bit more than they bargained for. Chris Kovarik (Intense) got the most, winning his second race in a row — right after Anne-Caroline Chausson (Volvo-Cannondale) redeemed herself with downhill win No. 1 of the season.
The women’s race was beset by steady light rain, which began before the finals. It was therefore a rain race whereby earlier (and slower qualifying) riders had an advantage over top qualifiers who had to contend with deteriorating conditions. And so Chausson was actually at a disadvantage after qualifying fastest in the morning’s semi-final. Her finishing time of 3:30 was nearly 15 seconds slower than her qualifying time.
Chausson had posted a 3:16 in qualifying, while Sabrina Jonnier (Intense) was 12 seconds slower in the seeding run. Yet when it came time for the final, Jonnier struggled in the wet conditions, posting a 3:39 — 10 seconds slower than her qualifier.
Four other top-qualifying women tried their best to maintain speed on the slippery course after Jonnier sat in the Tissot hotseat. Missy Giove (Global Racing) was seeded fifth, but crashed and aggravated her left knee, which she first injured in training Friday. Then Global teammate Marielle Saner crashed near the finish. Third-seeded Fionn Griffiths (Ancillotti-UK) couldn’t do much better at 3:57, and neither could second-seeded Tracy Moseley (Kona), posting a 3:48.
That left Chausson, who had swapped tires at the top of the mountain opting for spikes for the mud. That made the rock section all the more difficult, and while she didn’t crash, she was out of her pedals for part of the course’s most challenging section.
“On the rocks it was really bad, so I had a shitty woods section compared to this morning,” she said as she explained how slippery the muddy tires were on the rocks. “It wasn’t a perfect run, but I didn’t crash and so that’s good.”
Jonnier, tired from Saturday’s 4X, held on for second place and — more importantly — the leaders jersey for the first time in her career.”I won my first world cup at the end of last season, so I’m excited to get it this week,” the Frenchwoman said of the blue leader’s jersey.
Asked what it was like to wear the No. 15 number plate (the result of her 19th-place finish in Scotland), Chausson said “Putting the number 15 on the rainbow jersey never happened to me before, but that’s just part of the game.”
The win at Maribor moved her into 3rd overall.
Two Austrians marked their debut in the women’s podium as well, as Petra Bernhard (Rainer-Wurz.com) and Anita Molcik (Bank of Austria) took advantage of the drier conditions to post their best-ever finishes, making for a purely French and Austrian podium.
In the men’s race Kovarik stunned everyone last week when won by 14 long seconds in Scotland. But surely the man who admits to being on the edge of control would be unable to match his performance on the super-smooth Maribor course, right?
Wrong. Kovarik did it again, beating No. 1-seed Steve Peat (Orange) by just 0.01 of a second and Fabien Barel (Maxxis) by 1.27.
Common wisdom held that this speedy and smooth Maribor course belonged to finesse riders like Nicolas Vouilloz (Vouilloz Racing), Barel or last year’s winner Peat. And Peat did show that he was ready to rumble when he topped the semi-final seeding run with a time of 2:54; coincidentally his winning time from last year. But Kovarik was only .09 slower in qualifying and Barel just .22 seconds back. It promised to be another hair-splitter.
Kovarik, who lost the 2001 Grouse Mountain World Cup by .01 last season, was taking no chances Sunday. Just before the finals he donned a skinsuit to look for every bit of time he could muster.
The rains, which had thrown a monkey wrench into the women’s proceedings, all but stopped as the men began their runs. It made for cleaner tires and cleaner runs, which began to produce ultra-close times with 10 men remaining. But it took fourth-seeded Vouilloz to break the three-minute barrier, clocking in a time of 2:59.42 after a lousy seeding run sent him into the rocks.
Barel was next, and took over the hotseat with a 2:59.05 — leaving just Kovarik and Peat on the hill. Kovarik roared down the mountain with a 2:57.78, sliding out in the still-moist grass and then plopping himself into the hotseat.
Then, with Frenchmen Vouilloz, Barel and Pascal watching from the edge of the finish area, the Peat finally came into view, crisscrossing between the grassy off-camber fall line and bumpy tree sections. Peat had tripped the intermediate clock 0.32 seconds faster than Kovarik, giving the Aussie pause. With just 20 seconds remaining Peat was still ahead of the clock as he headed into one final tree sections. And that’s where it all came apart.
“Going into the wooded section I hit the braking bumps and lost my line,” said Peat right after his run.
That was all it took, as he lost his lead and an extra one-hundredth of a second — losing the race by the blink of an eye.
Asked if he knew he had a winning run, Kovarik replied “I didn’t know how I was doing until I came across the line. The only information you have is from qualifying, and I knew I was going a bit slower because it was more slippery.”
Vouilloz matched not only his qualifying performance but his final from last week as well with 4th place, while Pascal rounded out the podium at 5th place.
With his win, Kovarik increases his lead in the overall series to 55 points over No. 2 ranked Vouilloz.
TISSOT-UCI WORLD CUP;
FOUR-CROSS/DOWNHILL NO. 2;
MARIBOR, SLOVENIA, June 8-9; Women; 1. Anne-Caroline Chausson (F) Volvo-Cannondale, 3:30; 2. Sabrina Jonnier (F), Intense, at 9.17; 3. Petra Bernhard (A), Rainer-Wurz.com, at 9.24; 4. Anita Molcik (A), Bank of Austria, at 10.90; 5. Celine Gros (F), Morzine Avoriaz, at 12.03; 6. Miriam Blas (Sp), Valencia, at 12.29; 7. Vanessa Quin (NZ), Intense, at 16.51; 8. Sandra Walker (Swi), at 16.62; 9. Tracy Moseley (GB), Kona, at 17.91; 10. Kathy Pruitt (USA), Dirtworks, at 17.92; Men; 1. Chris Kovarik (Aus), Intense, 2:57.78; 2. Steve Peat (GB), Orange, at 0.01; 3. Fabien Barel (F), Maxxis, at 1.27; 4. Nicolas Vouilloz (F), Vouilloz Racing, at 1.64; 5. Mickael Pascal (F), Be-One, at 3.41; 6. Ivan Oulego Moreno (Sp), at 5.66; 7. Cédric Gracia (F), Volvo-Cannondale, at 6.14; 8. Mick Hannah (Aus), Haro-Lee Dungarees, at 6.86; 9. Cesar Rojo (Sp), Global Racing, at 8.97; 10. Julien Poomans (F), F.F.C., at 10.08