By VeloNews Interactive
The cross-country course in Leysin, Switzerland — site of this week’s Tissot-UCI Mountain Bike World Cup — is steep. At 6.3km in length, each lap begins with 2km of fast descending, first through bumpy cow-trodden grass and then down a wooded single-track plunge. Then, for the next four kilometers (60 percent of the total lap), the course points straight back up toward the finish line. It’s brutal on even the most seasoned riders, as they discovered Sunday in round six of the series.
First victim was the seemingly unbeatable Spaniard Marga Fullana (Specialized), who succumbed to a resurgent Laurence Leboucher in a flat-out two-woman duel for the finish. Then Miguel Martinez (Full Dynamix) flexed his muscles for the first time since round two, toying with runner-up Christoph Sauser (Volvo Cannondale) until finally leaving him — and 128 others — to grind out the grassy climb next to bell-laden Swiss cows.
It was a distinctly non-North American affair, as only one rider (Joan Orgeldinger) from the USA or Canada made the trip over to defend World Cup points and race with the big boys and girls who will no doubt dominate Vail’s world champioships come September.
Fullana had won Friday’s time trial (one lap on the race course), and looked strong early, working with teammate Caroline Alexander in the first lap, while behind them Leboucher (MTB 72) rode steadily, after only placing 4th in the TT.
Italian national champion Annabella Stropparo (Be-One) was riding strong and steady after being disqualified in round four, and next up in the order was the erstwhile Gunn-Rita Dahle (DBS). Missing since round two of the 2000 season, the Norwegian finally returned from Olympic over-training burnout to finish second in the TT, and was now riding her No. 91 plate steadily in 5th position.
Series leader Barbara Blatter (Specialized) had problems with her bike at the start and spent two precious minutes fixing it. She came over the first climb second from last and had to pass 30 women to eventually finish 8th. Blatter would nonetheless hold onto the leader’s jersey, in part because No. 2-ranked Alison Dunlap (Team GT) wasn’t here to contest it.
By the end of the second lap it was a battle between Fullana, who hadn’t lost a single race all season, and Leboucher, who hadn’t won big in years. Try as she might, the mighty Fullana couldn’t shake Leboucher, while Stropparo remained steady in third.
The final moments provided a close and exciting finish. With only meters remaining on the steep climb to the finish line, Leboucher sat behind Fullana until a short paved section intersected the course. Then she attacked in one swift move. With Fullana shattered, Leboucher sprinted to the line, winning by 18 seconds.
Martinez proved he’s back on his game Sunday when he began the race in second position, then took the lead for good in lap three and never gave it back. He beat two men Sunday: Christoph Sauser (Volvo Cannondale) by 48 seconds in the actual race; and Canadian Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen) who lost the overall leader’s jersey, a prize that had taken one determined North American years to earn.
Green has opted to put all his eggs in Vail’s Worlds basket, but will find a much different Martinez there. The Frenchman called his win “easy,” saying he is motivated to win the World Cup and defend his rainbow jersey.
Sauser attacked several times and took the lead going into the bell lap, while behind them a surprisingly strong Ludovic Dubau (Orbea) stayed ahead of early leader (and round five winner) Julien Absalon (Bianchi Motorex).
In the final lap Martinez decided to part ways with Sauser, and dropped him by 48 harsh seconds in less than one lap. Dubau finished at 1:28 in third, followed by Absalon and Roel Paulissen (Team GT), who had worked his way up from 11th position.
1. Miguel Martinez (F) Full Dynamix, in 1:57; 2. Christoph Sauser (Swi), Volvo Cannondale, at 0:48; 3. Ludovic Dubau (FRA, Orbea) at 1:28; 4. Julien Absalon (F), Bianchi Motorex, at 1:41; 5. Roel Paulissen (B), Team GT, at 2:21; 6. Thomas Frischknecht (Swi), Ritchey Yahoo, at 2:45; 7. Carsten Bresser (G), Telekom-Mobile, at 3:07; 8. Jean-Christophe Peraud (F), at 3:19; 9. Thomas Hochstrasser (Swi), Giant, at 3:34; 10. Christophe Dupouey (F), Giant, at 3:39.;
1. Laurence Leboucher (F), in 1:57; 2. Marga Fullana (Sp), Specialized, at 0:18 sec; 3. Annabella Stropparo (I), Be-One, at 2:08; 4. Gunn-Rita Dahle (Nor), DBS, at 2:51; 5. Sabine Spitz (G), Merida, at 3:24; 6. Caroline Alexander (GB), Specialized, at 4:02; 7. Janet Puiggros Miranda (Sp), Orbea, at 5:39; 8. Barbara Blatter (Swi), Specialized, at 6:47; 9. Anna Szafraniec (P), Lotto PZU, at 7:11.;
1. Martinez: 893; 2. Roland Green (Can), Trek-Volkswagen, 851; 3. Jose Antonilo Hermida (Sp), Bianchi-Motorex, 805;
1. Blatter: 1185; 2. Alison Dunlap (USA), GT, 800; 3. Alexander: 725