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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
For the bulk of Thursday morning Nathalie Schneitter was just trying to salvage something out of nothing. The Swiss rider crashed hard during the start lap of the junior women’s cross-country race in Les Gets, France, leaving her 30th in the 36-rider field. But give Schneitter credit for not mailing it in. Backed by some serious descending skills, and bolstered by an untimely mechanical for Czech rider Tereza Hurikova, the 17-year-old Schneitter clawed her way back to the front, winning the first individual title at the 2004 world mountain bike championships.
“When I crash I thought my race was probably over,” said Schneitter, who lives near Bern in the German-speaking region of Switzerland. “But I decide I will fight to the end, because you never know what can happen.”
What happened was a crushing front tire puncture that surely cost Hurikova the rainbow stripes. After pulling away early with a group that included Poles Magdalena Pyrgies and Alexsandra Dawidowicz, France’s Laura Metzler and Hanna Israel, and Dutch rider Marianne Vos, Hurikova had taken over the 25.9km race by the end of lap 3. The 17-year-old was 1:37 up on eventual silver medalist Metzler by then, with Schneitter another 25 seconds back in third.
But then Hurikova suffered her puncture early in the final lap, and while she was frantically fixing her flat, Schneitter had already gone past Metzler and was closing in on the lead. So tight was the Swiss rider’s focus that she didn’t even know she had passed Hurikova until a team staffer clued her in.
“I guess I just did not see her,” admitted Schneitter, whose first love was in-line skating. “I was only focused on getting to the finish.”
Schneitter would face her own bit of drama before crossing the line. Her rear break stopped working in the second half of the final lap, forcing her to run the three tricky descents. That allowed Metzler to close the gap to just 11 seconds by the finish, with Hurikova managing to hang on for third, at 1:32.
At the finish Schneitter raised her arms in triumph, then collapsed on the ground as she was swarmed over by her coach.
“This is a big surprise for me,” she said. “This was not something I expected.”
Schneitter began racing mountain bikes in 2000, and won the Swiss junior title a year ago before finishing eighth at the 2003 world’s in Lugano. This year she managed a third place finish at the European championships, two spots behind teammate Emilie Siegenthaler.
“For sure I thought Emilie was the favorite today,” said Schneitter about her friend who ended up fifth at 3:41. “She is the one I learn from. Always on the downhills I try to follow her.”
Schneitter said she wasn’t sure what was next for her. She has one year of high school left and then she’d decide about the future.
“Maybe I will continue to study or maybe I will race,” she said “ I do know that tomorrow I will be back at school, and then on the weekend I will have a big party.”
NORTH AMERICAN ROUND UP
Just like a year ago, the three North American teams were unable to place a rider in the top 10. The best placed finisher was Canadian Evelyne Pichette, who came across in 16th, 15:24 behind Schneitter. But Pichette was anything but disappointed about her first trip to the world championships.
“I’m happy,” said the 17-year-old from Quebec. “I had to run some of the harder sections, but the end is okay.”
Pichette was one of five Canadians in the race. Isabelle Jacques was next up in 23rd, at 20:20, followed by Kylie Case (25th at 22:44) and Sarah Coney (27th, -1 lap). Olivia Gagne was a DNF . The top American finisher was Chloe Forsman of Boulder, Colorado, who ended up 26th at 22:59. This is Forsman’s first year racing mountain bikes, and she said it was VeloNews technical writer Lennard Zinn who first introduced her to the sport.
“I had a few too many crashes, probably four or five,” said Forsman, who won the junior race at the Snowmass NORBA and was second in Sand Point. “I’ll definitely keep riding, but we’ll see about racing.”
Hillary Wright was the only other U.S. rider in the field, but an early race crash left her with numbness in her leg and she dropped out, according to a team staffer. Mexico’s Lucero Vargas was also a DNF.
Racing in Les Gets continues Friday with the under-23 and junior men’s cross-country races. The downhill and four-cross finals are Saturday, and the men’s and women’s cross-country events take place Sunday. Check back throughout the weekend for reports, results and photos.
2004 WORLD MOUNTAIN BIKE CHAMPIONSHIPS; LES GETS, FRANCE. SEPTEMBER 8-12; JUNIOR WOMEN’S CROSS-COUNTRY;
1. SCHNEITTER Nathalie SUI 25.90KM in 1:44:11 ;
2. METZLER Laura FRA 1:44:22 + 11 ;
3. HURIKOVA Tereza CZE 1:45:43 +1:32 ;
4. DAWIDOWICZ Aleksandra POL 1:46:29 +2:18 ;
5. SIEGENTHALER Emilie SUI 1:47:52 +3:41 ;
6. ISRAEL Hanna FRA 1:51:00 +6:49 ;
7. PYRGIES Marlena POL 1:52:31 +8:20 ;
8. STARK Gudrun GER 1:54:13 + 10:02 ;
9. VOS Marianne NED 1:54:47 + 10:36 ;
10. JOSEFSSON Catrine SWE 1:56:31 + 12:20 ;
11. SCHMIDT Silke GER 1:56:50 + 12:39 ;
12. WEBER Sandra GER 1:57:40 + 13:29 ;
13. GARNIER Lucie FRA 1:57:46 + 13:35 ;
14. GLAUS Gabriela SUI 1:57:56 + 13:45 ;
15. WERTH Sibylle ITA 1:59:16 + 15:05 ;
16. PICHETTE Evelyne CAN 1:59:35 + 15:24 ;
17. CAMPOS Sónia POR 1:59:36 + 15:25 ;
18. SALVAGNI Valentina ITA 2:00:12 + 16:01 ;
19. VIEUX Stéphanie FRA 2:00:16 + 16:05 ;
20. HARRIS Nikki GBR 2:01:15 + 17:04 ;
21. WILKES Carissa NZL 2:01:41 + 17:30 ;
22. KROMPETS Nataliya UKR 2:04:19 + 20:08 ;
23. JACQUES Isabelle CAN 2:04:31 + 20:20 ;
24. OLDFIELD Erica AUS 2:05:43 + 21:32 ;
25. CASE Kylie CAN 2:06:55 + 22:44 ;
26. FORSMAN Chloe USA 2:07:10 + 22:59 ;
27. CONEY Sarah CAN -1Lap ;
28. KHRUSTALEVA Viktoria RUS -2Laps ;
29. ZUPAN Ana SLO -2Laps ;
30. BRESCIANI Nicoletta ITA -2Laps ;
31. BASSINGTHWAIGHTE Carmen NAM -2Laps ;
32. VARGAS Lucero MEX -2Laps ;
— GAGNE Olivia CAN DNF ;
— PYRGIES Magdalena POL DNF ;
— WRIGHT Hillary USA DNF ;
— FREYSEN Carla RSA DNF