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Elisabeth ‘Lisi’ Osl gave the crowd in Schladming, Austria what they had hoped for on the final stop of the 2009 World Cup: an Austrian win and the World Cup title in the women’s cross-country.
Osl took her third World Cup win of the season after an impressive. Lene Byberg (Specialized) confirmed her second place overall by catching Canada’s Catharine Pendrel (Luna) on the final climb to take second, while Pendrel hung on for third in both the race and the overall standings.
In the men’s cross-country, it was Jose Antonio Hermida Ramos who won the day, but it was Julien Absalon who won the overall World Cup title.
Absalon (Orbea) had already locked up the honors a week earlier in Champery, Switzerland, so the Schladming final did not have the potential drama of the women’s. However, second through fifth places in the series were up for grabs among seven riders, and it was Hermida (Multivan Merida) who took control. The Spanish rider vaulted from fourth to second in the final World Cup standings with his strong win in Schladming.
Spanish compatriot Ruben Ruzafa Cueto (Orbea) took second for his first World Cup podium, followed by Trek World Racing’s Mathias Flückiger, the first U23 rider. Absalon, after racing in the front three for most of the six lap race, retired after a flat just before the start of the final lap.
The steep climbs of Schladming suited the diminutive Osl, who was out in front by the top of the first climb of the four-lap race. Pendrel was gaining on Osl after the technical, muddy descents, but would lose time on each climb. The Austrian was steadily extending her lead, to eventually finish more than a minute ahead. The remaining riders in the top five were in a more tense battle, with the gap from second to fifth only 48 seconds.
“I have no words,” said Osl, who was overcome with emotion on the podium during the Austrian national anthem. “It has been a fantastic season, and I have surprised myself this year. To come to Austria in the leaders jersey and hold onto it … this was great pressure.”
The men’s race started aggressively, with Absalon attacking on the second lap. Hermida and Flückiger gave chase, with the Spanish champion bridging up to Absalon on the fourth lap and then attacking. Absalon was still in second at the start of lap five, but Ruzafa Cueto and Flückiger were gaining ground. While the French rider would not give in easily, he did not feel the pressure to come back from his flat.
“I was without pressure,” Absalon admitted. “For me the plan was, if I felt good then fight for victory. So I went to the front and got a little gap, but Jose came up. So, I was thinking that second would be good at the end of the season, but I got my flat tire at the end of the fifth lap, and I knew it would not be possible to be back up there with one lap left in the race.”
Hermida’s victory moved him up to second in the final standings, as he bumped the U23 champion Burry Stander (Specialized Factory Racing) down to third.
Adam Craig was the top finisher from the U.S. at Schladming, coming in at 21. For American women, it was Lea Davison and Mary McConneloug finishing 12th and 14th respectively.
Anneke Beerten and Jared Graves were convincing winners at the final round of World Cup 4-cross in Schladming.
The women’s race was somewhat anticlimactic. Unlike the men’s series, there were still three riders in contention for the overall win – Beerten, Fionn Griffiths and American Jill Kintner. However, Griffiths crashed the day before at qualifying and could not race, while Kintner crashed in her first round heat and did not finish. Therefore, Beerten had won her third consecutive title without even racing.
Griffiths and Kintner were tied for points and number of wins at two apiece, but Griffiths took second in the final overall standings by virtue of two second places (Kintner had none), with an absent Melissa Buhl finishing fourth.
The men’s series had already been won by Graves, the new World Champion. And again, the Australian was untouchable in Schladming, easily winning his heats in every round, often by huge margins. In the final, it came down to Graves, Romain Saladini, Johannes Fishbach and Dutchman Joost Wichman. Wichman ran into trouble at the top of the course, putting him out of contention, and the young Frenchman Saladini was able to hold off Fishbach for second behind Graves.
Saladini’s second place bumped him up to third in the final standings behind Graves and Wichman, as he overtook the absent injured Roger Rinderknecht.
Both of the World Cup downhill leaders going into the final race of the season in Austria – Sabrina Jonnier and Sam Hill – held onto their jerseys, with Hill winning the final round and Jonnier having to settle for fourth on the day behind Tracy Moseley.
Hill’s win was his second World Cup victory of the season and confirmed him as the overall World Cup winner for 2009. Jonnier, meanwhile, had already won the women’s title, with six wins in the first seven races.
Moseley’s win was enough to move her into second overall behind Jonnier, bumping Emmeline Ragot down to third in the final standings.
The top American women downhiller was Darian Harvey, who placed nineteenth. The top male was Aaron Holmes Gwin, who placed fourth.
While the women’s title had already been decided, the men’s was completely open. Hill was leading, but by the slimmest of margins: only 16 points in front of Greg Minnaar. New world champion Steve Peat was also still in the race, 69 points back of Hill, as was Gee Atherton at 141 points.
Hill’s lead was padded when he picked up 50 valuable points by winning qualifying, when Minnaar crashed, but the race between the two basically came down to final: if Minnaar won and Hill didn’t finish second, the South African would take the title.
Josh Bryceland set the first sub-4:10 time, but barely had a chance to climb into the Hot Seat before his team mate Minnaar came down two riders later to obliterate his time with a 4:04.71
However, Minnaar’s hopes received a blow when Sam Blenkinsop knocked nearly a second and a half off his time.
Blenkinsop took the Hot Seat and held it through the remaining riders until it was Hill’s turn. The Australian came through the first split over two seconds up on Blenkinsop, and continued on to finish 2.33 seconds in front, taking his second World Cup win of the season and confirming him as the World Cup winner for 2009. Minnaar stayed in second, as did Peat in third.