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By Fred Dreier
German cross-country racer Wolfram Kurchat caught and dropped Olympic champ Julien Absalon on the seventh and final lap to win the May 17 Bike the Rock cross-country race in Heubach, Germany. The event was the third round of the 2009 MTB-Bundesliga International, Germany’s national cross-country racing series.
“Incredible,” was Absalon’s first post-race comment. “On the second lap, (Kurchat) joined me at the top of the climb, and again on the third lap and the fourth lap. On the fifth lap, when I got a 50-second gap, I though, OK, now I won’t see him again, but he did bridge back up. And he did the same again on lap six.”
The Frenchman repeatedly dropped the bigger German on the 4.3-kilometer course’s long, bumpy descent. But each lap, Kurchat, who was celebrating his 34th birthday, caught Absalon on the course’s long climb. After being caught and passed, Absalon lost 1:59 to the German after suffering a front flat tire.
“In the middle of the race I thought that I would have no chance today,” Kurchat said. “I only kept my rhythm and I couldn’t do anything else. I didn’t realize all the people on the course side, except on the top where they always gave me the happy birthday song when I passed.”
The victory is the latest big result for Kurchat, who so far has been the revelation of the 2009 World Cup season. Kurchat opened the season finishing fourth at the World Cup opener in Pietermartizburg, South Africa, then finished second to Absalon at the April 26 World Cup in Offenburg, Germany, and again one week later at the May 3 World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium.
Kurchat, a three-time German national champion, currently sits in second place in the UCI World Cup standings with 540 points, 160 points behind Absalon.
Those results dwarf his marks from last year. In 2008 Kurchat finished 37th in the series, and his best result was a 12th at the round in Mont-Ste-Anne, Quebec. Kurchat represented Germany at the Beijing Olympics, where he finished 33rd, two laps down on Absalon. Before this season, his best World Cup placing was 6th in Madrid in 2007.
Taking the women’s race was Austrian Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost), who opened the season by winning the World Cup in Pietermartizburg, South Africa.
Osl dropped hometown favorite Irina Kalentieva (Ergon-Topeak), who hails from Russia but lives full time in the area, then went on to put nearly five minutes into the women’s field. Swiss rider Nathalie Schneitter crossed the line in third.
Members of the USA Cycling U23 mountain bike development team also competed in the Heubach race. Tristan Cowie finished 23rd in the espoir class, with Mitch Hoke in 29th, Stephen Ettinger in 34th and Colin Osborn crossing the line in 41st.