By Andrew Hood
It was almost like a home crowd for Nino Schurter after rowdy Swiss fans poured over the border into Les Gets to cheer the brawny 18-year-old to an impressive victory in the junior men’s cross-country race.
Schurter trounced a 96-rider field under sunny skies Friday, leaving the hard-chasing French duo of Stéphane Tempier and Maxime Marotte fighting for leftovers after powering away in the first of five laps and never letting go of the lead.
“I was worried before coming to the race because I was taking antibiotics for a sore throat and ears, but after Wednesday’s team relay I knew I was at full strength,” said Schurter, who finished five laps on the 6km course in 1 hour, 34 minutes, 24 seconds.
“I had a perfect race, with no crashes and no hint of problems,” said Schurter, who came through 2:05 faster than Tempier. “When I got the gap on the opening lap, it was comfortable for the remainder of the race. I just rode my own pace.”
Schurter’s pace was unmatchable and many were quick to call him the natural heir to Thomas Frischknecht and Christoph Sauser in the Swiss mountain-biking hierarchy. During the Swiss national race series, it’s a bigger story when Schurter loses than when he wins among the junior ranks.
“He reminds me a lot of Frischy,” said Swiss Power Team coach Andi Seeli. “He’s a huge talent and a born winner. He likes to have fun but he can overcome obstacles when they’re put in his way. He’s got a great future.”
For Schurter, the future was now – and he opened up a 10-second gap after the first lap on Russian rider Denis Vorontsov. Vorontsov stayed within a minute in laps two and three, but eventually faded to fifth under pressure from Tempier and Marotte. The French riders worked together to move up from around 10th in the first lap to slip past the Russian in the middle of the fourth lap. German rider Andi Weinhold also passed the Russian to take fourth.
Tempier opened up a small 10-second gap on his compatriot on the fourth lap and secured the silver medal on the final lap to finish 43 seconds faster than Marotte. The podium pushed host country France to three medals in individual events and gave the Frenchies something to cheer about.
Things started off badly for the Americans, however. Top starter Sam Jurekovic got caught behind a pile-up in the first hard corner coming out of the start area and never found his rhythm, finishing two laps down.
Alex Hodge was the top American at 47th followed by Garrett Gibson at 68th, the only two Americans classified in the race. Noah Singer, Mitchell Peterson, Luke Pennington and Jurekovic were lapped.
“I got caught up in the crash and I had to clip out. It was just so fast in the start, faster than even the NORBA’s,” said Hodge, who finished at 15:28 slower. “I rode a smart race, I didn’t crash and didn’t have any problems. Some of the guys can climb, but they can’t descend. I was getting caught up behind guys everywhere. I was the top American, so that’s important. I can’t walk away bitter because this is a learning experience.”
The top North American was Canadian rider Raphael Gagne, who finished seventh at 5:33 back. The French-speaking Canadian was in a chase group battling for the top five early on, but slipped back as the French tandem of Tempier and Marotte gave chase.
“I was hoping for a top 15; that would be good. With a top 10, very, very good, so seventh is awesome,” Gagne said. “I had a good race, no crashes or problems. I was feeling good on the climbs. It’s been a great week with the win the team relay, so I’m really happy now.”
Junior men’s cross-country world championship
Les Gets, France. September 10
1. Nino Schurter (Swi), 30km in 1 hour, 34 minutes, 24 seconds (19.07kph)
2. Stéphane Tempier (Fra) at 2:05
3. Maxime Marotte (Fra) at 2:48
4. Andi Weinhold (Ger) at 4:02
5. Denis Vorontsov (Rus) at 4:46
6. Fabian Giger (Swi) at 5:08
7. Raphael Gagne (Can) at 5:33
8. Benjamin Giraud (Fra) 5:42
9. Hans Becking (Ned) at 5:49
10. Shaun Lewis (Aus) at 6:23
Other North Americans
29. Jonathan Boulanger (Can) at 10:47
38. Alexandre Fortier (Can) at 13:08
47. Alex Hodge (USA) at 15:28
53. Gabriel Jarry-Bolduc (Can) at 15:57
64. Mark Batty (Can) at 17:41
68. Garret Gibson (USA) at 18:55
75. Noah Singer (USA)
79. Ian McAvity (Can)
85. Mitchell Peterson (USA) – all at -1 lap
88. Sam Jurekovic (USA) -2 laps