By Andrew Hood
“Hora who?” That was the question on everyone’s mind Saturday evening in Les Gets when unheralded Jana Horakova of the Czech Republic literally came out of nowhere to win the women’s four-cross world title.
“I’ve done four international events before this race, so it’s a bit of a surprise that I won,” said Horakova, who barnstormed to victory at the expense of Americans Jill Kintner and Tara Llanes, who took silver and bronze.
“I honestly didn’t know what to expect. After practice I liked the course and I focused on the start and just hoped to make it to the finish without making a mistake,” Horakova said. “Maybe next year I will do some more four-cross.”
The rest of the field might not like that. Like compatriot Michal Prokop, the stocky 20-year-old Czech comes from BMX. Horakova is a two-time world champion and seven-time European champion, hardly a slouch. But the others were shocked about Horakova’s dominance.
“This is the only race that matters and to lose to someone that you don’t even know her name, that’s disappointing,” said Kintner, who improved her bronze in 2003 with silver, but fell short of the rainbow jersey. “Jana came out of nowhere to beat us.”
Just like in the elite women’s downhill race earlier Saturday, the absence of the injured Anne-Caroline Chausson left the 4X title a plum for the picking.
Chausson posted the fastest qualifying time — fast enough to have placed her 33rd in the men’s field — and was coming off a winning streak that included four straight gated racing crowns (two dual, two four-cross).
The obvious heir to Chausson’s crown was Aussie gates queen Katrina Miller. But Miller — who said she’d make up her mind about retirement after talking with sponsors at the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas — missed a gate in the semifinal and had to settle for winning the “small” final.
“I hit a gate and it threw me off my line, then I missed one. Oh well, what are you going to do?” said Miller, who finished fifth. “In the last round, a race is still a race and I still want to win. But I hate racing under the lights. I just can’t see.”
Newly crowned world downhill champion Vanessa Quin didn’t make it out of the first while English riders Fionn Griffiths and Joanne Gough barreled into each other to guarantee mutual elimination.
Miller and Horakova faced each other in the first round, but the Czech surprised the Aussie in the semifinal, with Kintner getting into the final.
In the other bracket, Llanes was in fine form, winning her first two rounds and riding with newfound aggression after shaking off injuries that nearly derailed her career. Llanes won ahead of Swiss rider Sari Jorgensen to reach the medal round.
“The most important thing was to be aggressive and attack the course,” said Llanes, who earned her third medal in four years of world championship gated racing. “The course was very fast. It was a really fun course to ride but it was so fast that it was just about hanging on. Trying to make any moves to pass was nuts.”
In the final run, Horakova was in complete control, winning the furious battle out of the start house to grab the pole position. From there, the quiet Czech bounced her way down the course to the rainbow jersey at the surprise of everyone.
Now, no one is asking, “Hora who?”