The course in La Bresse, France, for round four of the cross-country RockyRoads UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano had been described repeatedly as ‘Old School’. A couple of seasoned veterans clearly liked it, as Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) took the 27th c World Cup win of her career, and Julien Absalon (Orbea) his 25th before the biggest crowds of the season.
After rain overnight made the already technical downhills even more muddy and slippery, the riders were greeted with a hot sunny race day. The 4.8 kilometre circuit consisted of a long, steep single-track climb and a technical downhill, so riders needed to be both skilled and very fit.
Dahle Flesjaa, who had not won a World Cup since 2008, led out the women’s race through the start loop and then stayed in touch with a changing set of leaders. Katerina Nash (Luna) took the lead on the first climb, and was joined by World Cup leader Julie Bresset (BH-SR Suntour-Peisey Vallandry). World Champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna) bridged up to them and attacked, with Nash dropping back to join Dahle Flesjaa.
In the downhill section, Pendrel and Bresset both crashed heavily at the halfway point of the race, and were overtaken by Nash and Dahle Flesjaa. The top two ranked World Cup riders chased but were unable to rejoin the new race leaders. In the final lap, Nash gained a slight gap on Dahle Flesjaa, but then crashed herself, opening the way for the patient Norwegian to claim another World Cup win in her illustrious career.
“I was just focusing on not going over my limit,” explained Dahle Flesjaa, “because you need so much power and concentration on this course, I was thinking I have to focus on my thing, she might be over her limit, and I think that she was. I did a very, very good race, I paced myself – to the limit but didn’t go too much over. This course is great. It is tough up, it is tough down. It is just a little dream for me.”
Bresset retains her lead in the World Cup, with 750 points to Pendrel’s 690.
For Absalon, this was a unique opportunity to race literally in front of his home crowd, since the two-time Olympic Champion lives within ten kilometres of La Bresse, and his brother was involved in designing the course.
Swiss riders Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida) and Florian Vogel (Scott-Swisspower), each vying for an Olympic spot, set the early fast pace, until Absalon bridged up on lap two of the six lap race. Näf dropped back first, and then Vogel, as they struggled to match the searing pace of the French champion.
World Champion and 2011 World Cup Champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized), after a poor start, was gradually moving forward through the field, and moved to less than 20 seconds from the lead, but the day was Absalon’s, as he rolled onto the main street of La Bresse in front of thousands of fans.
“It is maybe one of my best races,” agreed Absalon. “It will be for sure extra special in my mind, first World Cup at home, that is a big honour for me. I am really happy for me, but also for the organization, for all my supporters. It was very hard. I was in good shape, but I was suffering a lot, and when I saw Jaroslav in the last lap … I was dead, but managed to stay at the front to the finish.”
Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower), who did not start the race due to illness, remains the World Cup leader, with 700 points, followed by Absalon with 650.