Sunn-Nike rider Miguel Martinez, who recently wrapped up the '97 World Cup title in Annecy, France put together an inspired ride here in Chateau d'Oex to beat rival Cadel Evans and take the "under-23 years old" division of the UCI World Championships of mountain biking. Beating the Aussie by over 6 minutes on a beautiful course (see course description), Martinez simply got faster and faster while Evans and Italian chaser Dario Acquaroli tried in vain to reel in the speedy little Frenchman. "It was a present to my father on his birthday," Martinez said as his Tour de France King of the Mountains father made a rare appearance today and watched his son take the big title.
The U-23 competition is a race which only takes place at the World Championships, and was devised as a way to develop young talent and prepare them for the rigors of senior WC racing. Wearing the red Grundig jersey during the season (if leading) but still racing with the seniors for WC points, U-23 riders (consisting only of men) compete in a separate race only at Worlds. Unfortunately for the young Evans and Martinez, the UCI folks didn't anticipate such talent arising from such young riders, so two of the world's best racers were relegated to this side-show race on Friday afternoon while the senior men will race the premier event on Sunday.
The race began normal enough as a lead pack of 10 riders including Martinez and Evans (right) paraded around the first two village loops at a fast pace, with the main pack close behind. After that they headed into the woods for four 30 minute laps which saw Martinez take the lead and put 1:40 on Evans by the end of the second lap. With Evans charging hard and Acquaroli hot on his heels, Martinez appeared to be taking it easy as he added 30 seconds per lap on the field of young riders.
By the third lap Martinez had amassed a 3:00 lead on Evans, and by the last lap the lead was 5 minutes. When it was over, all that was left to do was face the crowd of reporters and explain his win today. What follows are several French interviews overheard by the Zone and translated by the 24 Heures newspaper in Switzerland.
Miguel, you were alone in front the whole time. Does the joy of winning come slowly or were you happy only in the last lap?
Of course I was euphoric the whole time. Its hard to tell what's going on when your in front, but constant information helped.
You're the World Champion. Who do you dedicate this victory and season to?
It's my father's birthday and he's here today, so I dedicate the season to him.
A wonderful victory - how did it go?
I was very motivated for today and I handled the course well, from start to finish. My dad thought he would bring me bad luck today, but it didn't work out that way and it's a great day. It's the first time I wasn't stressed out or nervous on the start because I talked to my dad and he gave me confidence. I don't usually feel that relaxed.
Don't you prefer to fight for the victory?
No, I would prefer to handle the whole race. I fell once but that's OK. The race was completely smooth and it went exactly the way I wanted it to go. In the first lap I knew that if I made no mistakes I'd be OK, and it worked out that way.
Do you regret not being able to compete with the elites?
Sure. As soon as they give me the authorization I'll move up.
Was it important to win on his birthday?
Yes, He's 49, and I think he felt more pressure than me.
Next race: Elite Downhill finals and Dual Slalom on Saturday.
By Ari Cheren, overdosing on coffee and beer for The Mountain Zone
1. Miguel Martinez (FRA, Sunn-Nike) in 2 hours, 33 min., 23 sec.
2. Cadel Evans (AUS, DiamondBack) at 6 minutes 39 sec. back
3. Dario Acquaroli (ITA, Bianchi) @ 7:09
4. Gregory Vollet (FRA, Look) @ 9:38
5. Roel Paulissen (BEL) @ 10:01