(Sunday, 9/21 - 6:00 p.m. Geneva Time) If
risk were all it took to win the biggest race in mountain biking,
Hubert Pallhuber certainly wouldn't be sitting in his Diamondback
condo right now wearing a buff new rainbow jersey. If heart, hard
work, sacrifice and total dedication win championships, however,
Pallhuber is more than appropriate as the sport's new BMOC. Following
Italian national teammate Paola Pezzo's example, this affable
rider from Anterselva, Italy took it to the field early today
and won in style by completely dominating the sport's largest
luminaries in the 8th running of the UCI World Championships of
With the Italian team doing for the XC what
France did yesterday in the DH, it's an interesting study in contrasts
to look at Pezzo's morning race and then Hubi's race later that
afternoon. While both were racing in the Italia national uniforms,
that's where the similarities between Pezzo and Pallhuber's races
end. That and the fact that Paola is a woman... While Pezzo was
a study in cool power and ease with all pundits expecting her
to dominate, Pallhuber was the gutty underdog who made good on
a promise to himself to win a big one. His exuberance on the podium
was a fun-loving reflection of Pezzo's somewhat jaded demeanor
as the two posed for the press corp as Italy's one-two punch of
a response to the federation, er, team of France's Sunn-Nike.
Kissing their gold medals for the photographers, one can only
imagine what was going through each of their minds as the cameras
For Pezzo, today's race had been an equation
of expectations heaped upon a season's worth of fatigue multiplied
by her desire to prove without a shred of doubt who the belle
donna of cycling is this year. Articulating again and again over
the course of the season her single desire to win the World Cup
title, Pezzo went so far as to cause speculation that she might
miss this week's fun entirely - from burnout, fatigue and other
cynical speculation to the nature of her program. Arriving in
the village of Chateau d'Oex earlier this week, Pezzo promptly
crashed during practice and again had tongues wagging as to her
chances of competing and winning this one last race. "I was
very tired, but this morning felt very good - my leg was OK. I
knew it would be important to go out hard and stay in the lead,
so I attacked early."
As has become the custom at start lines all
over the world, all doubts were quickly removed as soon as the
starter's gun went off and a flood of glittering women sped around
the parade lap to undertake their biggest two laps of the season.
As Pezzo began her familiar departure off the front from the mortals
it was time to sit back and watch the rest of the field battle
it out for the smallest corner of Pezzo's increasingly large shadow.
Besides the golden girl (so-nicknamed for
a combination of her flaxen hair, medal collection and choice
in cycling wear), several women put on the power to make their
presence known here today. Last year's champ Alison Sydor
(CAN, Volvo/Cannondale) quickly faded from the lead - even with
her own new blonde hair - and was in 6th place by the time the
field hit their first big loop. Sydor would languish all day,
moving around from 3rd to 5th place before finally finishing her
day with a great sprint finish against local fave Chantal Daucourt
(SUI, Trek-Volkswagen) for 4th place.
Daucourt, who is quite the starlet here in
Switzerland with a horde of fans wearing her t-shirt and cheering
her at every turn, did her best on a course which she helped design.
Riding the first short loops in 2nd place, Daucourt rode the energy
of her fans all the way around this 9.9 km track but couldn't
harness quite enough energy to maintain her position, gradually
slipping to 3rd and finally landing in 5th place after Sydor outsprinted
her at the finish. "I had some problems with my pedals today,
and couldn't respond to Sydor's attack," she explained. "But
overall I'm very happy." Sharing that joy with a large group
of cheering fans, Daucourt later came across the infield to the
group and celebrated a strong finish to a successful season.
The other top finishers, including Nadia
DeNegri and Margarita Fullana, weren't expected to
do quite so well as some of the more famous women. But names like
Fullana will become more familiar as the Spanish rider finished
strongly in Annecy's finals and then in third place today after
losing a chain on the last bridge before the finish arena. Toughing
it out, she ensured the bronze after running the entire village
loop and finally resting with a hard fought podium position. For
DeNegri, a solid day spent entirely in the top 5 paid off big
as she staved off attacks from the likes of Laurence Leboucher
(FRA), Alison Dunlap (USA, GT) and Gunn-Rita Dahle
(NOR, American Eagle) to show that she's always a force to be
reckoned with come race day.
By the end of the race Pezzo's dominance
was illustrated by the fact that she finished and sat to rest
as her chasers were still heading through the same arena on their
way out to finish up the 2.5km Village Loop. Grabbing an Italian
flag two turns from the finish, Pezzo came across the line all
smiles with her trademark genuflection and the satisfaction of
proving herself still unbeatable in the big one day events as
well as the long season's points series.
After the interviews, a mini podium photo-op
and press conference, everyone scrambled back to the start for
the next event. The big event.
Lining up for today's race, plenty of the
contestants had reason to believe they could take this year's
championship. Miguel Martinez and Cadel Evans had
already battled it out a couple days ago in the U-23 race and,
combined with the injured current champion Jerome Chiotti
missing the event, the door was open for one brilliant run from
one motivated individual. It may not have been the first name
on everyone's list, but the name Pallhuber was about to prove
himself the man of the day.
Pallhuber is a 32 year old racer with Diamondback's
Italian Freewheeling distributor team, under the dual management
of Europe and the U.S. Riding last season to good success, Pallhuber
is known as a strong rider who can surprise anyone on any day.
Today the hard-working Hubi would not be denied and took the opportunity
to ride out from teammate Cadel Evan's own shadow and into the
limelight of victory, with friend and teammate Pavel Tcherkassov
not far behind.
"I feel good, this time it was my good
luck," an effusive Hubi told The Zone right after a quick
celebration with Italian and DBR teammates. "When I was in
the lead I was never sure I could win, but when I crossed the
line I said 'oohh, I can do it! Ahh, now I'm the world champion!!"
The race didn't start out with any certainty
for anyone, as the lead was exchanged more times than a holiday
fruitcake. The first to tow the line was Christophe Dupouey
(FRA, Sunn-Nike) who took his recent Annecy win to the front of
the pack and looked strong in the early portion of the race, running
fast with Luca Bramati (ITA, Selle Italia) and Pallhuber
up front. Unfortunately for this #2 ranked rider, he lost considerable
time after flatting and had an amazing run back dashed with another
flat - enough damage to take him out of the running and force
Hubi took advantage of this opening and decided
to, as he describes it, "risk everything" and go off
the front, hoping he didn't blow up in the process. Battling it
out with a pair of Swiss riders and other sundry characters like
homeboy Luca Bramati, Hubi lead all challengers for most of the
race and even prevented a coordinated attack from the Swiss.
(SUI, ProFlex) and three-time WC champ Thomas Frishknecht
(SUI, Ritchey) represented their homeland with the red cross national
uniform by taking it to the Italians. This was not to last for
either of them as Wabel had a long run trading leads and battling
it out with Pallhuber before fading on the way up the fourth climb
and eventually landing in 10th place. For his part Frishy started
in the lead group and then pursued in 3rd and 4th position before
being passed by Pavel Tcherkassov and Kirk Molday (CAN,
Marin) late in the race to finish 6th.
Tcherkassov, riding for Russia but used to
racing in Italy during the regular season, had a late race surge
to pass the fading Swiss riders and cross the line in 5th. "I
had lost some positions on the downhill and was doing pretty good
on the climbs." Close behind was Molday who also began slow
and built up steam to finish 4th, commenting "I went out
a bit slower, as usual but knew that it was a long race. "I
don't like to load myself up with lactic acid by going out early."
As the race progressed with no one able to
reel in the motivated Pallhuber, former world champion Henrik
Djernis (DEN, American Eagle) began moving up through the
top ranks from his 15th position as he realized he had a chance
to catch the leaders. "In the 2nd lap I began to move and
thought I could make the top 10. Then with about a half lap left
I believed that I could medal, and hoped maybe Hubi would blow
up." he commented. Passing all the early leaders save Pallhuber,
Djernis approached a minute gap to Hubi before the race ended
and he settled for a well-deserved silver medal.
(ITA, Bianchi) didn't make his presence known up front until mid-race
when, after a nasty spill, he rode with Dupouey in pursuit of
the front runners. Finally making 3rd position in the last lap,
Bramati continued to ride in pain and hold his pace to the end.
"This was a very difficult course for me, because it was
so technical," he commented. "I crashed in the first
loop and hurt my collarbone. I didn't know what was wrong, though,
but felt very bad. It hurt so bad that I could barely breathe.
By the end I figured a bronze medal would be OK for my collection."
And there you have the story of the today's
leaders, each with his own race and own results. With Pallhuber
crossing the line as the illustration of unabashed joy, today's
race ended with 49 fewer people than it started with as 72 riders
finished this most grueling course of some 55 km. With Hubi celebrating
and the rest of the field licking their wounds it was time for
a second quick podium and then off to a full awards ceremony where
Pezzo and Pallhuber were crowned World Champions. Which brings
us back to where we started, with a look at the contrasting styles
of these two amazing riders as Pezzo now wonders how to meet next
season's expectations and Pallhuber wonders what exactly today
And so end the World Championships with the
UCI flag lowered and the Swiss national anthem played to what
has proven a most enthusiastic crowd. With teams and the like
already packing for home, everyone can look forward to next year's
competition in Mont Sainte-Anne, Canada. Meanwhile we'll see you
at the races... next season.