April 23rd, 2011

Mathias Flueckiger 15th in Super-Fast World Cup XC Race 1

Starting on the front row of the first World Cup of the 2011 season here in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Mathias Flueckiger was quick to get away at the start of the 6 lap race, with brother Lukas close behind starting from row 2. However, it was very clear 10 minutes into the race that the pace was super quick, more than most riders were expecting, and before long, a group of 3 riders (Nino Schurter, Julien Absalon, Jaroslav Kulhavy) had taken a gap on the rest of the field, and stayed out there for the entire race.

New rules from the UCI meant that the race would be shorter than ever before, at just over 1hr 30mins, on a track that was baked hard and dry by recent warm and humid weather. This also meant that it was the fastest race since Dalby Forest, Round 1 in 2010, with an average speed above 20km/h. (The World Cup in Champery last year was 16km/h average for example).

Additionally, most riders who had raced hard in the Cape Epic a few weeks ago were clearly suffering from a lack of explosive speed, a common complaint among those finishing outside the top 10.

Yesterday in his training session on the course, Lukas crashed awkwardly and hurt his hand, specifically the inside of his right palm where the index finger joins the hand. This meant he had next-to-no pull up power on the handlebars today and was not riding at his best in the technical sections, and finished 22nd.

Mathias Flueckiger said: "The first straight from the start felt good for me, it was a good start and I was in a good position, but then the high pace stayed a lot longer than normal and I lost some positions. The pace was so high and I just didn't have any explosive power in my legs. I had to fight back from around 20th place to stay in 14th or 15th. It was not as good as I was expecting, but I had a similar start in Dalby Forest last year, and got stronger throughout the year so I know what to do to get up to speed for Round 2."

Lukas Flueckiger said: "The injury to the hand the day before was a real disappointment for me. My legs felt good today, but after my crash yesterday, my body wasn't comfortable, I didn't sleep well last night, and I had no power in the handlebars today. I was controlling everything with my legs, which made for a difficult race. The speed was so high today, but for me it was more about controlling the bike. I was handicapped today and will get this checked as soon as I get back to Switzerland next week."

Meanwhile, the other big news of the day was Willow Koerber's announcement that she is 6 weeks pregnant, something she only discovered yesterday afternoon. After finishing 2nd in last week's national race on the World Cup course, Willow knew there was something not quite right. The previous 2 weeks had seen her feeling unwell, and overall lacking energy. She decided to take a pregnancy test to see if this was the reason. FiancÚ and former DH World Champion Myles Rockwell was the first to get the call, and shortly after Willow spoke to Team Director Martin Whiteley, who said today:

"Obviously this is a bittersweet development for Willow who on one hand was ready to take on the world in season 2011, yet on the other hand, is now expecting her first child with all the joy and excitement that brings. One thing is clear, we as a team are fully supportive of Willow in this new development and while this was not the plan, life is not predictable and all the team members have been so supportive since she spoke with everyone last night at dinner. Willow leaves South Africa on Monday and will return to be with her nearest and dearest to discuss what comes next, and we expect to be in a position of greater clarity next week." There are 4 weeks until Round 2, in Dalby Forest (GBR), and many riders will be looking forward to getting home and working on their preparation for the next major race of the 2011 season.

Full results: http://www.uci.ch/templates/BUILTIN-NOFRAMES/Template1/layout.asp?MenuId=MTYxMjU&LangId=1

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