In La Bresse the last questions regarding the selection for the Olympic games were being answered. Ralph Näf scored a third-place finish and thus got his ticket to London, a performance bettered by Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå. For the first time since 2008 the Norwegian won a Worldcup race.
The night before the race, heavy rain fell on the Vosges mountains, and this made the already demanding descents even more tricky. But on race day the sun was shining and the temperatures were perfect. About 20’000 spectators lined the course that was characterized as “old school” by many: The climbs were long, steep and hard, the descents technical and spiced with various rugged sections. La Bresse offered a course that favoured the complete kind of rider that knows how to pace himself and does not push himself into the red on the climbs in order to get down those descents safely.
An extra bit of thrill was due to the fact that a number of national federations had declared La Bresse to be the last Worldcup race that mattered for the selection for the Olympic games. As for the riders of the «Multivan Merida Biking Team», Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå ans José Hermida had already been nominated as starters for the Olympic games. For Rudi van Houts, Jochen Käß and most of all Ralph Näf this was the moment to show their very best in order to put their names on the notebooks of their respective national federation’s coaches. As for the Swiss, no less than five riders were competing for the two tickets still at hand.
Right after the start of the women’s race, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå stormed to the lead. And the Norwegian stayed within touch of the leading positions ever after. She plowed through the tricky sections of the course confidently aboard Merida’s Big.Nine, encouraging her to push the limits on all sections in order not to lose a second on the descents. It was no coincidence that Dahle Flesjå decided the race going downhill: She was the only one of the top5 finishers to finish without having a big crash, and this gave her the chance to pass Katerina Nash with the finish line almost in sight. For Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå, this was the first Worldcup victory in more than four years and since giving birth to a child. She now is just win short of crowning herself the most successful rider in the history of the UCI mountain bike Worldcup.
“Today’s race was an up and down for everyone”, Dahle Flesjå commented after the award ceremony. “I was highly focussed throughout the race, and it gives me lot of confidence to clear the tricky sections that well. I guess I have shocked quite a lot of people with today’s win, and that’s me included. But winning again really does good. All the more as this shows that we’re on the right track and that I might go on to enjoy a terrific season if I continue to work hard for it.”
In the men’s race, the colours of the «Multivan Merida Biking Team» showed up in the lead of the race early on as well, thanks to Ralph Näf who had a strong race. After the first lap, no less than four Swiss riders were within the top6 of the race, and Näf was in the lead. As the race went on, he had to let Julien Absalon pass him. After a brilliant descent aboard Merida’s Big.Nine, Näf closed the gap at the end of the fourth lap and returned back into the lead of the race, but Absalon and Jaroslav Kulhavy both had a bit more to give on the last two laps.
Näf safely rode home his third-place finish. “Before the season started, I did not waste a lot of time thinking about the Olympics. All I wanted to do is to return to the podium. I did that in Nove Mesto, and so the Olympics came back into my focus. Regarding the selection for London’s Olympics, I was kind of in the pole position and had a lot to loose. It was a mind game to ride in a lead group with four Swiss guys at times. That’s why I decided to attack in the fourth lap in order to lock my grip on third place.”
José Hermida left La Bresse cluelessly: The Spaniard never really got up to his usual speed and finally missed out on a top10 finish in 11th: “At times I thought about quitting the race, but I decided to soldier on. Still I need to reconsider my plans for the weeks ahead as my shape clearly is not where it’s supposed and where I have to be.” Rudi van Houts was riding within the top15 for a while but had to concede some positions towards the end of the race, finishing in 19th: “The climbs here in La Bresse were truly brutal, and today I just did not have good enough legs to match that.”
For quite a while Jochen Käß was trailing José Hermida, and it looked as if he were on a safe way to finish within the top15, thus passing the criteria of his national federation for the Olympic games. But in the last lap, he suffered a flat and lost ground to finish in 26th. “This is absolutely bitter, I still do not know where I got that puncture. But today I showed that I am right up there. Concerning the Olympic games, all I can do is to wait for the decision of the national federation’s coach.”
The «Multivan Merida Biking Team» also scored a second-place finish in the men’s team ranking, thus consolidating its third place in the season’s overall manufacturer standings. As the team’s manager, Andreas Rottler celebrated his 40th birthday seeing the «Multivan Merida Biking Team» return to the top of the podium: “That really was a proper racing day for the team, with Gunn-Rita’s great win and Ralph’s third-place finish. With José, we need to find out why he is behind his schedule, and Jochen simply had bad luck not to have sealed his Olympic ticket on the race track today.”
UCI Worldcup Crosscountry (XCO): 4th race in La Bresse, France
Results Men Elite:
1. Julien Absalon, FRA/Orbea Racing Team, in 1:37.33 hours
2. Jaroslav Kulhavy, CZE/Specialized Racing, + 0.07
3. Ralph Näf, SUI/Multivan Merida Biking Team, + 0.40
4. Florian Vogel, SUI/Scott-Swisspower, + 1.24
5. Fabian Giger, Rabobank Giant Offroad Team, + 1.41
11. José Hermida, ESP/Multivan Merida Biking Team, + 3.24
19. Rudi van Houts, NED/Multivan Merida Biking Team, + 5.47
26. Jochen Käß, GER/Multivan Merida Biking Team, + 6.52
Results Women Elite:
1. Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå, NOR/Multivan Merida Biking Team, in 1:39.57 hours
2. Katerina Nash, CZE/Luna Pro Team, + 0.16
3. Julie Bresset, FRA/BH-SR Suntour-Peisey Vallandry, + 0.55
4. Catharine Pendrel, CAN/Luna Pro Team, + 1.12
5. Maja Wloszczowska, POL/CCC Polkowice, + 2.22
Source: Press release from Merida’s Official Site