The Specialized Racing team wrapped up the 2012 UCI Cross Country Mountain Bike World Cup in Val d’Isere, France, on Saturday afternoon by winning the overall team standings.
With two weeks to go until the Olympic mountain bike races in London, some of Specialized’s cross country stars were participating in one final contest before the big day while several others chose to sit out and save themselves.
The weather on race day was temperamental. After raining all the previous night, conditions seemed to dry out in the lead-up to the men’s race, thanks in part to the U23 men who raced a muddy 4km course in the morning. However, just before the start of the elite men’s race, it began to rain again and Specialized mechanics scrambled to make last minute changes to tires and chainrings to accommodate the fickle conditions.
Recently crowned South African national champion Burry Stander was the best placed team rider on the day, finishing seventh on his Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper Hardtail, 2:16 after winner Nino Schurter.
After winning the Windham round, Stander had been hoping to finish in front of Schurter so he could take the World Cup overall, but he had just come off some altitude training and could feel its effects during the race, made more challenging by the fact that the Val d’Isere World Cup venue is at 1800m, the highest World Cup of the 2012 series. Stander’s placing was good enough to net him second overall in the World Cup, with 1058 points, just 142 points out of first place.
The South African raced a 1×10 drivetrain with a Rotor 34-tooth ring up front and a standard 11/36-tooth cassette out back. A cSixx chainguide kept it all running smoothly. On a day when it was tough to decide which tires were best for conditions, Stander opted for Specialized’s Fast Trak 2.00 tires on the front and rear (both at 23psi).
World champion Jaroslav Kulhavy raced to a 13th place finish at 5:11. The Czech rider, who rode his Specialized S-Works Epic 29er, didn’t have much to say after the race; it was a hard day at the office.
While Kulhavy got off to a good start, he faded backward through the pack as the race progressed. Although not as dominant in this year’s World Cup as last year, Kulhavy’s consistency still paid off in the form of a third place overall in the series.
Kulhavy raced the new SRAM XX1 Grip Shift drivetrain, with a 36-tooth front chainring and a 10/42-tooth rear cassette, and Specialized Ground Control tires (2.10 front at 23psi and 1.90 rear at 25psi).
In his final World Cup of his long and storied cross country career, Christoph Sauser finished 14th on the day and 16th overall in the series. The Swiss racer and former cross country world champion, onboard his Specialized S-Works hardtail with a 1×10 drivetrain, caught up to his teammate Kulhavy in the final meters. Kulhavy slowed to publicly offer his congratulations to Stander as the pair rolled across the finish line together.
Sauser opted for the same gearing configuration and tires and pressures as Stander.
Three weeks of altitude training had worked out well for Sauser, but he was not training specifically for his final World Cup. Rather, he is building up for the Leadville 100, where he may race Lance Armstrong, in two weekends.
“Having worked with him for the past 10 years, I’m sad about Sauser’s departure from the circuit,” said Specialized Racing’s mechanic Benno Willeit. “It’s not just me, the entire team will miss him.”
With the end of his World Cup careeer, Sauser will not retire and ride off into the sunset. Also accomplished in endurance racing, Sauser will race several other major events in 2012 such as cross country Worlds and marathon Worlds following Leadville. Expect to see him for years to come in a myriad of endurance competitions.
Onboard his Specialized Stumpjumper hardtail, Kohei Yamamoto rounded out the team’s results in 52nd at 11:40. The Japanese rider was suffering most of the race, but clenched his teeth to push on until the finish. In the World Cup series, he ended up 28th. Yamamoto raced Specialized 1.90 Ground Control tires (front and rear) at 26psi and shifted with a SRAM XX drivetrain.
Specialized Racing finished fourth as a team on Saturday and concluded the World Cup as the number one team in the overall standings. It was the second consecutive series victory for the squad.
Some members of the team will head straight to London while others will meet up with their respective national federations at various national team training camps before journeying to London in the week before the Olympic Games.