Italy repeats cross-country relay world title; Americans seventh

Azzurri defend the relay title on the opening day of the mountain bike world championships in South Africa

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Italy won the team relay to open the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships on Wednesday in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. France finished second and the four-person squad from the United States was seventh, on the strength of Stephen Ettinger’s anchoring ride.

The U.S. team comprised men’s U23 national champion Kerry Werner (BMC U23 Development), women’s elite champ Lea Davison (Specialized), Neilson Powless (Folsom Bike-VW), and Ettinger (BMC). The Americans entered the final leg 11th before Ettinger vaulted to seventh, 5:18 behind the race winners.

“Our team had solid rides, but not fast enough to contend for a medal, unfortunately,” USA Cycling mountain bike and cyclocross pogram director Marc Gullickson said in a press release. “Hopefully the race-pace effort for one lap will help them all with their cross-country preparation.”

Anchored by Gerhard Kerschbaumer, the Italian squad of Marco Fontana (Cannondale), Gioele Bertolini (Controltech Nevi), Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol), and the TX Active Bianchi rider defended the azzurri’s world title in a sprint finish. Germany was third, 1:48 behind the Italians and French.

“We had some good fortune today,” said Lechner. “This was the 10th time we have raced the worlds relay, and we have two European titles and two world titles now. It is a great start to this competition because it gives us all a lot of confidence for the individual races on the weekend.

The Canadian team of Peter Disera (Centurion Development), Derek Zandstra (Scott-3 Rox), Mitchell Bailey (Trek Canada), and Sandra Walter (Liv/Giant Canada) was fourth, at 2:22.

The worlds continue Thursday with the men’s and women’s junior cross-country races as well as the first timed downhill session.

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