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World Champion and defending World Cup champ Jared Graves kept up his winning ways over the weekend at the first World Cup 4-cross competition of the year in Houffalize, Belgium.
The Houffalize 4-Cross race was run at night under the lights, with fans pouring into the small Ardennes village to hang out course side, drink local Chouffe beer and eat frites. The course was almost unchanged from last year. However, dry weather had turned it into a dust bowl; with the final rider of any foursome almost completely obscured by billowing dust. Loose gravel made every corner treacherous and there were multiple crashes.
Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) was untouchable in the men’s heats, often three or four bike lengths clear of his competitors by the first corner. He was joined in the final by Tomas Slavik (RSP 4 Cross Racing), Michal Prokop (Agang Racing) and Dutch mainstay Roger Rinderknecht. Once again, Graves got the holeshot, with the two Czech riders Slavik and Prokop bumping elbows through the first couple of corners before Slavik finally pulled ahead in the lower half of the run.
“On those first two turns you had to be careful,” Graves explained, “because anything can happen there. A good start definitely helps on this course, but you still aren’t completely safe because there are plenty of spots to get passed. It is definitely good to start the season off with a win, because it takes the pressure off. So I’d say am pretty happy right now.”
In women’s racing Czech rider Jana Horakova took what was only the second victory of her career. The final four was pretty much as expected: Horakova; defending World Cup champion Anneke Beerten (Suspension Centre); her new teammate Emmeline Ragot; and Austrian Anita Molcik, who was the fastest qualifier.
Molcik and Beerten were fastest out of the gate for the final, but tangled in the first corner, allowing Horakova to sneak through. Molcik managed to avoid going down and took second, followed by Ragot, with Beerten limping home in fourth.
“I was pretty happy with my gates,” commented Horakova, “But I wasn’t thinking that I could win. In the final, Anita cut inside, and forced me to go higher on the first corner, which was a good thing when she and Anneke bumped, because it allowed me to go through to the front.”