Schurter, Zakelj clinch 2013 cross-country World Cup titles

Athertons lead downhill standings with one stop remaining

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The cross-country events for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup wrapped up last weekend in Hafjell, Norway. The northern finale for endurance riders concluded Sunday with an exciting downhill final — the penultimate stop for gravity riders in 2013.

Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools) and Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) clinched the women’s and men’s overall cross-country titles, respectively.

Irina Kalentieva (Topeak-Ergon) was victorious among the women on the 4.1-kilometer Hafjell circuit. Eva Lechner (Colnago-Sudtirol), world champion Julie Bresset (BH-SR Suntour), and Lea Davison (Specialized Racing) battled Kalentieva early in the technical, six-lap race.

Davison fell off the pace halfway through the race and Lechner appeared to be riding to victory after dropping Bresset, but Kalentieva surged late to take the win. Lechner held on for second, ahead of Bresset in third. Davison was fourth.

“It is unbelievable,” said Kalentieva, via the UCI website. “This year I had many times bad luck, and at the world championship again fourth like in [2012] Olympic Games. This is the last race for me this year and I won this final World Cup. I knew in this race I have to be in the beginning on the front, because many times I try this year and it doesn’t work, because it is so fast. Today I did it, in the front. I was in the third or fourth position, so today I was thinking I can win, and I try, and give everything. It is an unbelievable feeling I know this feeling because earlier I won many times World Cups and world championships, I am so happy.”

With Julien Absalon (BMC) absent due to injuries suffered earlier this month at the world championships, Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing) won the men’s event in a two-man battle with Schurter. Manuel Fumic (Cannondale Factory Racing) beat out Mathias Flückiger (Stöckli Pro Team) for third in the eight-lap tilt.

“I had such a crazy season,” said Kulhavy. “It’s amazing. This is the last race and I am really happy. I am back in my old shape and it is very important for me for the winter time. And yes, I am very satisfied. The race was amazing. Nice fight with Nino, and I am really happy.”

Atherton, Smith win penultimate downhill

Rachel Atherton (GT Factory) triumphed in the women’s downhill for the fourth time this season, extending her lead in the overall series standings with one race left. Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing) was the men’s winner, and now trails overall leader Gee Atherton (GT Factory) by just 17 points.

Both races were close and came down to the last few riders on the course.

Atherton lowered the time Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen) set at the first split time of her run and again at the finish to take the title. Myriam Nicole (Commencal-Riding Addiction) was third.

Overnight rain continued into Sunday, which made the course muddy and slippery — leading to crashes and a lot of near-misses.

“I was so nervous before the race,” Atherton said. “We had two runs this morning in the rain and it was lethal, so sketchy. You’ve got no idea how fast to hit stuff. I don’t know if anyone saw, but I had a few moments up there, a few wild moments, where I thought I was going down.”

Atherton leads the series standings with 1,085 points, while Emmeline Ragot (Lapierre Gravity Republic) is second with 925. Carpenter is third with 880 points.

The conditions worsened for the men’s race as more rain and wind battered the course. Smith took the lead but there were still four riders left to race after him. The slick trail proved to be a major factor, however.

Atherton was favored to win and he raced just minutes after Smith’s run, but slid off-course and into a tree, forcing him to settle for 12th place.

“It was a trippy day,” Smith said. “We practiced all week in the sun, complete dust, and today was miserable. Practice was actually quite good. It just rained all day and it just kept getting worse and worse.”

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