Absalon reigns supreme at Maritzburg MTB World Cup

The 2014 UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano, at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg came to a thrilling end with the elite men’s cross country final that saw Julien Absalon claim his maiden victory in South Africa.

BMC MTB Racing’s Absalon started slowly but soon found himself locked in a titanic tussle with Pietermaritzburg favourite and three time winner at the venue, Nino Schurter of SCOTT-Odlo MTB Racing, and the expected fascinating final two laps had the large crowd abuzz with excitement.

The contest was however dashed shortly after the midway point of the penultimate lap when Schurter punctured his rear wheel, opening the doorway for Absalon to power home unchallenged to claim the win.

“I’m really happy. It’s great to win the first World Cup, especially with it being here in South Africa where I crashed twice and broke ribs at last year’s World Champs,” Absalon after his 27th World Cup race victory.

“I wasn’t the fastest downhill and I arrived a little bit stressed after my two crashes last year. I wasn’t really feeling comfortable in the Tree House rock garden but I did a safe line, maybe not the fastest but a safe one, and the feeling and shape was good so I was happy.

“I used a lot of energy during the first lap to overtake about fifteen guys. Once I got up to Nino it was a nice fight though. He was very fast in some of the technical sections but then he got a flat tyre.

Smelling blood, Absalon took full advantage of the opportunity and charged ahead, knowing all to well that then third placed Manuel Fumic of Cannondale Factory Racing would soon discover Schurter’s misfortune as well.

“When I saw his flat I knew I had to go full gas. I also knew Manuel (Fumic) was not far behind and pushing hard so I only thought about going full gas to the finish line!

Schurter will miss the second leg of the World Cup series in Cairns, Australia due to a rare appears in a major road race and so Absalon’s Pietermaritzburg victory gives him a notable advantage in the race for the overall World Cup title.

“I will return to France tomorrow for one week’s training at home, then I go back to Australia and hopefully I can arrive back in Europe after that still with the leaders jersey!

After surging past a helpless Schurter, Fumic gave it his all to reel in the leader however risking losing his second place, and its all-important respective UCI points, wasn’t something the German star was willing to do.

“I thought I could win at least once here in Pietermaritzburg but there was no shame finishing behind Julian today and today I proved again that I can ride really well on the Pietermaritzburg course,” said the bubbly character.

“My tactics were to always try be more or less in the front, especially through the technical sections, because then you have the freedom of choosing your own lines.

“In the end Nino was a bit unlucky with his puncture and so I managed to get past him and then I just fought as hard as I could for my second place.

“I love South Africa, I spend the European winter here. I love the country and Pietermaritzburg and it was just another really a good day here for me again,” he added.

Marco Fontana of BH-Suntour-KMC put in a consistent effort throughout the contest and deservedly claimed third place while a gutsy Schurter eventually crossed the line in sixth position.

“Its obviously disappointing, I was in a good position and I was just trying to put Julian in the hurt box after I’d recognized he was starting to have a few troubles,” said Schurter.

“Unfortunately I flatted and in quite a bad place too so I had to ride quite a far way with the flat, but that’s racing.

“I had quite a lot of good luck here in the last three years, this one was unfortunately the one with the bad luck!

“When you see guys flying past you it’s always a bad feeling but it’s happened to everyone and you have to accept it. Hopefully next time I will have better luck and be back for more podiums,” added the World Champion.

The world class course laid out by course designer Nick Floros received rave reviews from the vast majority of the riders.

There were however an unfortunate few who came unstuck, particularly in the elite men’s cross country race, with South Africa’s Tyron Bird (Quattro) being one of the casualties as he went over the handlebars and his teeth pierced his bottom lip, ironically in the newly built Red Lipped Herald stretch.

The elite men’s cross country event marked the end of the global showcase and the seven-leg circuit now shifts to Cairns, Australia in two weeks’ time.

The UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano, takes place at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from 11-13 April 2014.