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The first elite cross-country titles of the 2013 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano were awarded on Sunday in Albstadt, Germany, with Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol) winning the women's competition, and Daniel McConnell (Trek Factory Racing) taking the men's. Raphael Gay (Creuse Oxygene) won the Junior men's competition held earlier in the day.
After sunny conditions a day earlier for the Under-23 races, the clouds moved in overnight, threatening rain. The rain held off until late in the women's race, and only fell for one hour, however, it completely changed the track conditions, turning the downhill sections slippery and treacherous.
The Under-23 world champion, Jolanda Neff (Giant XC), who was riding up a category with the elite competitors, took the early lead, and was quickly joined by Lechner, Eliminator World Cup leader Alexandra Engen (Ghost Factory) and Katrin Leumann (Ghost Factory). While other riders faded and were replaced at the front, Lechner and Leumann remained consistently in the front three all race.
As Engen and Neff dropped back, former world champion Maja Wloszczowska (Giant XC) moved, joining Lechner and Leumann at the front at the halfway point of the six-lap race, and the three remained together until Lechner opened a gap in the final half lap to win over Wloszczowska by eight seconds, with Leumann a further eight seconds behind.
"I had a really good start and good legs from the beginning," said Lechner, who last won a World Cup at Houffalize, Belgium, in 2010. "It was a hard fight to the finish. I believed for the victory and I wanted the victory. I am just so happy I am back here after the difficulties I had last season. I cannot describe it in words."
"It was much more difficult [after it started to rain on the last lap],”she added. “It was slippery, it was like ice. I had to be so careful, pay attention. I had a little gap on the last uphill, but I took no risk on the last descent."
The men's seven-lap race began after the rain had stopped, but the damage had been done, leaving the course so slick and treacherous in the downhills that one major jump was closed after a lap for safety reasons.
Julien Absalon (BMC), the two-time Olympic champion, jumped immediately into the lead, setting the fastest laps times for laps two through four. The French rider, who holds the record for men's World Cup wins at 25, looked to be well on his way to his 26th win, when he suffered a mechanical problem and was forced to drop out. Sergio Mantecon (Wild Wolf Trek) moved into the lead when Absalon retired, and looked to have the win, until McConnell began an incredible surge.
The Australian champion, who had only one top-20 World Cup result previously, started the last lap in sixth place, 29 seconds behind Mantecon. He steadily picked up places on the first long climb of the lap to move into second before the second climb, and then took the lead after the final descent to the finish. With his victory, McConnell became the first Australian man to win a cross-country World Cup since Cadel Evans in 2000.
"I did not expect this," admitted McConnell. "I came into this looking for a solid top-15, so it's unbelievable. On the climb I made contact with the group of second through fifth, and then moved into second through the feedzone. I could see Sergio in front of me, and at that stage just gave it everything, and caught him through the grass section at the bottom of the descent. I got into the last corner with a little bit of a gap and nothing was going to get past me at that point, I was running on adrenalin."