Lukas Flueckiger Finishes 6th in World Cup Season Opener
In what most pundits acknowledged was a difficult race to predict due it being the opening round of the World Cup season, and one month earlier than usual, Trek World Racing's Luk Flueckiger kept his Superfly in the top 10 of the race from start to finish here in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. On his last lap he closed down more than 20 seconds on reigning World Champion Jaroslav Kulhavy, only to lose out in the final straight.
Brother Mathias Flueckiger had a start he'd rather forget. The first sharp climb off the start straight saw a massive traffic jam and Math found himself in 59th place after the dust had settled. He fought back tenaciously, lap after lap, to finish an impressive 18th place.
However back at the front Luk, who started from the front row as World Number 7, avoided the traffic jam and managed to get into the lead group. Three riders soon rode off the front, namely eventual race winner Nino Schurter (SUI), local hero Burry Stander (RSA) and an in form Manuel Fumic (GER). On lap 2 Luk thought he had a slow leak in his rear tire and was getting ready for a wheel change but it turned out to be a false alarm.
Falling to 9th place during that time, Luk started working his way back to be riding with the 2011 World Champion and chasing down the top 5. His fastest lap was the 4th of 6 and even though the clouds were threatening rain, it actually held off until 10mins after the finish, when Luk had already secured 6th spot: (Swiss riders need a World Cup top 8 place to be considered for one of the 3 London Olympic spots open for Swiss Men). 2mins 30secs later Luk's younger brother crossed the line.
Luk said: "I'm really happy today. I'm a bit disappointed that after clo
sing the gap to Kulhavy I couldn't beat him to the line and take the podium, but my legs felt really good and I could go with the main guys today. This makes me really happy to be again on the front row for Houffalize, Round 2."
Math said: "When I realised I was 59th after the start, I thought I must have been going in the wrong direction! Normally after a big traffic jam and a low position it would be very depressing for me, but I
decided to fight hard for each position and just keep fighting back. I'm happy I brought back 41 positions to finish in the top 20."
Meanwhile in the Women's XC race which was held earlier in the day in hot and muggy conditions, Willow Rockwell was racing her first World Cup since 2010, and only 10 weeks after having her first baby. This early race was never going to be easy for Willow, especially starting from position 66 and not being fully race ready, but Willow rode steadily, fighting off severe back pain, to lap consistently and finish the full race distance of 5 laps, in position 54.
Tomorrow Anton Cooper will race his first World Cup for Trek World Racing when he lines up for the 4 lap Junior Men's race.
There are 4 weeks before Round 2, in the classic venue of Houffalize (BEL). Follow the team on Twitter @trekworldracing.
Anton Cooper Wins World Cup Season Opener by More Than 4 Minutes
In a world class performance today Anton Cooper won his first World Cup race of the year in stunning fashion, putting four and half minutes into the reigning Junior World Champion, and taking the first World Cup XC victory for his new team. The young rider from Christchurch, New Zealand, attacked decisively on the 2nd climb of the 1st lap, putting 15 seconds into Frenchman Victor Koretzky and continued to stretch his lead over the 4 lap race.
Lapping around 1 minute a lap quicker than his nearest opponents, it was clear that Anton had brought his main game to the race in South Africa after a great summer of racing in New Zealand. His lap times, considering the course was still wet from the overnight run (so much so that some of the shorter more technical sections of the course were closed off), were fast enough to draw comparison to the Elite Men's field from yesterday.
Anton has now won every World Cup he has entered, and today scored Trek World Racing's first ever XC World Cup victory.
Anton said: "The race went really well for me as I had such fresh legs so it was fun to race today. Honestly, I could have gone for another lap I enjoyed it so much! I'm really happy to be on a team that has great support and has made me feel so welcome, as well as having amazing equipment sponsors. It's been my dream. There are some other big races coming up this year so I'm really looking forward to them."
Team Owner Martin Whiteley said: "Watching Anton race is very special, and we couldn't be prouder of what he did today, that is a big milestone for the program. Anton has slotted into the team brilliantly and we're all excited about what the future holds for him."
Tomorrow Anton heads home to continue his schooling and some local racing before joining the team once again for the Mont-Sainte-Anne and Windham rounds of the World Cup.
Team website: http://xc.trekworldracing.com/
Full results: http://www.uci.ch/templates/BUILTIN-NOFRAMES/Template1/layout.asp?MenuId=MTYzODg&LangId=1