Hanlen drops out in XC World Cup

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A perilous course proved the undoing of much of the field including New Zealand’s Karen Hanlen in the fourth round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in France today.

The Whakatane rider dropped out on the second of six laps in a race that claimed a significant number in the field with only half the field finishing on the same lap as the winner as 20,000 fans thronged to La Bresse in the Alsace region today.

Hanlen was chasing Olympic qualification in the final race to earn points for London, after rival Rosara Joseph crashed and broke her wrist during practice.

After starting from 14th the National Champion dropped back to 58th by the end of the first lap and was in some difficulties before being unable to continue.

It is a serious blow for both Hanlen and Joseph who were chasing a high placing to support their Olympic bids. Hanlen started the World Cup campaign with an eighth placing to Joseph’s 11th in South Africa and 18th against 38th in Belgium before a 26th in the Czech Republic where the Beijing Olympian finished 22nd.

New Zealand is expected to earn a single elite women’s spot for London when quotas are finalised by the UCI.

Experience and patience proved the key at La Bresse with legendary Norwegian Rita-Gunn Dahle claimed her first World Cup victory in four years.

It proved a double success for mountain bike legends with double Olympic gold medallist Julien Absalon, who lives nearby, winning the men’s honours.

Dahle, the 39 year old Athens Olympic gold medallist and four time World Champion, has had a break from the sport after becoming a mother. She was back in fourth until leader Katherine Pendrell (CAN) crashed on the demanding downhill with series leader Julie Bresset (FRA) falling while trying to avoid her.

Katerina Nash (CZE) took control from Dahle before she fell twice on the final descent to allow the Norwegian through for the victory.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Dahle. “I am first of all a mum. So I can’t believe it. I was focussing on not going over my limit. I thought she might be over her limit and she was. I did a very good race on this course which was tough up and tough down.”

The shining light for New Zealand at La Bresse was another outstanding ride by Samara Sheppard who was third in the under-23 race on Saturday following her fourth placing in the last round as she moved to eighth on the overall classification after four rounds.

The cross-country battle moves to North America for rounds in Canada and USA in late June, while the downhillers are back in action with the World Cup at Val di Sole in Italy in two weeks.

Results, UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Cross-Country:

Elite women: Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR) 1:39.57, 1; Katerina Nash (CZE) at 16 sec, 2; Julie Bresset (FRA) at 55s, 3; Catharine Pendrel (CAN) at 1:12, 4. Also: Karen Hanlen (NZL) dnf.

Elite men: Julien Absalon (FRA) 1:37.33, 1; Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE)at 7 sec, 2, Ralph Naef (SUI) at 40s, 3.