|Julie Bresset leads Pendrel early in the race|
Houffalize has changed. As British XC stalwart Oli Beckingsale tweeted on Friday, "If the classic Houf course was like a fine red wine then the modern course is like crack".
And you could see what he meant; there was no subtlety to the new course whatsoever, no moments of respite to reflect on what had gone and what was coming, and no room for rider error at all. You either rode perfectly start to finish, or you gave up your chance of the win.
Riders may have been torn by the sheer brutality of the new course, but from a spectator's - a fan no less - point of view, it couldn't have been more spectacular. Tight and twisty - a "spaghetti" course as Frischi described it in the commentary - where you never knew quite where the riders were going to pop up next, but pop up they invariably did, sprinting like their lives depended on it towards the next precipitous, life-endangering descent.
Annie Last, winner from Friday evening's eliminator race, had a spectacular run up the near vertical start hill, matching Catherine Pendrel pedal-stroke for pedal-stroke. While Pendrel was able to keep the pressure on throughout the race, Last apparently suffered an asthma attack in the cold spring air and eventually slipped to 20th, not dreadful, but not what she would have hoped for after such a good start and on a course that surely suited her technical prowess.
Result: Elite Women
1 PENDREL Catharine CAN 1:31:15
2 BRESSET Julie FRA +0:00:48
3 WLOSZCZOWSKA Maja POL +0:01:24
20 LAST Annie* GBR +0:05:05
|Annie Last shares the lead on the start lap|
|Pendrel had to chase Bresset for quite some time, but once she passed, she looked imperious|
|Julie Bresset had a huge contingent of fans supporting her on the hill|
|House husband's favourite Emily Batty is having a consistent season, scoring a seventh place in Belgium|
|See those houses in the background? That's what makes Houffalize unique - the race goes (or did, it's less pronounced now) right into town, which is shut down specially for the race.|
|Fear or concentration? There was a bit of both out on the course|
|The course went down, then back up, the 4X track|
|Yeah, it was THAT hard|
|Annie Last on one of the numerous rock drops on the course|
|It was good to see (and hear) so many Brits out on the hill...|
|And it was doubly good to see so many Brits stepping up to race at an international level - bravo!|
|Last was right up there with the big names for the first part of the race|
|Belgian bike racing fans are the best fans in the world.|