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ESPIÑEIRA SUPREME, GILCHRIST OVERHAULED IN TITANIC UCI E-ENDURO WORLD CUP IN SAALFELDEN LEOGANG – SALZBURGERLAND

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ESPIÑEIRA SUPREME, GILCHRIST OVERHAULED IN TITANIC UCI E-ENDURO WORLD CUP IN SAALFELDEN LEOGANG – SALZBURGERLAND

1 month ago

It was a tale of two leaders in the third round of the UCI E-enduro World Cup in Saalfelden Leogang – Salzburgerland (Austria). Florencia Espiñeira (Orbea Fox Enduro Team) strengthened her advantage at the top of the women’s standings with a commanding 51-second win in the WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series but a nightmare for Ryan Gilchrist (YETI / FOX Factory Racing) saw him surrender first position overall.

Canyon Collective Facturo Enduro’s Manuel Borges is now top dog, but it was Martin Maes (Orbea Fox Enduro) who was the man to beat in Austria as he took a crushing victory by over a minute and won every single downhill stage.

The triumphs of Isabeau Courdurier (Lapierre Zipp Collective) and Richie Rude (YETI / FOX Factory Racing) in the UCI Enduro World Cup were followed by an electrified day of action on the 84.5km course that featuring two power stages totaling 121m of climbing and 2,692m of descent in the remaining seven stages.

MAES RECOVERS FROM TOUGH POWER STAGE

Riders were thrown straight in at the deep end with a 300-metre power stage ascending 50 metres over brutally rooty terrain that caught even the best riders out. Maes finished down in 13th but crucially hemorrhaged less than a quarter of a minute, while Gilchrist didn’t offer many signs of the difficulties he’d face later in the day as the only member of the top five in the overall standings to also place in the top five of the stage.

On such a short power dash, the time gaps weren’t major as Diego Giordanengo took the win, but Maes would assert himself at the next opportunity, putting nine seconds into Kevin Marry (Lapierre Zipp Collective) who inherited the overall lead after he was also runner-up on the Matzalm Oberer Teil.

But the major shock was Gilchrist as the slowest finisher, losing almost 100 seconds over 2.4km and 535m of descent, and he’d drop another 25 seconds on stage three as Maes showed everyone that he wasn’t just here to win, but dominate.

Things got even worse for Gilchrist when Borges - the Australian’s closest UCI World Cup competitor entering the round - proved he was growing into the day by placing second on the X Line and putting himself on the brink of the top three now completed by Lévy Batista (Rocky Mountain Gravity Racing) and Andrea Garibbo (Haibike), both men well behind the rampant Maes.

Raphaela Richter’s (Simplon Trailblazer) run was also far from smooth as she finished just behind winner Sofia Lena Wiedenroth (Specialized Enduro Team), but she hit the front on the Bergstadl Trail to move almost half a minute clear in the overall standings with Espiñeira showing no-one was immune to the root hell of the opening power stage. 

The Chilean fell further behind on stage two but halved that deficit on the steep slopes of the X Trail that featured 801m of descending in a stage only 1.6km long. Laura Charles was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of stage 3 though, jumping into the top three overall as she marked herself as one to watch in the battle behind the lead pair.

RICHTER MISFORTUNE HANDS ESPIÑEIRA THE LEAD

Espiñeira continued her scorching speed into stage 4 and though Richter retained the lead - now down to nine seconds - her day came unstuck thanks to a broken chain delaying her arrival at the start of stage five, won by France’s Charles by just 0.086 ahead of the new leader in the clubhouse.

Alia Marcellini (Haibike) appeared to suffer a similar catastrophe when she was handed a three-minute penalty for changing her battery without notifying the officials before heading back out to the second loop. However, the penalty was later dropped with the Italian flying high in the top three at the time, thanks to finishing in the top four of every downhill stage.

With Richter now out of the running, Espiñeira pressed home her advantage still further to enter the second and final power stage with a 35-second advantage, completely flipping the script from earlier. But incredibly, that was still over a quarter of a minute less than Maes’ dominance.

The unbeatable German put on a downhill clinic, chased by Batista who held second from stage 3 until the end despite ultimately hanging on by just a couple of seconds from Kevin Miquel (Specialized Enduro Team) - who surged up the leaderboard with strong showing on stage 6, 1.6 seconds behind Maes.

The Matzalm Trail also gave star guest Manuel Lettenbichler a chance to shine, taking a break from his romp to a third successive FIM Hard Enduro World Championship crown. After cheering on the Enduro competitors out on the course yesterday, the moto enduro great was competing on those same trails today and placed in the top 20 on that stage, Lettenbbichler’s best result of the day en route to 21st overall for YT Mob.

It was more pain for Gilchrist though, he lost another three-quarters of a minute to Maes with Borges picking up more points on stage 5 and thanking his lucky stars that he kept on his bike on his next run as he seemed to lose complete control but somehow saved himself.

MAES AND ESPIÑEIRA APPLY THE CHOKEHOLD

Gilchrist enjoyed a brief resurrection with fourth place on the Knappen power stage as Giordanengo was the fastest man uphill yet again, over a monster course that demanded riders ascend 70m in only 0.3km. 

Batista clawed back a handful of seconds on Maes for the last time before he resumed his unstoppable descending form on a stage 8 that was just over a kilometer in length. With such small-time gaps - less than eight seconds separating the top 10 - the overall win was done and dusted but Miquel pegged back Batista’s advantage by a couple of seconds to give himself a chance at the runner-up spot on Bongo Bongo.

Miquel threw everything he had at stage 9 to dislodge his compatriot but ultimately ran out of road on the lightning-quick trail, finishing 15 places ahead and chipping another 4.5 seconds away from the deficit but to no avail as Garibbo also held off Borges’ charge for fourth. 

However, it was still a successful afternoon as the Portuguese rider outscored Gilchrist by 113 points and celebrated becoming the first man to break the four-figure barrier in the 2024 UCI E-enduro World Cup:

It means a lot to me, not a bad day for me, I crashed a lot, but I finish fifth so overall it’s important. For sure it’s the biggest goal for me and for the team, to keep this jersey until the end is the best.”

It’s the first time Maes’ has scored this season, but he did it in some style and is now into the top 20 thanks to a performance that redefined dominance - after he was 11th in yesterday’s UCI Enduro World Cup round, a minute off top spot.

Yesterday wasn’t a good day for me, I struggled a lot and I wanted to turn it around today with the e-bike. I had tons of fun; the bike was way more planted to the ground than yesterday and I know a bit more where I was riding.

I had a lot of fun today and I rode conservative but fast all day long, I had obviously some blind stages, the power stages that I didn’t have time to practice on Thursday but overall, it was a good day.”

Espiñeira was relegated to second by Wiedenroth on the final power stage but came back swinging on the Schwarzleo Trail, jumping the German who was a woman transformed in the final part of the day.

After the earlier battery mixup, Marcellini had the last laugh on the final stage, taking the win with Espiñeira knowing injury was the only thing preventing her opening up a big lead in the UCI E-enduro World Cup.

Britain’s Tracy Moseley was 106 points behind at the start of the weekend but didn't compete in Austria and Charles, Weidenroth and Marcellini all took advantage. Despite Marcellini beating Weidenroth by nine seconds on Bongo Bongo she was an agonising three-tenths short of claiming third on the day.

So Espiñeira now enjoys a lead of 310 points, and reflected happily on a job well done: 

Pretty good day, for my teammate Martin as well. It can’t get any better than this.

 The start of the day’s always difficult for me, I crashed a little bit, so I had to reset the mindset and push. Unfortunately, Raphaela had a mechanical, it’s always a bummer for the competition, I would’ve loved to see how that could’ve been but at the end everything worked out.

 It’s good, it’s a relief to do half of the season with three wins, that’s always the main goal for me and motivation to keep pushing.

PLENTY OF WHOOP UCI MOUNTAIN BIKE WORLD SERIES ACTION TO COME

As if the Saalfelden Leogang - Salzburgerland weekend wasn’t action-packed enough already, the UCI raised the stakes even further on Friday morning by announcing the very first edition of the Mountain Bike Enduro and E-enduro World Championships will take place in Val di Fassa Trentino, Italy, on 14 - 15 September 2024.

But before that, Espiñeira, Maes, Borges and every other mountain biking fan can watch the Saalfelden Leogang - Salzburgerland weekend climax with the UCI Downhill World Cup final tomorrow. Overall leaders Valentina Höll (YT Mob) and Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity) already set the pace in the preliminary rounds today

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