wc :: Relays Full Report


The Relays event for World Cup Round 1 2005 was held in a large arena in Deepcut Military Barracks, on the edge of Old Windmill Hill and Mytchett. The weather was perfect for racing, with a grey and cool morning forming the background for physically tough courses, with lapses of concentration again costing athletes dearly. The day was another of mixed fortunes for GBR, with some wonderful individual performances, but no overwhelming team results.

The women were off first, with an early lead taken by Finnish runner Anni-Maija Fincke, 15 seconds ahead of Swedish B team runner Hannah Palm and Czech Marta Sterbova at the spectator control. Helen Winskill was in the chasing pack, around 2.5 minutes down, with Jenny Whitehead struggling to hold the pace just off the back of this pack. All runners looked surprisingly tired, playing testament to the physical challenge that today’s courses presented. Once past the spectator the lead switched, but Fincke pulled it back by the finish to bring the Finns in first, only a second ahead of Anna Konring Olesen of Denmark. Helen Winskill was 2 minutes behind the pack in ninth place.

Mistakes were rife on the shorter second leg, allowing the pack to regroup. Sarah Rollins increased British hopes, finding a place well within the pack and producing one of the faster times of the second leg. Riina Kuessolo of Finland lost the lead, dropping down into the pack in fourth, allowing Vroni Konig-Salmi to tear away into first position over the last section of the course, finishing 1.14 ahead of the chasing pack. Many thought the Swiss had it in the bag therefore when she handed over to Simone Niggli-Luder, six times World Champion, over a minute ahead of fellow runner Brigitte Gruniger and Swedish B team runner Annika Bilstam. Claire Ward maintained the 11th position set by Jenny Whitehead on the first leg.

However, Simone missed 2 controls after the marked route across the canal, and was confused by some of the open areas, letting Minna Kauppi of Finland, who had broken away from the pack into the lead by 20 seconds at the spectator control. Despite catching Minna again just after the spectator, Minna had a shorter gaffle on the final section and maintained her lead, bringing Finland home in first position. When interviewed by commentary Minna said she had very different gaffles to Simone throughout the course, and was very lucky to have the shorter gaffle over the last few controls, as physically she wasn’t feeling at her best, and the idea of a sprint with Simone was not one she was looking forward to! Simone brought Switzerland home in second, with an on form Emma Engstrand finally pulling up the Swedish A team to third. GBR A took a steady 7th place, with Heather having a few navigational problems on the final leg. Helen Bridle maintained the 11th place held throughout the competition by the B team.

The Men’s relay began fifteen minutes later, with three gruelling 9.7km courses facing the athletes. Finn Petteri Muukkonen, Danish B team runner Mikkel Lund and Slovakian Marian Davidik took the early lead at the spectator, with Dan Marston of GBR A in the chasing pack and Matthew Speake just off the back. The Finnish team maintained the early lead, with Muukonen coming in ten seconds ahead of Lund. Dan finished in 8th position, after having a somewhat confusing time out there, stating that the gaffling was very varied, both in switches and leg lengths, making it difficult to gauge your position in the pack. Overall he was pleased with his run, regaining a little time he lost earlier on in the course. Matt Speake came in alone in 13th, saying he felt he was unable to get that extra push today, a big change to his usual self!

The second leg again belonged to Finland, with relay legend Jarkko Huovila bringing them in just ahead of Frenchman Damien Renard, who had a fantastic run to make up a two minute deficit on Finland. It was all change for the Brits on second leg, with a spectacular run from Matt Crane leading him to overtake a tired looking Oli Johnson just before the spectator control. Matt pulled away from Oli on the final section, bringing the GBR B team up from 13th to 9th, to hand over to British Elite Sprint Champion Nick Barrable. Following Matt’s run he said it felt fantastic, feeling in control all the way. He found himself alone for the majority of the course but thinks this may have helped his focus. His only mistakes were small 10 second wobbles, and his hopes were high for the GBR team 2 scalping the A team.

It was all change on the last leg, with Mats Haldin suffering under the pressure and losing time to the chasing pack. Double World Champion Thierry Gueorgiou chased Haldin down, and was in the lead by 20 seconds at the spectator. It was behind Gueorgiou that the real race was hotting up, with Oystein Kvaal Osterbo of Norway A, Rene Rokkjaer of Denmark A, Daniel Hubmann of Switzerland A and Matthias Muller of the Swiss B team all in a pack with 5 seconds between them. The spectators crowded at the finish to watch France take their first World Relay Gold Medal, followed by an incredible sprint finish between Osterbo and Rokkjaer, with Osterbo pipping the Dane with around 75 metres to go. Nick Barrable had a “sweet” run to bring GBR B up another place to 8th position, with the A team struggling under the pressure to come in 11th. Another day of mixed fortunes therefore, seeing some of GBR’s more experienced athletes falter under the weight of expectation from a home competition.


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