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11. Oktober 2013, 22:45

SHAKING OFF THE BLUES AT THE ROC D'AZUR

The bright, blue skies and fabulous weather heralded a day of intense racing at the Roc d'Azur, with the victories of Austria's Alban Lakata and Britain's Sally Bigham in the Roc Marathon Mondovélo as the highlights. Foto Roc Marathon (c) ASO / P. Ballet.

Nice, 11.10.13 Red. (mk)

Roc Marathon © ASO / P. Ballet - Coureur Alban Lakata.

The start line of the Roc Marathon Mondovélo is abuzz with people speaking in German, English, Dutch, Italian... and, sometimes, even French. However, when evoking the Roc d'Azur, everyone speaks the same language. And a certain word pops up again and again: "fun". There is no doubt that the 2,000 riders on the start line of the Roc Marathon Mondovélo, the main course on today's menu, had lots of it. "The Roc is a legend", chirped Michael Tauziet from Alsace. "This is one of those races you've got to do at least once in your life." Thierry Jacqui from Burgundy hopes not to be completely out of breath when he has to blow out the candles on his 50th birthday cake... on Thursday. "The Roc d'Azur is unique", he explained. "It's the eighth time I take part, including two starts in the tandem category, but this will be the first time that I race the Roc Marathon. A fitting way to celebrate my birthday. I'm a bit wary because after 50 or 60 kilometres, it's all uncharted waters for me. The Col du Bougnon will be a good test... I'm a bit nervous, but that's why we're here. For the challenge. We may well end up celebrating before my birthday tomorrow… If we're still in good condition this evening, that is!"

While top dogs such as Austria's Alban Lakata, the big winner of the day, cleared the course in under four hours, some of the less well-known riders spent more than seven or eight hours riding through Les Maures massif. From the first to the last, they were all delighted to have taken part in a race unlike any other.



ROC MARATHON MONDOVÉLO: Lakata and Bigham come out on top
A European champion and WC runner-up, a world champion and an Olympic champion: this is what the podium of the 2013 Roc Marathon Mondovélo looked like. A distinguished podium for a race which attracted over 2,000 riders to its 83 km course.

The winner of the 2010 Roc d'Azur, Austrian Alban Lakata, sprinted to victory after 3 h 43′03″. Lakata, crowned European champion in Germany last May, spent the entire race at the front. Only a minor fall with about 15 km to go dampened his firepower.

There were still five men at the front on the Col du Valdingarde, just after the midpoint of the race: Lakata had company in the shape of Germany's Moritz Milatz, Switzerland's Christoph Sauser and Martin Fanger, and the Czech Olympic champion, Jaroslav Kulhavý. The 2012 Marathon world champion, Greek Ilias Periklis, was one minute behind them, with Germans Jochen Kass and Robert Mennen and Italian Tony Longo over two minutes back. Fanger was the first to crack in the lead group. 2011 Roc d'Azur winner Milatz also had to let go a few kilometres later. Defending champion Kulhavý managed to open a small gap, but Lakata dug deep and managed to get back onto his wheel. 37-year-old Sauser, who won the Marathon WC in late June and has two Rocs d'Azur (2005 and 2006) and a Roc Marathon (2011) under his belt, also gave it a go. In vain. Lakata was easily the strongest at the Fréjus nature base. Thomas Dietsch, winner of the fourth stage of the Marathon Series in Langkawi (Malaysia) last September, was the best-placed Frenchman but was well off the pace (24th, 32′39″ behind Lakata).

In the ladies' category, Brit Sally Bigham was once again in a league of her own. She took her fourth win in a row at the Roc Marathon, beating French rider Hélène Marcouyre into second place like last year. So far, Marcouyre has been the runner-up twice in the Roc d'Azur and three times in the Roc Marathon). Belgian champion Alice Pirard took the bottom step of the podium.

Alban Lakata (AUT, 1st with a time of 3 h 43′03″): "I had a very good day. My legs felt good from the get-go. I really had a whale of a time. I'd already won the Roc d'Azur in 2010, and adding a win in the Marathon to that is just unbelievable. By beating the world champion, no less! I got a bit scared on a descent where I fell, but I only lost 100 metres and quickly got back on. Winning the Marathon is a great feeling. I've been coming here for almost ten years. All mountain bikers see the Roc d'Azur as quite a big thing. It's one of the major races which everyone wants to have on their trophy list. We spend the entire race going all out. It's a magical place to finish the season. The course is excellent, the weather's always nice and the atmosphere is terrific. It really is my favourite place. We'll see about the Roc d'Azur on Sunday. From past experience, if you're riding well on Friday, you'll also do well on Sunday. I hope to climb onto the podium. I won't have any pressure on my shoulders, so I can smile."

Jaroslav Kulhavý (CZE, 2nd with a time of 3 h 43′07″): "I'm happy with this second place. It was a beautiful and very technical race. I have a blast here every year. It's fun, and that's important in sport. But Alban was too strong today, especially on flat sections. He rode back to me alone in the last few kilometres and, at the end, I couldn't do anything. To make matters worse, I was a bit sick last week, and I'm still a bit tired. I'll wait until Saturday before deciding whether I'll race the Roc d'Azur on Sunday."

Christoph Sauser (SUI, 3rd with a time of 3 h 43′10″): "Alban really was the strongest rider. I tried to attack towards the end, when we caught Kulhavý, but I was out of gas. The Marathon has changed a lot. Nowadays, we almost go faster in the marathon than in cross-county racing a few years ago. We'll see about the Roc d'Azur on Sunday. I usually feel better on Sunday than on Friday, but right now I'm knackered."

Sally Bigham (GBR, 1st in the ladies' category with a time of 4 h 41′07″): "It's been a long season, so I came here to have fun. I really enjoyed myself and, with this fourth victory, I'm in my element here. The course changed a bit and was improved. I was a bit surprised, since I rode the old course two days ago. It was also my first race on a 29er and a full-suspension bicycle, something I'm certainly not used to. But now it's holiday time. Off the MTB and into a bikini!"

Hélène Marcouyre (FRA, 2nd in the ladies' category with a time of 4 h 57′56″): "I've been tired for several weeks, so I wondered what I had got myself into by signing up for both the Roc Marathon and the Ladies' Roc. Things turned out quite well, in the end. I had a great time. I've been coming here since 1995 and I just can't imagine finishing a season without coming to the Roc."

Thomas Dietsch (FRA, 24th overall and 1st Frenchman, with a time of 4 h 05′42″): "I got back from Malaysia on Monday after a 30-hour trip and, today, I was simply out of gas. It was first and foremost a struggle against myself. I finished with an average of 143 bpm, which is ridiculous. The end of the season is too long and this was perhaps one race too many. But it's important to be at the Roc and show off the French champion's jersey. I still have lots of fun, but at the age of 39, it's time for me to plan ahead and think of developing bicycles with my Bulls brand."



Alain Prost develops a taste for the race
Four-time Formula 1 champion Alain Prost, probably the rider who signed the most autographs and posed for the most photographs at the start area of the Roc Marathon Mondovélo, still had a smile on his face while he chatted with volunteers, spectators and other competitors just after crossing the finish line. The 58-year-old former driver followed up on last year's exploit by finishing 374th out of more than 2,000 participants, with a time of 5 h 43′. "I was a tad weaker than last year", reflected the champion. "The course changed a bit and had more technical descents. Unfortunately, this isn't my strong suit. I've only done mountain biking for two years, so I'm a joke when it comes to descending. I'm nervous and scared of getting hurt, but it's even trickier if you're not relaxed. Sometimes, I even prefer to get off my bike. But my only objective was to enjoy myself. Efforts like these lie halfway between masochism and fun. It's a challenge, and that's what motivates you. Moreover, these mass events are great because you get to mingle with people. They know I ride my bike a lot, and it's nice to hear lots of people cheering me on throughout the race."



MID ROC: A Belgian affair
Belgian Samuel Maryns posted a time of 2 h 13′41″) to win the Mid Roc, a 44 race with an elevation gain of 1,250 m. He beat Frenchman Romain Massas by 1′51″) and Loïc Maryns by 2′14″.

A very special Saturday
Roc Tandem, Maxima Roc Down in Sainte-Maxime, Rando Roc Noire Powerade, Kid Roc, and Roc Ruelles in Roquebrune-sur-Argens: the Roc will wake to a busy schedule on Saturday. The Ladies' Roc d'Azur Dames will see a battle to succeed Poland's Anna Szafraniec, last year's winner of a race which has acquired a strong Polish flavour over the last four editions (Aleksandra Dawidowicz triumphed in 2009 and Maja Włoszczowska in 2010 and 2011). The last French rider to win the race, Maryline Salvetat, can hope to see a fellow countrywoman follow in her footsteps. Sabrina Enaux and Fanny Bourdon will certainly do their best. Olympic and two-time world champion Julie Bresset, on the other hand, will have to sit out the event due to an injury.

The spotlight will move onto the children in the afternoon. Future generations will discover the joys of the Roc d'Azur on courses ranging from 2.3 km (for mountain bikers on grass born from 2005 to 2007) to 8 km (born between 1999 and 2000). The atmosphere will be charged with emotions for the children... but even more so for their parents.

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Christophe Sauser (3em.)Roc Marathon © ASO / P. Ballet

Alain Prost Roc Marathon © ASO / P.Perreve

Winner : Alban Lakata Roc Marathon © ASO / P.Perreve

Roc Marathon © ASO / P. Ballet

Roc Marathon © ASO / P. Ballet

Roc Marathon © ASO / S.Boué

Sauser - Lakata - Khulavy Roc Marathon © ASO / P.Perreve