Poland’s Anna Szafraniec won the Roc d’Azur on Saturday, the highlight of a day that also featured Olympic and world champion Julie Bresset in the Rando Roc Powerade. This special guest no doubt inspired the 1,000 children who raced in the Kid Roc. The event turns to the Elite Men category on Sunday, with the world’s best riders in the field.
The Roc d’Azur Dames seems to have a soft spot for Poles. Anna Szafraniec followed in the footsteps of her fellow countrywomen Maja Włoszczowska (winner of the two previous editions) and Aleksandra Dawidowicz (2009 champion) to take the 44 km race on Saturday. Fourth in 2007 and sixth in 2012, this time round 31-year-old Szafraniec finished 1’16’’ ahead of Russia’s Irina Kalentieva and Canada’s Catharine Pendrel, for whom it came down to a sprint.
The Polish rider who finished 17th in the World Championships and 11th in the European Championships hit the front from the get-go. Szafraniec took off with Austria’s Elisabeth Osl (winner of the Roc Dames in 2008, 2nd in 2010 and 3rd in 2006, 2007 and 2009) halfway through the race and later benefitted from her breakaway companion’s puncture to seize her maiden win in the Roc Dames with a time of 2h 06’13’’. “I’m obviously over the moon”, confided the 11th placed rider in the 2004 Olympics. “It’s a big surprise for me. It’s awesome. The race was tough but I love to come here.”
Canada’s Pendrel, who was making her debut in Fréjus but is no stranger to top-flight success (winner of the World Cup general classification in 2010 and 2012, 2011 World Champion and ninth in the last Summer Olympics), also had a wide grin on her face. “I’d heard a lot about the Roc d’Azur but I wasn’t really sure what to expect”, she said. “As for the race, I wasn’t very confident of my shape now that the season’s almost over. So I’m quite happy with my third place. Things went better than expected. Osl went off like a rocket and we had to stick to her wheel. The atmosphere was wicked! You see lots of riders and the village is huge. I really want to come back with my entire team so that they can also enjoy this.”
After finishing ninth last year, sixth in 2008 and fifth in 2003, 34-year-old Sabrina Enaux posted her best performance so far in the Roc Dames, finishing fourth and best French rider. “I felt good from the beginning”, explained the member of the 53rd Signal Regiment, stationed at Lunéville. I was a bit scared of being off the pace, as it sometimes happens, but I maintained a strong pace. It was also my first time on a 29-inch bicycle and it was perfect. I had a great time. Like always at the Roc d’Azur. The course is different from anything we see the rest of the year, and it’s a pleasure to mingle with all the families of mountain bikers.” It is also worth noting the Top 10 places of Fanny Bourdon (7th), Hélène Marcouryre (9th after finishing second in yesterday’s Roc Marathon) and Marine Eon, 10th overall and 2nd in the Espoirs category behind Austria’s Lisa Mitterbauer.
1. Anna Szafraniec (POL), 2 h 6’13’’
2. Irina Kalentieva (RUS), 2 h 07’29’’
3. Catharine Pendrel (CAN), 2 h 07’30’’
4. Sabrina Enaux (FRA), 2 h 11’10’’
5. Sarah Koba (SWI), 2 h 13’06’’
8. Lisa Mitterbauer (AUT), 2 h 16’24’’ (1st Espoirs)
The grand finale of the five-day Roc d’Azur looms. The world’s best will be on the start line of the Elite Roc d’Azur on Sunday, ready to race 56 km through Les Maures massif against the traditional backdrop of Le Fournel, Car Brûlé, Le Bougnon and the beach before making their way back to the Nature Base in Fréjus. Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser dreams of winning a third Roc to go with those he took in 2005 and 2006, after losing out by a hair’s breadth to Moritz Milatz last year. The German is also on the start list for tomorrow. Sauser displayed his form in Friday’s Roc Marathon by finishing hot on the heels of his teammate, Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavý. He had barely crossed the finish line when he started talking of his ambition to win Sunday’s Roc d’Azur. After finishing fifth last year and fourth in Friday’s Roc Marathon, Austria’s Alban Lakata is another rider worth keeping an eye on, just like Colombia’s Héctor Leonardo Páez-León. But the big favourites are without a shadow of doubt the Swiss Siblings, Lukas and Mathias Flückiger. The two brothers are in great form in the late season, including a second and third place in the Worlds, and they certainly dream of adding this “Classic” of MTB to their trophy cabinet. France is banking on Stéphane Tempier to repeat the exploit of Jean-Christophe Péraud, the last Frenchman to win the race in 2007.
An ovation. Then another. And then another. Everyone was clapping for her on the start line of the Rando Roc Powerade. All the anonymous riders in the peloton can now say that they raced alongside the best mountain biker in the world in 2012. With the Olympics and World Championships under her belt, Julie Bresset was the big name of ladies’ MTB this summer. She has raced at the Roc d’Azur since her junior years (“I stepped onto my first national podium here”), so there is no way she is going to miss the event in the Var. But her perspective has obviously changed. “When I used to come here, what I wanted was to get autographs and posters of my idols, such as Julien Absalon”, she explains clad in her gorgeous jersey with rainbow stripes on its sleeves. “This time round it was my turn to sign a lot of them. I like this. It makes people happy, so it’s great. Since I started to win, I’ve discovered a new world, with all these interviews with the media and appearances on TV sets, but I’m not going to change. I’m surrounded by great people and there’s no way I’m not going to remain a down-to-earth girl.”
As a guest of honour of the Roc d’Azur she greeted the Czech Men’s Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavý, winner of the Roc Marathon on Friday, but this time round Julie Bresset chose to take part in the Rando Roc Powerade, the longest of the Roc d’Azur at 52 km long and with 1,650 metres of altitude difference. “I was very relaxed and came to have fun”, she admitted. I also like to ride my MTB like this, because there’s more to this sport than just racing like crazy. And there were places where you could bring the hammer down on the descents and give it full gas when necessary. This season was an outstanding one for me, I couldn’t have dreamt of a better one. Now I’m going to wind down and make sure I’m fresh for the 2013 season.” But before she goes, Julie Bresset, acclaimed one last time by the crowds at the prize award ceremony, still had an important thing to do: greeting and congratulating the children who raced the Kid Roc. She is the new ambassador of this discipline, a role she relishes and an outstanding example to follow.
“If they are good enough, they are old enough”, or so the saying goes. At the Roc d’Azur it is obvious that they are also passionate enough. With their strap-on helmets and clad in often flashy clothes, the kids of the Roc also get to do like Mum and Dad and discover the pleasures of mountain biking on the Nature Base in Fréjus. Under the eyes of proud parents who were on occasion more nervous than their offspring, boys and girls took part in the race of their lives, sometimes with trainer wheels to prevent “incidents”. The race was 2.3 km long for the six- and seven-year-olds, 4.2 km for the eight- to ten-year-olds, 6.5 km for the eleven- and twelve-year-olds, and 8 km for the “big boys”, the thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds. More than 1,000 children in all took part in the Kid Roc, and most of them have probably fallen under the spell of the Roc d’Azur. If we are lucky, we may have seen a future Julie Bresset or Julien Absalon…
With Dad at the front and his son behind, Gilles and Miguel Fillaut took the 2012 Roc Tandem with a time of 2 h 10’09’’ over 44 km. After starting the race with caution, the Bretons pulled out all the stops towards the end to beat Belgians Mottet and Deguelle by 13 seconds and the La Naour-Jeannes duo by 30 seconds. “We were venturing into unexpected terrain because it was only our second competition”, said son Miguel, who at 23 years of age is already the Breton Elite MTB champion and Under-23 cyclo-cross champion. “It all started as a bet with my father. He’s 51 and this was probably one of the last times we could do this together. When you’re on the bike, you forget the father-son relationship. We’re just two competitors giving it our all. We don’t hesitate when we need to open the gas. And he gives me experience.”
Dad Gilles, a two-time winner of a Roc Tandem which attracted over 150 tandem bikes this time round, and three-time French champion in this speciality, was mighty proud of their team. “Winning with my son is amazing. I wanted to do it at least one more time. My son’s got a big engine and I’m the driver. I was careful because he’ll soon start the cyclo-cross season and I didn’t want to take risks and fall.” Ninth in the overall classification, Bérengère Boes and Jérémy Arnould won the mixed category.
Long rides in natural landscapes remain at the heart of mountain biking, but the sport has been able to conquer the urban environment too. Fréjus’ Roc Ruelles and Roquebrune-sur-Argens’ Roc Ruelles attract more and more fans every year. Throughout two 30-minute legs, a total of 70 duos took turns racing on Friday and Saturday in the heart of the two cities, trying to complete as many laps as possible. Thrills guaranteed when rushing down stairs and brushing past walls and urban furniture. Dubau and Martinez triumphed in the streets of Fréjus on Friday. Another great success was that of the Rando Roc with fancy dresses, a neat 20 km ride in the style of a Marathon du Médoc in which the 600 participants did more to flaunt the originality of their fancy dresses than to ride fast. Yet more proof, if any was needed, that jocularity, conviviality and a festive atmosphere are the keywords of the Roc d’Azur.
Here, the “traditional” MTB skinsuits, shorts and other pieces of apparel coexist with loose trousers and baseball caps. Because the Roc d’Azur brings all the families together, a choice programme awaits lovers of BMX, trial and dirt racing too. Yohan and Thomas Triboulat, top trial rider Simon Masi and Dirt specialist Maxime Peythieu, all of them part of the Freestyl’Air group that finished fifth in M6′s Incroyables talents programme in 2011, will keep the crowds in awe. “They are also great sportspeople with a very healthy lifestyle”, explains Phil Join-Lambert, who is responsible for getting the audience into the mood. We’ll soon travel around the world, including China and India.” The Street Trial is becoming more popular. The Roc’n'Ride dirt race has been a must-see for several years, with riders who carry out a variety of exploits and tricks on big ground modules 10 to 15 metres apart. Backflip, frontflip, 360°, and something in common for all riders: maximum effort. It is the same at the BMX Roc Contest, where technical skills are paramount.