Simon Stiebjahn and Urs Huber have caused a stir at the 2017 Ziener BIKE Festival Willingen wrapping up the long distance of the Rocky Mountain BIKE Marathon with a photo finish decision. After 130.04 km and 3,476 metres of climbing in the saddle it was the German to outsprint his Swiss Team Bulls teammate taking home the precious win in a time of 5:22.54,9.
Sascha Weber of Craft-Rocky Mountain, who had claimed a sensational Silver at the 2015 European Championships, rounded out the men’s podium as third with a deficit of 4:45 minutes (5:27.40,09).
Stiebjahn had been the most active racer in the field of favourites before in order to keep his chance for a top result at Europe’s flagship of mountain bike marathon racing which attracted about 1,800 participants today.
“I had to set a high pace right from the start as I knew that the marathon specialists would normally be stronger at the end. I wanted to hurt them so they would have problems in the end. This strategy worked out although I’m a little bit surprised about myself. I didn’t expect me to keep the pace that long,” said the 27-year-old after his first ever start in Willingen.
His performance was even more stunning as the constant up and down through the Upland region was even harder to survive due to the heavy rain falls the day before.
Being marked by the Cross Country-like route and the mud, Stiebjahn added: “I’m happy that I was able to win. It was great teamwork. That’s how it could go on after those disappointing first months of the season.”
Before, a group of eight had been leading together over the first 90 km. But when the half of them decided to end their chase through Northern Hesse earlier than expected turning onto the home stretch of the middle distance, a battle of three unfold at the front between team partners Stiebjahn and Huber as well as Weber giving it all they had on the last 40 kilometres via Musenberg, Titmaringhausen and Hoppernkopf.
With only ten kilometres left to go Stiebjahn attacked again in the penultimate climb passing the famous World Cup ski jump Muehlenkopfschanze and broke away.
The reigning Swiss Champion was the only one being able to close the gap again which meant the two went on for the last kilometres together with Huber finally entering the home stretch in first position.
But with Stiebjahn having the better sprint skills, the German crossed the line 14 hundreds of a second ahead of Huber who said:
“The most important thing is that one of our team won. When we were in front we were like ‘let’s go for a battle’. I had the better position but wasn’t able to go all in. And I don’t have the sprint skills Stiebi has so he deservedly won.”
Huber therefore had to settle for second for the third time in Willingen now after being the runner-up back in 2009 and 2010 already.
Elferink dominates women’s field in Willingen
On the women’s side of things, defending champion Hielke Elferink (NED) was able to keep hold to her Willingen title in style.
The Craft-Rocky Mountain athlete who had already won the European season opener at Lake Garda three weeks ago mastered the long distance in 6:50.21,84 hours therefore relegating 2013 winner Katrin Schwing (GER) of Katrin Schwing Trek Team to the second rank (7:02.51,94).