Italian Juri Ragnoli ruffled his international competition at the Protective BIKE Four Peaks on the opening stage of the four-day race. The racer of Team Scott mastered the course around Bad Kleinkirchheim (49.63km, 2,349m) in 2:29.54,1 hours and relegated defending champion Christoph Sauser (SUI) of Specialized Racing with an advantage of 4.43,1 minutes to the second rank (2:34.37,1). Uwe Hochenwarter (AUT) of Team Bikearena Obertraun rounded out the men’s podium as third (2:34.46,0).
But when the runner-up of the last Austrian cross country nationals crossed the finish line, the shooting star of the Italian marathon scene had already put on some long-sleeved clothes to keep him warm.
The 26-year-old lightweight had been able to break away from the field in the climb to the mountain station of the Kaiserburg gondola (10.83km, 985m) despite the high pace the top riders had been setting. Ragnoli was already some 20 second ahead of the pack once he topped out on the first climb.
Ragnoli has really only featured at Italian one-day events but also demonstrated some decent downhill skills at his first ever stage race. Exiting the MAXXIS Enduro Challenge for the ‘Speed Hero’ which he won in 6.30 minutes the Italian climbing specialist was already leading with 2:30 minutes over Sauser, with a field of 800 behind.
In the second ascent up to Kolmnock and the following descent over the famous women’s downhill slope of the FIS World Cup tour Ragnoli was able to extend his lead.
“It’s a great win for me. I hope that I can tie on to it over the course of the next days. I’m currently in a very good shape but I didn’t know where I stand compared to my international rivals. I noticed in the first climb that I can keep up with them,” said Ragnoli after his surprising coup.
However, the 26-year-old also knew that 2013 and 2014 Four Peaks winner Sauser had to deal with two broken ribs suffered just some ten days prior to the start: “I think the injury did limit him [Sauser].”
It’s been a statement which the multi-time world champion, who had worn the yellow jersey after the first stage of all the previous events, could easily confirm: “I knew that Ragnoli is super strong but I wasn’t as strong as I was the years before due to my painful injury. I definitely notice it in the climbs and the descents.”
But despite this set-back, Sauser, the 2000 Olympic bronze medallist, was still able to keep his optimistic focus on the race: “I hope that I will be able to recover well. I might not be on my normal level but we will see how he [Ragnoli] will perform over the course of the next days.”
While Sauser was a little bit disappointed third placed racer Uwe Hochenwarter was extremely pleased with his result at his Four Peaks debut: “This is an amazing kick-off. I never expected anything like this. Staying head to head with Christoph Sauser is a dream come true in my home country.”
Dutch racer clinches win in women’s category
Another Four Peaks novice was also able to live her dream. Sanne van Paassen (NED) of Specialized displayed a true fighting spirit in the second climb catching up and passing so far leading Angelika Tarzreiter (AUT) of SV Kuernberg thanks to an incredible attack.
In the end, the clock stopped for the Dutch racer at 3:24.03,3 hours equaling an advantage of 3.58,1 min over the second ranked athlete from Austria. “I started too fast as always, but I was able to recover pretty well in the first descent. The second climb did suit me a lot. I’m happy. The yellow jersey was my goal, and I’m keen to defend it now,” said van Paassen.
Cornelia Hug (SUI, 3:30.17,0) of Crazy Velo Shop Scott earned the third spot on the podium.
Austrians dominate senior categories
In the masters category for the 40+ aged men, Anton Warter (AUT, 2:0.55,8) came in first while his Rad.Sport.Szene Ausseerland team mate Heinz Zoerweg (AUT, 2:58.50,) clinched the grand masters category for the 50+ old men.
The Protective BIKE Four Peaks will continue tomorrow with the second stage which will lead over 91.05 km and 1,969 m in climbing from Bad Kleinkirchheim to Hermagor. The start is scheduled for 9 AM CET right next to the valley station of the Kaiserburg gondola.
All results are available online.