As Martin Maes piloted it safely down the final, treacherous stage of the race, there was a collective sigh of relief from many. Through the sharp rocks of Men's DH he kept it tied and rolled down in 33rd. By then he had such a big lead that he just needed to make it through safely. Martin has been on the circuit so long that it is easy to forget that he is still only 19 years old. His victory this weekend is all the more impressive when you put his career into perspective.
At 15 years old he rolled up to Enduro of Nations in Sauze D'Oulx and embarrassed most of the senior field - he finished in fifth, if memory serves, against the world's best enduro racers at the time. That performance brought him to the attention of the Athertons and he was signed that winter to one of the biggest racing teams in the world. With that contract came expectation. He was the child phenom, expected to go on a win races. At just 16 it must have felt like the whole world was watching, waiting... Imagine growing up with all that pressure to perform. It is the kind of pressure that has broken more than a few promising riders, but not Martin. Throughout he has shown speed, then this year he added to consistency to that, until an injury at the Fort William put him on the sidelines for the mid-part of the season. His victory here in Finale Ligure is simply the jewel on an already impressive season. Those of us who follow the series have seen him grow up in front us and this weekend was a coming of age for him, although we need to be reminded every so often how young he still is.
There was also the matter of Richie Rude wrapping up his second consecutive title this weekend in fine fashion. He needed 36th to secure his title, he did his usual trick of over-delivering to fight his way up to second on Sunday, putting himself head and shoulder clear of the competition. And while we may harp on about how young Martin is, Richie is only a couple of years older too. Nico Lau rounded out the podium for the weekend - the old man of the group at a stately 27 years old...
In the women's race, Cecile Ravanel was once more supreme, chased by Isabeau Courdurier in second. Anita Gehrig tied up her third spot in the championship with a third here in Finale. In the under-21 race, Adrien Dailly was supreme and Seb Claquin had a tough weekend. While Dailly won every stage, Claquin struggled to find his pace and finished the weekend frustrated and off the podium. Fortunately for Claquin, his second in the championship was already safely tied up and it is going to be interesting to see how the pair fare in the senior competition next year. // UNDER 21 RACE // WOMEN'S RACE // MEN'S RACE // SERIES WINNERS
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