Just over two months ago, Martina Berta (Santa Cruz-FSA) suffered a severe crash during a pre-race training in Capoliveri, resulting in a vertebral column fracture. With that in mind, to see the 24-year-old from Valle d’Aosta winning La Thuile MTB Race among Open Women in great fashion was even more impressive.
The Italian rider made a clear difference in the second half of the race. American Haley Batten (Specialized Factory Racing) was the first to accelerate out of the gate, opening a 20-second gap on the closest chasers, World Champion Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing), Berta and Internazionali d’Italia Series GC leader Giada Specia (Trek-Pirelli).
Already in the second lap, though, Berta and Specia got back in Batten’s wake, whilst Richards had to concede some ground to her opponents.
Lap 3 was when Berta started pushing hard, making the best of her power and technical prowess on the steep climb and technical descents of the 4,5 km loop in La Thuile. Her margin on Specia extended to 18 seconds in that lap, and was nearly a minute at the end of the fifth of six laps, while Batten was rejoined by Giorgia Marchet (Trinx Factory Team) and Greta Seiwald (Santa Cruz-FSA).
The final lap had more sparkle in store. Berta secured to take home a very emotional win, ending 32 seconds ahead of Giada Specia, who sealed an awesome Internazionali d’Italia Series season with the overall victory in both the Open and Under 23 Women’s categories. With an impressive late charge, World Champion Evie Richards secured third place at 50 seconds, ahead Haley Batten and Giorgia Marchet.
“This victory means so much to me, after what I have been through,” Berta said afterward. “I was eager to test myself in an XC race and see how my body would react, and today it all panned out really well, on a course on which I always had some troubles in the past. It was a great race, and an amazing feeling winning on homeland: I dedicate it to all those who stood by me in this tough time, starting with physio Michele Ricci and my trainer Andrea Tiberi.”
Giada Specia also voiced her satisfaction: “It was a great season so far. Changing teams has brought some new impulse and motivation, and I really managed to prepare myself well throughout this first part of the year, and consistency was a result of that. I am happy to have achieved the goal of winning the overall, hope it will give me a boost towards the next ones to pursue, starting with next week’s European Championships.”
World Champion Evie Richards was all smiles too at the finish: “It was my first race in a few weeks, I really wasn’t sure what I could have done today, and actually the feelings exceeded my expectations. For the first time in the race this year I didn’t have so much back pain, in the final lap I saw that I could still push, and I dug deep. I am happy, it’s a step in a good direction, and I love racing here all the times. “
The Junior Women’s race, also valid as UCI Junior Series stage 12, was won by Kathrin Embacher (Austrian National Team), with a big 1.54 gap on Ukraine’s Mariia Sukhopalova (Carbonhubo Cmq) and 2.20 on Italian Lucrezia Braida (Team Rudy Project). Sixth place was enough for Valentina Corvi (Trinx Factory Team) to defend her overall lead and celebrate the Internazionali d’Italia Series’ crown among Junior Women.