Race Preview: Engadin World Inline Cup 2005
Last Year's Weakling (With Help from Saab-Salomon) Slays Goliath!
What a difference a year makes.
Last year, the formerly powerful Rollerblade World racing team could barely muster a fifth-place finish in the World Inline Cup.
This year, about two-thirds of the way into the season, the team has already collected 1013 more points than it did last year; and it leads the World Cup standings by 165 points.
The lead, though respectable, is not insurmountable. But nonetheless, it's a tribute to Rollerblade's management, which rather than giving up racing after its disappointing 2004 season, came up with a winning strategy for 2005.
Part of the strategy involved swallowing its pride and re-signing the great Colombian skater, Jorge Botero, who a year earlier abandoned the team for a spot on Bont International.
The move has paid off with Botero energizing the team by winning the first World Cup race of the season in Seoul and consistently finishing in the top-ten since then.
But perhaps the most brilliant component of the new Rollerblade strategy was to pack its team with "breakaway artists" -- like Alexis Contin and Shane Dobbin -- who use bursts of speed to get far ahead of the lead packs in races.
The strategy (helped considerably by Saab-Salomon's several breakaway artists) has taken the steam out of the Fila juggernaut.
Last year, with fewer breakaways to contend with, Fila International could count on having its two top skaters, Massimiliano Presti and Luca Saggiorato, within striking distance at the end of most races.
And that was all they needed.
Combined, the two won 16 medals last year: nine for Max (including three golds) and seven for Luca.
The Italian duo are still winning lots of field sprints this year. The only problem for Fila is that the field is more often than not arriving at the finish line some time after the breakaway artists have claimed all the medals.
In races without successful breakaways, Presti and Saggiorato have continued to exhibit their power. Between the two of them, they have won four gold medals (two apiece).
But overall, their medal count -- seven -- is down considerably from last year.
As a result, Fila, which dominated last year's World Cup -- (It finished nearly 800 points ahead of second-place Saab-Salomon) -- is now in second place with 1625 points.
There are still seven races to go, including tomorrow's Engadin World Inline Cup in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
So Fila still has a good chance of catching Rollerblade, which leads the rankings with 1790 points.
But at this point, there's no chance for Fila to reassert its dominance.
It appears that last year's loser (Rollerblade) -- (with help from Saab-Salomon) -- has slain last year's Goliath.
Copyright © 2006 by Robert Burnson