That was especially true for 33-year-old Swiss rider Konny Looser who won last year’s edition of the race. Going into the final stage of this year’s ŠKODA Titan Desert, he trailed Spaniard Francisco Herrero by only 3 seconds, the time he had lost on the first-stage sprint. But with just 3 km to go on the 76-km run from Erg Chebbi to the finish line at Maadid, Looser decided to make a bold move by leaving the marked trail and taking what he hoped would be a shortcut.
And so it proved to be. He made up 15 seconds on Herrero and won the race by the smallest winning margin ever, a measly 12 seconds. After the finish, Looser said his experience from last year’s race was instrumental in his victory. “I knew from last year that there was a detour near the finish line,” he explained. “I went for it and I didn’t know if Herrero would follow me or not. When I saw no one, I pressed on and did not look back. It was so hard I almost gave up a few times but you never want to give up.”
It was a brutal loss for Herrero who broke down at the finish when he realized that the race he had been leading from the start had just slipped out of his grasp. “I felt pressure all week,” he said, “but we controlled the race well and I was able to withstand all the attacks. I had the legs to beat Konny but I also knew that anything could happen.”
He admitted that the key to his loss was Looser’s last-minute move but he was at peace with himself. “I’m calm. I gave it my all. I will be back,” said the Spaniard, whose disappointment was mitigated somewhat by two partial personal victories and four victories by his Cannondale TB team over the six days – including the victory in that decisive final stage by his Spanish teammate Pablo Guerrero. Another Spaniard, 39-year-old Julen Zubero, came in third in the race, more than 7 minutes behind Herrero – which shows how much of a two-man race it was.
We should also note the excellent performances by several former WorldTour road race standouts. For example, Haimar Zubeldia finished 12th, more than 1 hour and 9 minutes behind the winner, Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel came in 15th, more than 15 minutes behind Zubeldia, and Manuel Beltrán finished 18th, 20 minutes farther down.
On the women’s side, the race was won by a cyclist who apparently does not know how to lose. The 41-year-old Spaniard Anna Ramírez has now won all four Titan Deserts in which she has participated, adding the 2022 victory to her wins in 2015, 2017 and 2019. She won the GC by nearly 6 minutes, an impressive margin.
The rider who finished behind Ramírez has a familiar name, Vera Looser. Vera and her husband Konny appear to want to make the ŠKODA Titan Desert a regular part of their family trophy case. For that, she may have to eventually beat Ramírez who now shares the record of most Titan Desert victories with the great Josep Betalú. A former double national road champion (in 2003 and 2014), Ramírez won three stages of this year’s ŠKODA Titan Desert. But she is not certain if she will race again next year. “I am so happy with this fourth win,” she said. It wasn’t that easy because I also had some bad luck. I don’t know if I’ll be back next year because I appear every year but it’s a race that is always special.“ Ramona Gabriel finished third, nearly one hour behind the winner.