Posted by Editoress on 07/23/17
On Saturday, the Canadian XCO Championships returned to Canmore, Alberta, for the first time in six years. Spectators were treated to extremely strong racing across all categories, with the premier Elite races for women and men not decided until the final half lap of competition. In the women's race, Emily Batty (Trek Factory) successfully defended her title, while the men's title went to Peter Disera (Norco Factory), an Under-23 rider who upset more experienced pros.
The Canmore Nordic Centre, site of the 1988 Olympic cross-country skiing events, remains as spectacular as ever, with a backdrop of the Kananaskis Country mountains leading into the Banff National Park.
The area has been spared the terrible forest fires ravaging the B.C. interior, and threats of smoke did not materialize. The circuit has been revised substantially from when the Championships were held in 2010 and 2011, reflecting the change to shorter courses at the World Cup and world championship level. The previous course measured 6.8 kilometres, while current circuit is four kilometres in length, looping back into the main finish bowl area multiple times.
The women's race was expected to be a showdown between Canada's two top riders - defending champion Batty and Catharine Pendrel (Clif Pro Team). Pendrel has two world titles and an Olympic bronze medal, but Batty has had stronger results on the World Cup circuit this season. The duo dropped the rest of the field in the first half lap, with Haley Smith (Norco Factory) racing alone in third behind them for the entire race.
Pendrel set the pace, with Batty content to follow her rival. In past match ups, Pendrel has dropped Batty with a surge later in the race, but not this year. Instead, it was Batty who attacked with half a lap to go, pulling away decisively to win by 49 seconds. Pendrel admitted afterwards that she could not follow when her rival attacked on a climb.
"It was not an easy race by any means," agreed Batty. "I rode my hardtail, and I was questioning a little bit whether that was the right choice because it is such a technical and bumpy course, but it was rocking up the climbs. Catharine didn't make it easy; the two of us set a really high pace right from the start. I found through the course of the race that I was feeling really good. I knew I was going to put an effort in on one of the climbs at some point, and I chose a spot where I felt strong and punched it."
The men's race had no clear favorite. Defending champion Derek Zandstra (Cannondale-3Rox) and his wife had their first child less than a month ago, and his form was clearly suffering. Leandre Bouchard (BH SR Suntour KMC) has been the most consistent on the World Cup circuit, while former champion Raphael Gagne (Cannondale-3Rox) had a good early season before struggling in May and June. Disera, although an Under-23 aged rider, has four top-10 finishes on the World Cup (U23) circuit this season, and decided to 'ride up' a category, in hopes of gaining valuable UCI ranking points with a top-5 result.
Disera attacked on the opening climb, with only Bouchard able to initially match him. Gagne bridged across on the second lap, and the two dropped Bouchard late in the fourth lap. From that point on, Disera and Gagne rode together, neither able to open a gap on the other. It looked like it was going to come down to a sprint finish, until Gagne made a mistake on one of the final descents, going down hard and leaving the door open for Disera to cruise in to the national title.
"My decision to race up stemmed from UCI points," explained Disera. "A top-5 [in Elite] would earn more points then winning Under-23. We decided as a team that I could mix it up with the Elites. I was a bit of a wild card, because none of the Elites had really raced me, so I just took the bull by the horns and gave 'er from the go."
"I felt really good and Dre [Bouchard] went with me. Coming into the second lap, Raph came out of nowhere, so there were three of us. Going into the last three laps I started throwing down attacks and Dre just fell off the back. I felt good and wanted to dictate the pace so I stayed at the front. I knew Raph was going to attack and I was able to follow and then get to the front before the descent. Unfortunately he had a little mishap, but I was ready for a sprint."
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