Posted by Editoress on 03/5/06
Oceania: Kabush Wins, Bisaro Third, Gracia Dominates 4X
Byron Dawson, a Canadian cycling enthusiast travelling in New Zealand, is providing coverage for us from the Oceania Mountain Bike Championships this weekend, in Rotorua. Normally, these championships would be open only to Oceania nations, however, Rotorua is the site of the 2006 Mountain Bike World Championships and this weekend is also being used as a test event for the Worlds. A number of pros are attending the event, including Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) and Kiara Bisaro (GearsRacing.com) - both of whom will continue on to Melbourne for the Commonwealth Games. Below is Byron's cross-country race report.
Photos by Byron Dawson
Many have predicted that the Elite Cross Country Races at this years Oceania Mountainbike Championships would provide an excellent preview of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and they were right. With the mountain bike races at the Games two weeks away, the top Commonwealth riders were eager to test themselves against the majority of their competitors.
Right from the gun of the Elite Men's and U23 six lap Cross Country Race Australian Christopher Jongewaard took a flyer. He was able to establish a 15 second gap by the beginning of the second lap. As he was brought back, Cyclones teammate Sid Taberlay launched a hard counter attack establishing a 45 second lead over New Zealander Kashi Leuchs and a minute ahead of Canuck champ Geoff Kabush by the end of the third lap. Geoff first passed Leuchs on the fourth lap before quickly reeling in a struggling Taberlay. On the fifth lap a comfortable and strong Kabush dropped Taberlay but had a charging Leuchs on his tail. The crowd however was not treated to a local champ as Kabush again put the power down to take the victory by over a minute ahead of Leuchs. A clearly disappointed Taberlay edged Jongewaard for third.
After the race I was able to catch up with the three top men and get their feelings on the course, which will be used for Worlds, and on the Commonwealth Games.
Geoff said "I felt good going into the race but you never know until you start racing. I felt strong for the entire race In first races of the year in the past I have started well then faded towards the end." Geoff said that Jongewaard is known for starting fast so he wasn't worried early on. When challenged by Leuchs on the fifth lap Geoff "put in a full effort" in order to open a gap and was pleased that it was successful.
Having beaten Leuchs today Geoff's top concern going into Melbourne will be Liam Killeen since, "he should do well on that sort of course." When asked about Scotsman Oliver Beckingsale who was ninth at Worlds last year Geoff said "Liam has been more consistent. Olli generally does well on high altitude courses." The word around the pits today from the Australians and Kiwis who have ridden the Melbourne course is that it is relatively flat with lots of gravel and a few rocky technical sections. Geoff said "its more my course" when comparing today's course to what he's heard of the Games track.
Kashi Leuchs, who this season returns to riding for Cannondale, was also not surprised by the Aussies going early "those two always race as teammates so it was something I expected." When they were attacking and countering he did struggle to maintain his pace and not give in to their tactics. Kashi was not surprised that Geoff was strong "looking back at his results he is always strong at the beginning of the season." He was, however, surprised how much stronger than himself Geoff was - "I felt like I was going well and when he went there was no way could go with him."
Echoing Geoff, Kashi said "this not my course...Melbourne suits me better." Beyond Geoff, Kashi points towards Oliver Beckingsale as a top contender for this years Commonwealth Games, pointing out that this year he has full support from Giant and recently won the opening round of the Cypress Cup in front of Bart Brentjens and others. Also, he said "you never know what the Ozzies will do."
Sid Taberlay enjoyed some strong World Cup performances last year and is Australia's top hope for the Commonwealth Games. About his early race aggression, he said "I was feeling good early, so I gave it a go." About his chances in at the Games he said that they are two weeks away and on a different course, inferring that today's race was not necessarily a true indicator of his form. Sid places Geoff as the top favorite going in to the Games. He also pointed towards Liam Killeen and Oliver Beckingsale as a potential dark horse.
New Zealander Rosara Joseph confirmed her status as a top Commonwealth contender, with a dominant victory in today's four lap Elite Women's Cross Country race. From the gun Joseph began riding away from the field. With each lap the gaps between her and her chasers increased as she easily sailed to victory. Fellow Kiwi, Annika Smail, who will not be riding at the Commonwealth Games, rode an impressive race holding off Kiara Bisaro for second. Kiara rode a consistent race in which thinks she felt stronger at the end to finish third. Another New Zealand games racer Robyn Wong placed fourth.
After the race Kiara had mixed reactions about her race "I can't say I felt good." The race felt "different" and certainly fast considering this was her first of the year. "I should be able to start as fast as any of those girls, my legs just don't have that super sharpness they need" she said. Kiara was not surprised by how strong the Kiwis were today, particularly Rosara who has ridden well here this winter. Kiara, like Geoff, was pleased to see that her strength did not fall off and in fact increased later in the race.
Last night Cedric Gracia easily cruised to victory in the "all comers" 4-Cross race, taking each heat by large margins. New Zealander John Kirkaldie won the official Oceania championship.
Note: Cedric is now riding for Commencal Bikes this year which is certainly a big blow to Cannondale as they had named their new downhill bike after him and were forced to scramble to change its name after the catalogues were printed.
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