March 23/06 7:12 am - Commonwealth Games: MTB Report
Posted by Editoress on 03/23/06
Commonwealth Games Melbourne, Australia
Reports made possible by the support of MAXXIS tires
Canada and England dominated the mountain bike events at the Commonwealth Games yesterday, with the Canadians taking a gold and two bronze, and the Brits a gold and a silver. The only other nation to get on the podium was New Zealand with a silver in the women's race. This was the first cycling event at the Games where Australia was shut out.
There was no surprise here, with Marie-Helene Premont taking the lead less than a kilometre into the race and never relinquishing it. Premont and her team mate Kiara Bisaro rolled through the Rock Garden section on the first lap with a 15 second gap over Rosara Joseph (New Zealand), Dellys Starr (Australia) and Amy Hunt (England). At this point it looked like first and second places were decided, and all that was left was the battle for bronze.
Premont was comfortable in the lead, and steadily extended her time gap through the race, recording the fastest laps for every one of the six laps except the final one, when she slowed to savour the moment.
"It was a fast start; I couldn't get a gap until the second lap. Because it was so hot (plus-30 C) I started to get some stomach cramps on the second lap; my drink was too sweet. But i started to drink water and by the next lap (fourth) I was okay again. It is my first race this year, so I'm very happy with how my form is; you never know how you are going until you are racing."
Premont's biggest obstacle to the win may have been the kangaroo she encountered: "I was surprised to see a kangaroo jump out in front of me. So I was a bit insecure after that, but it was ok. I hope someone gets a good picture of it!"
Behind Premont a battle was developing for the silver. While Bisaro had opened a gap on Joseph, the Kiwi didn't give up. For the first two laps Bisaro had the second fastest splits (behind Premont), but slowed in the third, when Joseph seemed to really get rolling. Joseph caught the Canadian on the next lap, putting 15 seconds on her in that lap, 47 in the next, and 40 seconds in the final lap, when she recorded a faster lap split than Premont.
The result wasn't as big a surprise as might be expected, since Joseph had beaten Bisaro three weeks earlier at the Oceania championship in Rotorua, signalling her fitness for the Games. Bisaro struggled in the heat, and admitted that she did not have the form Joseph was showing.
"I really enjoyed the course, even though I usually like it more technical. My 'battle' with Rosaro was not much of a battle at all! I saw her coming up on the third lap and that was when I was really feeling the heat. She just came right past me. I tried to stay with her, but she was too strong."
Unlike the women's race, there was no clear favourite for the men, with six riders all having the palmares to be on the podium. England's Liam Killeen and Oli Beckingsale, Canada's Geoff Kabush and Seamus McGrath, New Zealand's Kashi Leuchs and Australian Sid Taberlay are all experienced World Cup pros who have been on the podium at the highest level of competition. In the end it would prove to be Killeen and Beckingsale on the top steps, with McGrath taking bronze.
While Geoff Kabush was the fovourite on paper, after a dominating performance at the Oceania championships, on Wednesday (the day before the race) Kabush gave a hint that he may not be in the mix, reporting that he hadn't felt 'on' all week.
This proved to be prescient, as the Canadian national champion managed to stay with the leaders for half of the first lap before starting to go backwards through the field. He would eventually finish 11th, and was despondent at the finish. "I don't know what's wrong, I just don't know. I've had a headache all week and just haven't felt good, but can't figure out what it is. I tried to fake it, but even in the start loop I wasn't there."
This looked to put the English duo in charge, but Australia's Chris Jongewaard went on the attack early in the eight lap race, opening up a gap by the end of the start loop. By the end of the first laphe was nearly a minute up, and his lead would climb to a maximum of 91 seconds by the end of third lap.
While this may have seemed an enormous lead, the experienced pros behind weren't too worried. They knew it was a long race under hot conditions. Killeen had a few concerns: "For a few moments there in the first laps I got a little concerned; the gap wasn't decreasing as much as I would have liked, but then it started to finally come down. In the middle the heat started to get to me a bit as well, so I had to back off for a bit, but it wasn't a problem - I had a lot in the tank at the end."
With Kabush gone, it was down to five chasers - Killeen, Beckingsale, Leuchs, Taberlay and McGrath. Taberlay had his team mate up the trail, so he was sitting in, and Leuchs appeared to be struggling a bit, so the riders doing the work in the chase were primarily the two Brits. Beckingsale looked particularly strong, and was probably the rider who did the most work all race. If it hadn't been for an unfortunate mechanical that cost him extra effort, the top two spots might have been reversed.
"At the end of the sixth lap my front mechanism (derailleur) was banging on the crank - coming out of the berms there is a log we have to dodge before going on a boardwalk and I hit it. I had to drop back and shove it over and then chase back. It could have been a lot worse; I was really worried that it would take me out of the race."
McGrath, isolated with the two Brits, had been waiting for such an opportunity. "I saw Oli was having problems, so I attacked there. Liam was the only guy able to go with me, and we started to make up ground on (Jongewaard) pretty fast then. I don't know where Oli came from, he came up pretty quick. They (Brits) rode awesome."
McGrath knew going in that it was going to be a race of attrition and was waiting for the right moment. "For sure, with both Liam and Oli there I knew that I had to sit back, let them do the work and wait for the moment. When we caught the Aussie I just sat on and let them set the pace. But Liam put in a big attack on the last climb and I was behind Oli (in third), so there was nowhere to go. But there wasn't much left in the legs either, so I knew that all I could do was ride it home for the bronze."
It looked in the final lap like the two English riders were starting to attack each other, but at that point it was every man for himself.
"There was only two points in the race where you could attack" explained Killeen "and make people hurt. We were just riding our own race. We were the strongest two riders in the race, so when it comes down to the last lap you just have to ride for the win."
Killeen rates this victory his finest result, above his silver at the Espoir world championships. "This goes to the top."
- With Kabush under the weather we asked McGrath whether there had been any discussion about him replacing Kabush in the road race. "We haven't talked about it, and I'm supposed to be flying out tomorrow (ie, today), but we can maybe talk about it at dinner tonight. But, for me it is probably better to go home, and rest before heading to Curacao (the World Cup opener on April 1st)."
We have since spoken with Team Manager Sean O'Donnell, who said "Seamus is on his way to the airport right now, so no, he won't be doing the road race. The plan all along has been Geoff, so we are going to stick with that."