|Reports made possible with the support of Rocky Mountain Bicycles and Vélirium Mountain Bike Festival|
By Mike Badyk & Rob Jones
Much to the pleasure of the highly partisan home-town crowd, Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain Business Objects) passed Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (NOR - Multivan Merida Biking Team) on the last lap of the Women's five lap race to win the fifth round of the current World Cup season. This was Premont's second consecutive win here, and also her first World Cup victory of the season.
Premont took the early lead after the start loop, but was passed by Dahle-Flesjaa by the end of the first full lap. Dahle-Flesjaa rode hard to build a lead of 40 seconds over a chase group of Premont, Sabine Spitz (GER - Specialized Factory Racing) and Irina Kalentieva (RUS) by the third lap. However, as everyone else began to fade, Premont was getting stronger, dropping the other two by the fourth lap, and posting the fastest lap times for each of the three final laps..
Dahle-Flesja was philosophical about her second place. "It was a hard day right from the beginning. From the first pedal stroke to put it that way. I knew in the first 100 metres that I was lacking my top speed. The goal today was to be in the top 3 to defend my overall. I think I managed pretty well. After 4 weeks without racing its hard to tell how much you can go and how hard you can go. I've had a tough period of training and with a tough race like this you need to have a 110% motor to be able to win. If you don't have it you end up in third or fourth or fifth. These are the best girls in the world and the speed is incredible compared to 4 or 5 years ago. If you don't have that little extra to contend for the win then you have to be satisfied with your performance."
"Marie-Helene passed me on the long climb through the last lap. She was really fighting back and forth the whole race and I was on the limit. I believe she has an advantage today with all of the crowd cheering for her. That gives you something extra. I just had to concentrate on myself and try not to crash or destroy your bike. It didn't hurt as bad as last year. I think that's something I hope to never experience again (high temperatures and high humidity last year had her almost quit on the last lap)."
Premont crossed the line with a huge smile and was immediately swarmed by the Quebec press. Her final lap saw her pull away from Dahle-Flesjaa to win by nearly a minute. "I feel very good. Last year was the first time (win) but going back to back is very special. I'm very happy today. My strategy was to start as fast as I could at the beginning because I know Gunn-Rita is so strong at the start. I paid for that on the second lap. I pushed a little too hard. I had a good third lap and then I was feeling better and better. I attacked on the last lap where there are the zig-zags. I knew I was fast on that climb and then I would have less pressure after on the downhill. I gave everything I had to attack on that climb to get in front. People were telling me that Gunn-Rita was getting tired and that I was catching her. I knew I was faster on the fourth lap. I was being cautious on the downhills so that I wouldn't hurt my bike, but wherever I could pedal I went hard. The crowd was again incredible. People from Quebec make the best time you can have!"
Spitz hung on to take third after a bad crash, Kalentieva was fourth and Mary McConneloug (USA - Kenda Seven) claimed fifth. The German champion would be best described as looking shaken at the end of her ride. Although she didn't have any visible signs, a bad crash clearly had an effect on her performance. "I felt pretty good at the beginning and in the third lap I passed Marie-Helene and had about 10 seconds. Then in the first technical section after the downhill I had a big crash. I felt a compression on my spine below my neck. My pedaling rhythm was broken. The crash was in my head from then on. I tried to do my best after the crash. I'm fine now and I'm happy with the result. My gap behind Gunn-Rita and Marie-Helene wasn't that bad so I'm happy."
Kiara Bisaro was the second Canadian in 10th place, 8:30 in back of Premont. "It went really well today. I lost a couple of spots (she was as high as seventh) in the last lap due to a mechanical. Overall it was great. I didn't have a good start and I thought "oh oh!". My World Cups have been kind of up and down this year so I'm pleased with my finish today. The crowd was awesome. They were just going insane on the switch back hill. I want this at all my races!"
Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain Business Objects) led through the start loop, but dropped back to finish 14th. "I knew I wasn't going to be on the podium today so I decided to give Marie-Helene the best lead out I could in the start loop. Once that happened it hit me hard and it took me a couple of laps to recover. After that I just tried to ride steady at my own pace." Sydor also made some comments about the season and this World Cup course: "There seems to be a real gap between the top riders and the rest, but it's also this course. By the time you get into the technical part you're so cross-eyed from the climb....."
Mary McConneloug (Kenda Seven) rode strongly to finish fifth. "I knew it was going to be a fast start and that I wasn't going to be able to stay with the front runners. I paced myself and gradually moved up. In the last couple of laps I was more concerned with being caught from behind and losing my podium spot. The course is perfect. It had dried up really well. There are lots of technical stuff. It's a real mountain bike course. It would be fantastic to the 2008 World's here (the organizer had put in a bid). It would be a great place. The last time they had it here in '98 I was just starting to race so I didn't have a chance to compete."
Dahle-Flesjaa continues to hold a commanding lead in the World Cup, with 1100 points, but Premont has overtaken Spitz for second, with 855 points to 780.
The cross-country World Cup now goes into hiatus until September, with riders preparing for national championships in the next few weeks, followed by a long trip down to Rotorua, New Zealand for the World Championships in August.