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December 2/98 1:09 am - `Cross Nationals Story


Posted by Editor on 12/2/98
 

1998 `Cross Nationals - the story

At first glance, one might be forgiven for deciding the 1998 Canadian Cyclo-cross Nationals were a repeat of the year before. After all, Peter Wedge, Josh Hall and Chrissy Redden were once again winners (in the Elite Men, Espoir Men and Elite Women categories, respectively). One would be quite wrong. Yes, the three Nationals Champions did repeat, but the competition was up significantly, with the overall number contesting the championship nearly doubling from 1997 - making this the best attended `Cross championships ever.

Cyclo-cross is gaining momentum in Canada - particularly in Ontario - with many mountain bike racers discovering this 'cross-over sport'. The Nationals were held in Toronto, on and around a small ski hill at Centennial Park, very conveniently located a kilometre from the airport for the out-of-province riders. Unseasonably high temperatures all fall had led many to hope for a warm, dry Nationals. Of course, the Gods of Cyclo-cross could not allow that to happen - heavy, damp fog and a cold wind help set the appropriate tone.

Besides last year's champions, other prominent members of the Canadian cycling community put in an appearance, including Saturn pro Brian Walton and roadie turned mountain biker Sue Palmer (Haro). Walton caused the biggest speculation; although his `cross abilities were completely unknown, his formidable reputation caused concern. "My heart just sank", said defending champion Wedge (Mapei-Kona), upon discovering Walton's entry. "I was definitely worried about him."

It turned out that Wedge had little to worry about, as he put on an awesome display of skill and strength to ride completely away from the field. A mass start of Elite and Espoir men, and Elite women, saw a sprint for the front as the riders funnelled into a narrow single track section 300 metres from the line. Just over a minute later, a constant stream of riders came pouring out of the woods in single file to attack the first climb, and barricades. It was here that Wedge revealed his secret weapon - barrier hopping. Within two barricades, the New Brunswick rider had gained at least 5 metres on chasers by floating over the obstructions without even slowing down, while his rivals jumped off and on their bikes. The only other rider to stay with Wedge in the early going was defending espoir champion Josh Hall (Schwinn), who also managed to jump the barricades. "I had never done it before, but I saw Peter doing it during warmup, so I knew that I had to."

For three laps, the duo steadily increased their lead on the chasers, with Wedge gaining a little ground on Hall at each barrier. Then disaster struck for Hall, when he started crashing as he tried to clear the barricades. After the first crash he was caught by the chase group of Walton, Paul Spadaccini (Oryx), Bill Hurley (Oryx) and Jeff Hansen (Neworld). Subsequent crashes and fatigue from his earlier efforts dropped him off the back of this group, although he did hang on to win the Espoir category, ahead of Chris Hugenholtz (Kunstadt Sports) - who caught third place finisher Carter Hovey (Rocky Mtn Riders) a mere 100 metres from the line.

Up front, Wedge continued to cruise around the course, extending his lead on the chase group to over a minute, before backing off a notch in the final lap to finish 43 seconds ahead of second place. The chasers took turns attacking each other, trying to open up a gap, but for the first 8 laps (of 10), every effort was brought back within half a lap. It wasn't until Ontario-based Spadaccini started pushing the pace on the running climbs that the group began to splinter. Hansen was the first to go, then Walton and Hurley dropped off the pace, leaving Spadaccini in sole possession of second place. With a lap and a half to go, Walton attacked Hurley on the main running climb, dropping the mountain biker and moving 10 seconds clear. The finishing order was set: Wedge, Spadaccini, Walton, Hurley, Hall (who had caught and passed Hansen), and Hansen (5th Elite).

In the women's race, Redden (Ritchey) had no trouble, finishing nearly a full lap in front of second place Palmer (only in her second `cross race). "It started really fast, since we were with the men", said Redden. "I managed to get a gap on Sue in the pack, and just kept going hard. It was a lot faster than last year, and the big run up was very tough." Redden finished a very respectable 15th overall among the men.

In other categories, Charlie Gorman (Espoirs de Laval) improved greatly upon his 5th place last year to take the victory over Ben'J Thibeault (VW/TVA), who took his second consecutive silver medal. Gorman attributed his success to " lots more running training this year, and barrier work." Thibeault, who is a mountain biker (1997 Québec champion) said that not having a `cross bike probably slowed him down alot. "It is a lot more technical in Québec, so this fast course hurt me on a mountain bike." Dave dermot, the Veteran (A) champion was a repeat victor. He went to the front on the second lap and held on for a half minute victory over Colin Campbell (OGC-Fisher). "I was nervous that they would catch me on the run ups, but I was able to gain time on the descent - I just let the bike go."

Race Notes:

- This was Brian Walton's first cyclo-cross nationals. "I had to give it a go; I've been doing some of the local `cross races (in Maryland), but I'm not used to this high speed stuff. For my first go it wasn't too bad."

- Peter Wedge had no idea what to expect: "I've started back to school, and this was my first `cross race of the season. All I've been doing is some technical riding after school, in the dark."

- For the first time, there were no restrictions on the type of bike allowed, which probably helped contribute to the number of participants. However, the design of the course clearly favoured the lighter, faster `cross bike equipped riders.

 


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