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Posted by Editoress on 07/1/07
St-Félicien World Cup
Coverage sponsored by Maxxis, and Vélirium
, Men partone partone
It is becoming clear that there are two dominant riders in this year's cross country World Cup series - Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Irina Kalentyeva (Ergon-Topeak). Both won their respective men's and women's races at the fifth round in St-Felicien, Quebec on Sunday - the fourth win for Absalon and the third for Kalentyeva. Absalon has now mathematically won the men's series with one race remaining, while Kalentyeva increased her lead over Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Haywood), virtually assuring herself of the women's title.
St-Felicien is a new venue for the World Cup, and a very successful one, judging from the comments of riders. Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) called it "the best course of the year for the World Cup," and he was not alone. "This is wicked mountain biking" said Seamus McGrath (Rocky Mountain-Haywood), "it is one of the best races we have done."
Offering a mix of steep climbs and technical sections, the course required a rider to be totally focussed, very fit and a superb bike handler.
The women did one start loop and five laps of the 6.4 kilometre circuit, and the men one additional lap. The start loop proved to be surprisingly difficult, opening with a very steep climb that immediately blew apart the fields. A poor ride here left little chance to move up later.
The women's race for the top spot was down to two riders by the end of the first lap - Kalentyeva and Premont. Premont was the one pushing the pace for the first two laps - indeed, she set the fastest lap of the race in lap two - but Kalentyeva was biding her time, and moved to the front on the third lap. After that, she steadily pulled away - despite an enormous cheering section for Premont - to win by a minute even.
"I realized that when I got to the front with Marie-Helene, that she was not so good on this course. I went as hard as I could, and I got a gap, so I went even faster! But she was close, so it was only on the last lap that I began to feel safe."
Premont agreed that she was not riding with her usual verve. "I was making many little mistakes in the descents; she was just so fast there. So I tried to go faster, to make up time and I just made more mistakes. It is disappointing not to have a win here in Quebec, but she was just stronger today."
Behind, a real battle was developing for the remaining podium spots. Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher), Georgia Gould (Luna), Sabine Spitz (Ghost) and Ren Chengyuan (China) gradually coalesced into a chase group by lap three, but were nearly two minutes down on the leaders. Ren was dropped on the fourth lap and, despite multiple attacks by the two American riders (Koerber and Gould), Spitz proved to be the stronger and rode clear on the final lap to take third, followed by Koerber and Gould.
"I had a flat at the beginning of the second lap," explained Koerber "and I had to ride to the tech zone for six or seven minutes. After that, I had to ride as hard as I could just to get back up; I'm so happy to have made it back, because sometimes you never get back after a flat. But we had a battle going there. Georgia and I were doing mini attacks, but we couldn't get clear of Sabine. Then she got a little gap on the climbing in the start of the last lap, and that was it.
Following this chase group, Canada's newest mountain bike sensation, Catharine Pendrel (Norco), had worked her way up to seventh, and was close to challenging Ren for sixth on lap four when disaster struck: her left pedal fell off, the threads in the crank arm stripped. Pendrel had dropped to the 30's before she got rolling again, and finished a disappointing 30th. However, she served notice that she is now a legitimate podium threat for the world championships.
"It was very disappointing" said a tearful Pendrel immediately after the race. "I was feeling so good. I lost a bit on the start loop, but after that I was riding everything well and moving up. It happened on the fourth lap, the pedal just came off; I tried to screw it back on a few times, but it was totally stripped. I know I was there, and the podium was a possibility."
Kiara Bisaro (Opus) was disappointed with her 22nd position. But admits she is still recovering from the crash in the start loop at Mont Ste-Anne last weekend. She still has some neck "issues" and is looking forward to getting home for some proper recovery before Nationals.
The men's race took a lap longer to develop, but came down to the same script - two riders dropping the rest of the field and then battling for victory. Jose Hermida went to the front after the start loop, taking with him Balz Weber (Bikepark.ch). Absalon moved up to join Hermida on lap two as Weber faded, and the duo (gold and silver at the last Olympics) then rode away from the rest of the field.
The pair appeared to be near equal in strength, taking turns at the front on the climbs. It was still an open question as to who would win, when Hermida was hit with mechanical problems in the fifth lap.
"Just before the start of the last lap I could feel a problem in my chain, and then it broke after I was past the technical zone, so I had to stop and fix it." explained Hermida. "I was passed by a couple of guys and I had to re-pass them to get into second on the last lap. Before that last lap I was feeling really confident (for the win). But it was still a pretty nice race for me; it's a good result and having regular top results shows what type of rider I am, which is important to me. I think the champion always has extra power in the legs, and sometimes the luck too."
"I saw him stopped when I went by the feed zone, so I attacked." commented Absalon. "But I didn't realize he had such a problem until my manager told me on the radio that I had one minute. It is impossible to say who was stronger, we were very even I think. But the win is very good, now the World Cup is done and I can prepare for the world championships with no extra pressure."
Absalon was clear and putting distance on his rival, while Hermida blasted past the two riders who had passed him - Fredrik Kessiakof (Cannondale-Vredestein) and Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida) - to reclaim second place. Kessiakof and Näf took third and fourth, with Jakob Fuglsang (Cannondale-Vredestein) taking the final podium spot ahead of U23 world champion Nino Schurter (Swisspower).
Adam Craig (Giant) had his second consecutive World Cup top-10 with a tenth place finish, with Seamus McGrath (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) the only other North Americans to crack the top-20, in 18th and 20th places respectively.
"I'm happy that my shape is coming back" commented McGrath. "This ride wasn't that special, but I did what I could. I knew you had to have a good start, or you would get buried, but it was so hard. I'm just happy that my shape is coming back after a pretty bad start to the season, so anything like this is good. When you are at the bottom, you just have to remember that you can make it back."
Max Plaxton (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) was disappointed with 40th place, but was the fourth U23 to finish, and is fourth in the World Cup standings for U23 riders. "I definitely underestimated that start loop. I was caught in a storm while riding to the start, so my warmup was cut short, but no excuses, it was my fault. In the start I was going backwards (65th after lap one), but then I was able to settle into my rhythm and start picking up spots. I have to work on my starts."
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