July 22/07 4:46 am - National MTB Championships XC report
Posted by Editoress on 07/22/07
National MTB Championships XC Mount Washington, BC
Coverage sponsored by Maxxis
There were no surprises at the Canadian Mountain Bike Nationals on Saturday, as Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) took their fifth and third consecutive national titles respectively in the Elite cross-country races at Mount Washington on Vancouver Island. Neal Kindree (Kona-Les Gets) repeated as the men's U23 champion, while Emily Batty (Team R.A.C.E.) showed that she has made a successful transition from the Junior ranks by taking the women's U23 title.
The constant rain which has drenched the mountain all week did not back off for the cross-country races, making it a very cold, slippery and muddy slog for the riders. Fortunately, the well-designed course drained well, and (at least for the men) pretty much the entire course was rideable.
"The conditions weren't as bad as it looked, because almost everything on the course was rideable," explained Geoff Kabush "But physically it was a very tough race. You needed full power on the steep climbs, and traction would slip if you weren't careful."
For the less powerful women it was a different story, as nearly all had to get off and push up the steepest sections of the main climb. "It was hard on the legs to push up the hill, and to carry the bike over the muddy pieces; I am not a cyclo-crosser!" commented Premont.
The 6.4 kilometre circuit sent the riders almost immediately up the main climb, which was broken into the two sections separated by a boggy traverse through the woods. The first section was the most difficult because of the thick mud at the top. Over the top of the climb it was a traverse in and out of the woods with short technical sections to break up a rider's rhythm, and then a fast descent to the alpine meadow at the end of the course.
Heading back, the riders did a longer single track descent - fun but easy to make a mistake with a moments inattention, then a brief climb to the second feedzone and another short drop to the final single track climb. Over the top of that climb there was a rock garden and then a final slog through another boggy section before the finish.
The conditions led to an alternate rain route being used just before the finish to cut out an almost impassable portion of mud trail, and saw the women's race shortened to four laps from five, and the men's from six to five laps.
The women's race began as expected, with Premont out in front, followed by recent Pan Am Games gold medalist Catharine Pendrel (Norco) and local favourite Kiara Bisaro (Opus). At the start of the alpine meadow section the gap was only 20 seconds between Premont and Pendrel - much less than expected - but up to 40 seconds as the riders left the meadow, with Bisaro, Melanie McQuaid (BMC-Natures Path) and Wendy Simms (Kona-Les Gets) joining Pendrel.
"I made a couple of mistakes and went down once in the meadow" Pendrel explained, while Premont said "The first climb, when I had to get off and run was hard for me, and Catharine was fast on the first lap, while I was being careful in the technical sections."
Premont soon found her rhythm, however, and rode away for an almost five minute winning margin over Pendrel. The chase group soon came apart, when Pendrel pulled away on the climb to the second feedzone on the first lap, and saw Pendrel and Bisaro establish themselves in second and third spot.
Behind, there was a battle going on for fourth, with recent Canada Cup series winner Amanda Sin (3 Rox Racing) overtaking McQuaid and Simms to finish fourth, while Simms managed to narrowly beat McQuaid for fifth place.
The men's race saw Rocky Mountain-Haywood's Max Plaxton deciding to race with the Elites rather than in the U23 category, where he had an almost certain victory.
"I just need to step it up" explained Plaxton. "You can learn a lot more about what you can do by being at the front of the race."
Kabush set a fast pace up the first climb, opening a small gap on Plaxton and Seamus McGrath (Rocky Mountain-Haywood), but by the halfway point in the lap the three were together and pulling away from chasers Derek Zandstra (3 Rox Racing-Scott), Kris Sneddon (Kona-Les Gets) and Mat Toulouse (Maxxis).
The three leaders stayed together until a lap and a half to go, when McGrath faded abruptly after trying to get away from the other two on the climb. He would eventually be caught by Zandstra, the Canada Cup series champion, and finish fourth.
"It was an okay ride for me" McGrath shrugged afterwards. "I'm still working back to my full fitness after whatever I caught in the spring (after the Pan Am Championships) laid me low."
Kabush and Plaxton looked to be pretty even, with Plaxton having the possible psychological advantage of having beaten Kabush on the same circuit the year previously at a Canada Cup race. But Kabush was just playing it cool, riding his own race, and eventually his superior power showed.
"I just tried to ride smooth all race and have a little left in the tank for the final lap push. The first three laps we were riding together, I wasn't sure how it would work out. I felt in control, but I just didn't know how well the others were riding. I was a little worried when Seamus made his move on the fourth lap, and Max was riding really well, but I could tell that I was putting him on the limit on the climbs."
When Kabush did drop Plaxton on the final lap, it wasn't an attack, it was just more of his relentless, consistent pacemaking. "I wasn't trying to force an advantage, just be smooth and ride my own tempo, but I opened up a gap there (on the climb), and just kept it going on the last single track climb where I think I was stronger."
Plaxton agreed "It was so slow on the climbs that the extra little bit of power he had added up. The course suited me well, and I think the win was very possible, but I just didn't have the power to match him on the climb. One day I'll win it."
- Kiara Bisaro is still very much feeling the effects of the serious crash she was involved in at the Mont Ste Anne World Cup almost a month ago. One way to tell was by the effort she made to ride sections that other riders were running. "I had to ride because when I got off my bike my back would start to spasm - my back just isn't good." she explained. "I had high hopes that everything would be fine, but it would spasm all the time, especially when running, so I rode as much as possible."
- Kindree and Raphael Gagne (Quebec/Rocky Mountain-Haywood) had a battle for the U23 title for the first three laps of the race before Kindree finally pulled away on lap four. Despite starting two minutes behind the elite riders, the pair caught all but the first nine elite racers, and their times would have put them in seventh and ninth places respectively in the elite race. Batty led the U23 women's race from start to finish, ending up just over four minutes in front of Neal Kindree's sister Meghan (Team Squamish). Batty's time would have been good enough for 13th in the elite field.
- Marie-Helene Premont confirmed that she intends to quit racing after the Olympics next year. "Yes, it is my serious thought to do that (retire). I want to do something else; I want to have a family. I'll be 30 then, and it will be time for something different."
- In the Junior races, Jeff Clarkson (Team BC) managed to drop Team Quebec rivals Francis Morin and Jonathan Boucher at the halfway point in their four lap race to solo in for victory, and assure himself a spot on the Worlds team. Andreanne Pichette was the clear leader in the Junior women's three lap event, riding (pushing her bike) away from the rest of the field on the first climb to win by two minutes over team mate Stephanie Lacoursiere, who finished 11 seconds in front of late charging Bianca Adolf (Team BC).
- A special thanks to the race organizer and Mt Washington Resort for their help making this coverage possible
- And last but not least - Special Thanks to Claire Bonin for her extra ordinary efficient efforts.