July 20/08 10:52 am - MTB National XC Championships: Report
Posted by Editoress on 07/20/08
MTB XC Nationals
Coverage brought to you with the assistance of Velirium
U17 and Junior men and women photos
U23 and Elite Women
U23 and Elite Men
Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) successfully defended their national cross-country titles on Saturday, with Premont winning her sixth consecutive title and Kabush his fourth. Neither Kabush nor Premont had an easy victory, winning by only a few seconds in each case.
The 5.1 kilometre course used much of the World Cup course from previous years. It was a shortened version of the circuit which will be used next weekend for the World Cup race. From the start, down by the Chateau Mont Ste Anne, the riders did a gravel road climb and then cut into the woods for a technical and rocky chute descent. After a traverse of the ski hill they dropped down for a few hundred metres before swinging around to make their second climb of the lap - the most sustained climb of the lap at over 500 metres long.
From here it was another descent and then a third climb to the highest point of the course. After a long, fairly open descent, the riders headed out to the far end of the course, which is new trail (but in the same place as the previous circuit). This portion was technical, with lots of tight, twisty turns, roots, mud and rocks.
Given the rain the region has been receiving, it was very greasy in the wooded sections, and even though the weather did improve for race day, those wooded sections were slick and treacherous. Almost every rider went down at some point, with Premont crashing hard in the last lap.
Premont's wins have usually seen her ride off the front on the first lap and then time trial into the finish, however, this year Catharine Pendrel (Luna) has been inching closer to Premont at the World Cups and led her at the Worlds for a few laps. Could this be the year that a new national champion was crowned?
On the first lap of the five lap race it appeared that Premont was off to her usual start, but by the start of the second lap, it was Pendrel in front with an almost minute lead. Premont, it turned out was having problems with the remote lockout on her front shock (a prototype Fox), and had no suspension.
"It was a big problem," she explained "at Mont Ste Anne you really need suspension and I had to be careful on all the descents not to fall."
After two stops in the tech zone, team manager Peter Vallance solved the problem by cutting the cable to the remote, making the fork fully active (but no lockout). Premont then caught and passed Pendrel on the fourth lap and was up to a minute lead before crashing heavily in the rocky chute descent after the first climb on the last lap, scrapping her chin and injuring her left wrist.
"I was able to catch Catharine and take a lead, but then on the last lap I crashed pretty hard in the downhill - I was going too fast, I think - and she was able to catch up to me again."
The pair battled through the remainder of the lap, with Premont finally gapping her 'heir apparent' at the far end of the course to win by a slim six second margin.
"It was pretty epic out there on the last lap," commented Pendrel. "We were neck and neck going up the climbs. But Marie-Helene gets stronger through the race usually, and her last lap is often her fastest, so I knew it would be hard to beat her. Going into the last technical section in the woods she is so strong and so fast that I just couldn't stay with her. But it was so close this time!"
Wendy Simms (Kona) took her first ever podium spot at a national championships after a steady and consistent ride in third place all day.
"I was with Marie-Helene for a while when she was chasing Catharine, and I thought about going with her, but then realized that I had to ride my own pace," explained Simms. "If I had gone with her I would have been able to sustain it and could have lost the podium spot."
Emily Batty (Trek Bike Store) took the U23 title, moving up to as high as eighth in the Elite field despite starting three minutes behind.
Kabush, who has ridden away from challengers to win in the past few years, could not shake Derek Zandstra (Team Ontario), and won by only one second after a last lap surge by Zandstra. Kabush went to the front on the first lap of the men's six lap race, but Zandstra was always within 30 seconds of the lead. Mat Toulouse (Maxxis) finished third, three minutes and 33 seconds behind the two leaders, his first national podium.
"I was pretty impressed with the way Derek was riding." acknowledged Kabush. "I was riding within myself, but he was pushing me, and there was no margin for error with him so close."
Kabush started to break clear on the first climb of the race, with Max Plaxton (Rocky Mountain) the only one able to respond to the initial move. Plaxton fell back to join a group of three other chasers=2 0- Toulouse, Zandstra and Andrew Watson (Team Ontario) - by the second lap. Marty Lazarski (Rocky Mountain) and Stefan Widmer (Rocky Mountain) both tried to jump onto the train, but couldn't quite get across.
With Kabush only 30 seconds in front, the group further splintered, with Zandstra moving to chase alone, followed a few seconds back by Plaxton, Watson and Toulouse, who initially looked to be fading. However, it was Plaxton who faded to finish fifth, and Toulouse rode back into third by mid race.
The front five were set, and by lap four the pace Kabush was setting was dropping everyone but Zandstra, who maintained that 20 to 30 second gap, and started to bring it down in the final lap.
"I was feeling good," said Zandstra "and I had enough left to push it on the final lap. I was attacking every climb, standing up everywhere I could, but I just ran out of race."
Raphael Gagne (Rocky Mountain) continues to show stellar form as he won the U23 title, moving up as high as sixth in the Elite field despite starting three minutes behind.
- Both Premont and Plaxton were riding a new all carbon Rocky Mountain frame that knocks a pound (454 grams) off the previous lightest hardtail from the company. The moulded frame is made in Taiwan, but designed in BC, with a proprietary Rocky Mountain mould.
Both riders said they like the bike, with Premont stating that she plans to race it at the MSA and Bromont World Cups, and in the Olympics. Plaxton, who said that he had had only two rides on it prior to racing, said that he needs to get some more time on the bike before he can really feel comfortable. "It's a great bike to ride, for sure, but the geometry is different from what I am used to, so it's going to take some time.
- BC riders swept the Junior races, with Evan Guthrie and Bianca Adolf riding away from their competition to each win their first national titles. Guthrie won despite a spectacular crash on the last lap that sent him tumbling off the course among the spectators.
One rider to watch is going to be Tyler Allison (Cycling BC). The Cadet rider finished third in the Junior race (riding up a category), despite racing on a broken wrist that was injured the previous week in training for the Downhill Nationals.