Posted by Editoress on 10/17/10
Day One of the Toronto International Cyclo-cross weekend opened with two first-time winners and gorgeous, unCross-like weather. Katy Curtis (CMC-Bow Cycle), a newcomer to the sport held off perennial favourite Natasha Elliott (Garneau-Club Chaussures) to take the women's victory, while U.S.-based Italian pro Davide Frattini (Hudz-Subaru) beat Elliott's partner Derrick St-John (Garneau-Club Chaussures) for the men's title.
The race organizers had made significant changes to the traditional circuit at Centennial Park, just south of Toronto Airport. In past years, the weekend usually had one race that made heavy use of the ski hill, and one that used the ravine west of the hill. For 2010, neither was used to much extent.
The first day circuit took the riders along the lower slopes of the hill, with all rideable climbing, except for one uphill barricade. From there, they skirted the edge of the ravine, hit a couple of small rollers and then a long flat stright back to the final obstacle of the course - a sand pit that had to be cleared approximately 300 metres from the finish line. Besides the sand pit, the only significant obstacle was a strong wind. Bright sun and temperatures in the high teens, made it seem like a late spring day rather than mid-October.
The women's race quickly came down to three riders - Curtis, Elliott and Pepper Harlton (Juventus). Harlton and Curtis had flown in from Alberta, and looked to be double teaming Elliott through the early part of the race, as the defending champion struggled in the technical sections; falling off the pace consistently and then having to power back to the leaders. In the sand pit, Elliott ran - often having to get off her bike part way through the section - while Curtis rode, the only woman to do so all race.
Harlton set the early pace, but faded in the last two laps, leaving the newcomer with the veteran. The win was expected to come down to the sand pit, with the first out holding a distinct advantage for the final straightaway to the finish line.
Elliott tried a last ditch effort to get in front before the pit, but Curtis was ready for her, and the result was predictable.
"I wasn't going to come out," revealed Curtis, "but the race in Alberta was cancelled, so Pepper dragged me out here. I am a mountain biker, but I started racing 'cross last year, and I've been doing doing some road this year."
Elliott was philosophical about her loss, explaining "I didn't start riding until July this year. I was sick in the winter, and it took a long time to figure what it was, a parasitic infection. So I'm only starting my speed training now. In the sand pit I was coming in third, which forced me to slow behind the other riders, and they would keep opening a gap."
Frattini took the lead in the 60 minute men's race on the second lap, and never looked back. Aaron Schooler (Team H&R Block) jumped into an early lead at the start and led a small group containing Frattini, St-John, Mark Batty (SpiderTech b/b Planet Energy)and Evan McNeely (EMD Serono-Specialized CC). St-John was back and struggling to join the leaders after a crash and taped wrapped up in his drivetrain forced a bike change.
On the second lap the Italian smoothly rode away from Schooler, who was beginning to pay the price for his fast start. Frattini was clearly a step ahead of the rest of the field, both in strength and handling skills. While other riders were sliding and pushing their way through the sand pit by brute strength, Frattini was finessing it, and gaining ground every lap, to finish over 20 seconds in front of St-John.
St-John had muscled his way forward as others tired, moving into third and then catching and dropping Schooler with a lap and a half to go. Schooler held on for third as mountain bike pro Andrew Watson (Norco Factory Team) started to close on him in the final lap.
"It was very good to win here," commented Frattini. "This was a very fast course, and the wind made it difficult to be on your own. But I decided that it was better to be in the front for the corners and the sand [pit], so I attacked. For me, this is a course that I like; I have to be careful of being injured because of my main [job] on the road, so this course was safe."