July 21/00 10:38 am - National Road Championships Story
Posted by Editor on 07/21/00
Canadian Road Nationals - Peterborough, Ontario
To paraphrase Charles Dickens: "It was the Best of Nationals, it was the worst of Nationals". That is how A Tale of Two Cities began, and it sums up perfectly the 2000 Canadian National Road Championships, held in Peterborough, Ontario
Nationals during an Olympic year are always difficult. Clara Hughes (Saturn) summed it up perfectly: "It's a race within a race, and you have decide what your priorities are."
For the riders in the Olympic pool (those who had met the pre-qualification standards), overall winning was less important than outperforming other Olympic contenders. For non-Olympic hopefuls it was a chance to shine while the usual powerhouses were busy eying each other. This led to both some of the best racing in Canadian National history and, unfortunately, some of the worst.
Individual Time Trial
Organizational problems marred what would have otherwise been an extremely exciting time trial. Clara Hughes (Saturn), the defending national champion in the time trial, and young sensation Genevieve Jeanson (Medico Sportif) were expected to put on quite a battle for the women's title, and they did, finishing a mere 6 seconds apart. However, Hughes' victory was tainted when poor course marshaling caused her to go off course in the final kilometre. Everyone was surprised to see her go whizzing by, in oncoming traffic, on the opposite side of the barricades to the finish line!
"I came to the turn, and there was a truck in the road, and they (marshalls and police) directed me to the other side of the barricades. But I know I had a good time" said Hughes moments after finishing. Hughes wasn't the only one to be sent of course - the men's winner, Eric Wohlberg (Shaklee), had similar problems but managed to get back on the course after losing valuable time.
After the race, both victors had praise for the course itself. "It was a perfect course", said Wohlberg, having won his 5th consecutive title. "There was no wind, the rolling hills made it hard and the new pavement made it fast." There was no debate about his victory over Andrew Randell (Jet Fuel) - Wohlberg won by over 2 minutes. When asked if there was some extra determination to post a good time after Canada didn't qualify for the Olympics in this event, the Commonwealth Games gold medallist shook his head. "I go into every race to win, otherwise there is no reason to race. The only preparation I made differently was to make sure a credit card would fit..." This in reference to his troubles at the U.S. Time Trial Trials, when he posted the fastest time and was then disqualified for not having enough space between his rear tire and frame.
After the women's race, sentiment was with the well-liked Hughes. "She won, no matter what", said another team's manager, "we all know it." Maybe so, but Jeanson's controversial coach, Andre Aubut, filed a protest, pointing out that Hughes had not crossed the finish line. It was a tense time, as officials consulted rule books, and then actually went out to measure the offending portion of the course - the final kilometre.
Both riders had a tight lipped look as they waited for the outcome; a sharp contrast to their reactions as they crossed the line. "I could not have ridden any faster", said Jeanson, "it was my best possible time and I am very happy with my result, no matter whether I am first or second."
Clara Hughes spoke in a similar vein. "It was just about perfect. This was my best time trial since Atlanta (Olympics, where she won the bronze medal)."
As the presentations began, still no one knew - who would be the champion? Third place finisher Leah Goldstein (800.com) took the podium, and then ... Jeanson was called - the protest had been turned down. Jeanson looked shocked and upset, and hesitated to go up to the podium, as her coach ranted to journalists across the parking lot. However, eventually she stepped forward. "I think Genevieve showed a lot of class", said Hughes. "It would have been so bad if she hadn't gone up, but she made the right decision."
Afterwards, officials said that Hughes had actually covered a longer distance, and into oncoming traffic. "There was no advantage", said one. That is true, but it was a poor start to the championships.
In the Olympic selection: Advantage Hughes and Jeanson; disadvantage Lyne Bessette (5th), Anne Samplonius (6th) and Annie Gariepy (DNS). For the men, slight advantage to Wohlberg, but the ITT had no official standing in the selection criteria for men.
Let's see: we have a men's race that is the best in at least a decade, and a women's race that is so bad that Clara Hughes says "This is the most embarrassing race I have ever been in." That was the sort of day it was for the premier event of the Road Nationals.
The 13.2 kilometre circuit was not a selective course - that was required of the riders. The men rose to the challenge, the women didn't. Mountain biker Melanie McQuaid started things off in the 119 kilometre (9 lap) women's race, with a first lap attack that 7 riders responded to, including fellow mtber Chrissy Redden (Gary Fisher-Saab), Elita's Cybil Digustini and Intersports' Sandy Espeseth. The group would not be challenged as they opened up a gap, with the big guns (Hughes, Bessette, Jeanson, Gariepy and Samplonius) all watching each other, and the rest of the field watching them.
This set the tone of the race - the lead group sped away, eventually coming down to a sprint that Espeseth won over Melanie Nadeau (Team Quebec) and Leigh Hobson (Charles Swab), while the stars sat back and watched more and more of the field ride away. It finally reached the point the Olympic riders were over 7 minutes down on the leaders, the last group on the course, just in front of the broom wagon.
When they finally did reach the end of their purgatory, the sprint for the top finishing position by an Olympian hopeful was somewhat anti-climactic. Hughes led out Bessette, with Jeanson on her wheel. Jeanson came across the line first, with Bessette encouraging her - in 19th place...
"It was so negative, all I could do was follow the others", explained Jeanson afterwards. "I have to thank Saturn for their help, they helped me keep calm and instructed me on how to ride in these conditions." Hughes responded "We wanted to have the strongest team for Sydney and, even though the race was so bad, we did accomplish that."
Based on the results of the road race and time trial, the Canadian women's road team is Clara Hughes, Lyne Bessette and Genevieve Jeanson, with Jeanson and Hughes competing in the Time Trial as well as the road race.
Now, contrast the women's race with the men's - a 224 kilometre affair, with attacks and counters from the gun. A small group went away only 5 kilometres into the 17 lap race and, the real surprise, two Olympic hopefuls - Gord Fraser (Mercury) and Euro pro Dominique Perras (Phonak) - bridged up less than a lap later.
The question was, what was Fraser doing up there so early in the race? "I made the decision on the fly" said Fraser. "Usually the Nationals is a disaster for me. If I'm in the break no one will work, and if I'm not they do." Given Fraser's sprinting prowess, the other riders can't be faulted, but it is obvious that the lack of a Canadian title to his name bothers the world-class rider from Ottawa mightily.
After a couple of laps the break trimmed down to 6 riders - Fraser, Perras, Svein Tuft (Trek-VW), Heath Cockburn (Jet Fuel), Joe Guilliano (Jet Fuel) and Martin St-Laurent (Team Quebec). These 6 would stay out together for a long time, as the peloton could not organize itself into an effective chase. Never more than 2 minutes, and never less than 1 minute, the breakaways rode tirelessly and efficiently in front of an indecisive bunch behind.
"I was panicking back there by the 10th lap", said Olympic contender Czeslaw Lukaszewicz (Espoir de Laval). "There was so much action in the pack that we were getting tired." After 140 kilometres there was finally a change, as the slower members of the break - Guilliano, Cockburn and St-Laurent - were dropped by the other three. if the peloton hoped that this would slow down the leaders, they were out of luck, as the gap stayed steady.
Finally, with 4 laps and 50 kilometres remaining, Lukaszewicz couldn't wait any longer and charged off the front, taking Paul Kelly (Alberta/Navigators), Simon Small (Ital Pasta)and Andrew Randall (Jet Fuel) with him. The three time national (and defending) champion made it across, bringing the front group to seven. Possibly encouraged by his success, Brian Walton (Saturn) led a similar charge across with Antoine Varghese (Kissena) a lap later, and then immediately attacked the front group, splitting it apart. Lukaszewicz, Fraser, Kelly and Tuft responded, while the others gradually dropped off.
Then it was the turn of Lukaszewicz, the diminutive rider who never quits. Attacking again and again, Lukaszewicz finally broke away with Tuft, towing him around the course for a lap before dropping him as well just before the start of the last lap. "I had to go hard, if I had waited for the sprint they would all have beaten me. I just want to race as hard as I can - first, second, it doesn't matter as long as I have raced my best."
In this case, Lukas' best would mean another national title and an automatic spot on the Olympic squad with Fraser (who automatically qualified as the highest ranked Canadian in UCI rankings). For Fraser it would mean another disappointment, as he out sprinted Walton in, for him, a relatively meaningless second. Afterwards, North America's winningest rider shook his head in frustration and admiration. "Czeslaw always seems to be able to put together the ride for the nationals. He rode an incredible race."
- The men's squad for the Olympic road race will be Fraser, Lukaszewicz, Walton and time trial winner Eric Wohlberg. "It is the obvious team", said one of the selectors, Pierre Hutsebaut, Director of National Racing Programs. "Our team, with Gord as the leader, can compete well against the favourites such as Italy and France. I think we may surprise a few people."
- Quote of the race: "I couldn't let a mountain biker beat me" - women's winner Sandy Espeseth on her motivation to beat Chrissy Redden and Melanie McQuaid.
- Based on the road Nationals results, the following team will represent Canada at the Pan Am Championships in Columbia:
Mike Barry (Saturn)
Paul Kelly (Navigators)
Leigh Hobson (Charles Schwab)
Sandy Espeseth (Intersports)
Erin Carter (Elita)