November 20/00 1:37 am - Canadians in France
Posted by Editor on 11/20/00
Open des Nations - Bordeaux, France
Report from Kris Westwood
Night 1 - November 17th 2000
The first night of racing at the 2000 Open des Nations in Bordeaux has just ended. This event is, in a sense, a grudge match for the World Championships, which ended just three weeks ago. The program is a mix of sprint and endurance events, ranging from a 40-kilometre madison to a flying lap time trial. Canada benefited from a first-ever invitation to this prestigious event, which took place on the world-class indoor 250-meter wooden velodrome in the Palais des Sports.
Up until this year, the Open has been held in Paris. However, due to scheduling conflicts at the Bercy stadium it was decided to move the event to Bordeaux for this year. The organizers, the Societé du Tour de France, are hoping that next year it will be possible to run events in both Bordeaux and Paris.
The start list for the Open is impressive. The field unites the best riders from twelve nations, including such sprint superstars as Germans Jens Fiedler and Jan van Eijden, Frenchmen Florian Rousseau, Fred Magné, Arnaud Tournant and Arnaud Dublé, and Briton Jason Queally. Also present are such six-day stars as Bruno Risi and Kurt Betschart from Switzerland, Belgian Mathew Gilmore, Germans Stefan Weisspfenig and Stefan Steinweg and Australians Scott McGrory and Brett Aitken. Though the sprinters were all more or less on holiday, the six-day riders were in the middle of their season, meaning they were very fit. The Canadian team of four riders is made up of sprinters Jim Fisher of Calgary and Kyle Hudson of Pickering, and endurance riders Glen Rendall from Ottawa and recent Paralympic medallist Alex Cloutier of Ste-Foy, Quebec.
This evening's show started at 7:00 PM with a farewell race for retiring Olympic champion Félicia Ballanger. Nobody was surprised when the much-titled Frenchwoman won the event.
The format of the racing for the men required each of the 16 teams to enter two sprinters and two endurance riders. The riders were then divided in a variety of individual and team events, each rider scoring points for his team. The final classification will be determined on each team's points total.
After the riders were introduced to the crowd, the race proper got underway with the Keirin. This consisted of two 8-rider heats, with the top four of each heat advancing to the final. Jim Fisher was entered in this event. Initially well-placed, he got bumped to the back and put all his eggs into a big positioning move with two-and-a-half laps to go. As he arced over the group, Frenchman Jerôme Hubschwerlin chopped his front wheel, forcing him to back off. He finished next-to-last, and went on to the final for 9th through 16th.
Next event was the sprint heats. Divided into four-rider groups, each rider raced every other rider in his group once. The rider with the most wins in his group went on to the semi final, while the second riders from each group raced a final for 5th to 8th, third-placed riders for 9th to 12th, and fourth-placed for 13th to 16th. Our boy Kyle Hudson placed last in his group so qualified for the 13th to 16th ride.
The main event of the evening was a 160-lap madison. Glen and Alex, who won the Madison Cup in Trexlertown this year, were entering unknown territory, racing together for the first time on an indoor wooden track, against the top specialists in the world. Both the current world champion team of Steinweg and Weisspfennig, and the Olympic champion team of Aitken McGrory were there, along with several other former champion teams and individual riders. In such a field our boys stood little chance of a placing, and by half way were three laps down and therefore obliged to stop. However, this eye-opening experience showed them what to expect racing with the best in the world. In the end the French team of Tessier and Neuville won the race on points.
The sprinters then rode an elimination race. It's a rare sight seeing 16 world-class sprinters racing a 32-lap elimination event. Jim Fisher got bounced around again, this time by an Italian, and was the second rider eliminated. Fred Magné notched up another win for the French team.
Next up was a win-and-out. In this unusual event, a rider is eliminated every two laps: the winner of the first sprint is classified first, and leaves the race. Then the winner of the second sprint is classified second and leaves the race, and so on until two riders remain to contest 15th place. Neuville took the first sprint, much to the delight of the crowd, and Glen Rendall ended up winning the final sprint for 15th.
In the sprint final, Florian Rousseau again delighted the French crowd by winning ahead of Van Eijden. Kyle found his legs and won the sprint for 13th place. Jim Fisher contested the flying lap, again finishing 15th. The winner Jens Fiedler, clocked 12.842 seconds for an average speed of just over 70 km/h.
The Keirin final was the last event of the evening. Jim Fisher made a bold move in the 9th to 16th final, attacking with two laps to go. He was swallowed up in the last curve, however, and ended up 15th again. The overall was won by Fred Magné: another win for the home boys.
Though the Canadian team did not achieve great success at the racing, the crowd was appreciative of our efforts. It is already a great honor to be invited to such a prestigious event. The president of the Societé du Tour, Jean-Marie LeBlanc, spoke to me briefly before the start. He was under no illusions that we would be in a position to win the races, but feels, as we do, that this is a stepping stone to future Canadian success. He assured me that we will be invited to the Open next year. I hope the experience we garner here will allow us to progress even further in the near future.
Now it's time to go to bed and think about tomorrow's racing . . .
Night 2 - November 18th 2000
The racing was again fast and furious tonight at the Open des Nations in Bordeaux. Everybody seems to have stepped the aggressiveness up a notch too, as the evening was marred by several crashes.
The evening's racing opened with a junior madison for French regional riders. The 30 km race certainly set the tone for the evening, as there were two crashes in the first half, but the juniors settled in for an aggressive and exciting race.
The main event began with the Keirin heats. Kyle Hudon rode in the first one, and was well placed until he got brutally chopped by a French rider. All his momentum was lost and he finished 7th, qualifying for the 9th to 16th final.
Next up was Jim Fisher in the individual sprints. A new format used last night's results to seed the riders. Jim lost his first ride but won his second, qualifying for the final for 9th to 12th.
The 40 km madison was next. Glen Rendall and Alex Cloutier showed a vast technical improvement since the first night, but the speed was quite frankly too much for them: several times during the race I timed the pack at 60 km/h for extended periods. About a third of the way through the race we had our biggest scare of the evening. Current World Champion Stefan Steinweg reacted to a move lower on the track and moved suddenly upwards, slamming Alex's shoulder with his hip. The impact caused both of Alex's feet to come out of his pedals, and both of Steinweg's hands to slip off his bars! Steinweg went down immediately, taking Australian Brett Aitken with him, while Alex found himself sitting on his top tube with both feet dragging on the track at 50 km/h, while trapped at the rail on the home straight. Meanwhile, Swiss rider Bruno Risi overreacted to the chaos in front of him by veering down the track onto the apron, where he attempted to steer back on to the track but found
his progress interrupted by a poorly-placed cameraman. Risi hit the cameraman with his left shoulder and was launched head-first back onto the track at the beginning of the banking. Aitken, meanwhile, slid across the apron and took the cameraman out. While this was going on Alex, still upright but with virtually no control, was dodging bullets coming across the track sliding on his cleats and with a death-grip on his handlebars. Risi slid to a halt on his back on the apron exactly in Alex's path and received the Quebecker full in the face. Steinweg and Alex, though shaken, got up quickly and got back in the race. Risi, Aitken and the cameraman were all a little slower to get up, and the Swiss team ended up abandoning.
The immediate reaction from most of the seasoned pros was that it had all been Alex's fault, but fortunately Michelle Boucher captured the carnage on video. The images show that Alex could not have avoided the crash and that Steinweg was the one who moved into him. I reviewed the footage a number of times, and showed it to most of the people involved in the crash, and they conceded the point.
The experienced Danish pair of Jimmi Madsen and Tayeb Braikia won the race at the head of a group of four teams on the lead lap. Glen and Alex were pulled out when they went three laps down, and were classified 15th. "We were comfortable when the pack was on a 1:02 kilo pace, but when it went down to 1:01 and 1:00, we were just hanging on for dear life and that compounded our technical errors", said Glen after the race. "What an experience."
The next event was the elimination race for the sprinters. There was another crash in this event, fortunately involving only one rider, but Kyle was fazed enough by it to be eliminated early. Frenchman Fred Magné gave the home crowd its first win of the night.
Then on to the win-and-out. Alex's unfamiliarity with this event let to tactical indecisiveness, which proved his downfall as he finished 16th. German Andreas Muller won the race.
Jim Fisher finished second in his sprint final, ending up 10th. The tournament was won by Laurent Gané. Jim then improved one-tenth of a second in the flying lap, and ended up 13th. Florian Rousseau's blistering time of 12.651, at an average of 74.141 km/h, proved good enough to win the event.
Glen was up next in the points race, where he suffered from rather more physical riding than he is used to. I didn't note the name of the winner in that event.
The evening wound up with the Keirin final. Kyle again suffered from the physical attentions of a French rider and wound up 14th or 15th overall. Fred Magné proved once again why he is world champion in this discipline and walked away with the honors.
So, another tumultuous evening is behind us. Tomorrow's session starts at 2:00 PM. Wish us luck!