November 4/01 11:47 am - 'Cross Nationals Story
Posted by Editor on 11/4/01
2001 'Cross Nationals
Peter Wedge (Kona) is proving to be unbeatable when it comes to the Canadian cyclo-cross national championships, winning his fifth consecutive title in Edmonton, Alberta with a completely dominant performance. The women's race, unfortunately, proved to be less interesting, primarily due to the fact that only four women started. Shauna Gilles-Smith (Gearworks SRP), the defending champion, held off a race long challenge from Marg Fedyna (Trek-Bow Cycle) to win, although the small field meant that a national title and jersey were not awarded.
The course was fast, and well liked. Held in Candlestick Park on the outskirts of Edmonton, it skirted a soccer field before heading into rolling ski trails and dropping into a valley. The riders faced the major climb of the circuit on their way out of the valley, and were forced to dismount at the base of the climb by a barricade. Once at the top, the competitors skirted the edge of the valley on a fast pavement section, before crossing a double set of barricades and entering the start/finish area. Junior and Master Men raced for 40 minutes (6 laps), the combined Elite/Master Women's field for 30 minutes (4 laps) and the Elite/Espoir Men for 1 hour (10 laps).
One of the most remarked upon features of the race was the weather, and not for the usual reasons. For at least the last 7 years, the national championships have been 'blessed, with traditional cyclo-cross weather - cold rain or snow. This year conditions were spring-like, with temperatures exceeding 17 degrees Celsius and bright, sunny skies. The weather was a change from the snow and cold Edmonton had recently faced and, in fact, caused a number of crashes because the warming conditions began to thaw out the ground, making some sections slick and treacherous.
Gilles-Smith hails from Alberta, but lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She competes on the New England cross circuit, and regularly finishes in the top-10. The cross nationals are her only appearance on the Canadian scene, and she admitted to disappointment at the low turnout.
"It is too bad that more women didn't come. I was surprised that we didn't get any riders from B.C. I knew Lyne Bessette (Saturn) wasn't coming, we spoke and she said that she is just riding the eastern races for fun, but I thought some others would show up."
Gilles-Smith had her own troubles before the start, when she went down in the slick mud, breaking off one of her shift levers during her warmup. A masters racer who had just finished his race loaned her his bike to start, while mechanics rebuilt her own machine. She switched back to her own bike at the start of the second lap, briefly losing the lead during the switch to Marg Fedyna (Trek/Bow Cycle) before regaining it for good. Fedyna managed to stay close to Gilles-Smith, finishing only 20 seconds back, with Annie Tykwinski (Pedalhead) taking the bronze. Since regulations require a minimum of 5 starters from 3 provinces before a national title is awarded, Gilles-Smith did not become national champion.
There was no chance of that happening in the combined Elite/Espoir Men's event, with 32 riders from 5 provinces taking the start. Wedge went to the front the first time up the climb, and caused a stir by immediately jumping back onto his after going over the barricade at the base of the climb and powering up the hill. Other riders attempted to do the same, with varying degrees of success, but the pattern was set: Wedge would set the pace and others would try to follow.
On the next lap the New Brunswicker again went to the front of the reduced lead group on the climb. He looked over his shoulder near the top, saw that he had a gap, and literally rode away from the field. After winning by over 3 minutes, Wedge explained that he began his preparation for the race months ago.
"After tendinitis in March, before Sea Otter, and a broken bone (arm - Utah Norba short track), this feels good. I began my prep for here right after Mont Sainte Anne (World Cup), when I didn't make the Worlds team. I've been dialing in my bike and myself since August 26th; sitting at home and letting the frustration fester."
Once Wedge was away, attention turned to the battle brewing behind, with Andreas Hestler (Rocky Mountain), Carter Hovey (Bolla-Bianchi), Roddi Lega (Green Mountain Cycle) and Matt Decore (Hardcore) all jockeying for position. Decore fell off the pace first, followed by Lega when he flatted. Hestler and Hovey dueled throughout the remainder of the race, with Hovey coming off repeatedly because of dropping his chain (twice) and crashing twice in the slick mud. Hestler's more conservative approached paid off, when Hovey's repeated chases back took their toll, and the Rocky off-road pro held on to finish second, 18 seconds in front of the Bolla-Bianchi rider.
Behind them, Decore plugged along steadily, with a stream of chasers bridging up and then falling back. Lega, after his fourth lap flat had dropped to 12th, but staged a remarkable comeback through the field, making it all the way back to Decore before blowing up in the final lap and a half. He would hang on for fifth place.
In the end, though, the day belonged to Peter Wedge: "This has remotivated me. I'll be racing more in the New England series, and I would consider going to Worlds. Know anyone who wants to fund me?"
There is an opportunity just waiting.
- Wedge lapped the entire Espoir field, and all but 6 Elite riders.
- Shawn Bunnin won the Junior Men's 40 minutes race after a performance that was almost as dominant as Wedge's. He has just as much motivation, since his season was completely rearranged by a broken leg in the spring. "I'm at my peak now - everything shifted back 2 months because I started late after my broken leg." Bunnin watched the other riders for one lap to gauge their form, saw that they weren't climbing as well as himself then attacked as the race went through the start-finish. He finished almost a minute ahead of Andrew Davidson (Olympic Oval). The mountain biker moves into the Espoir ranks for 2002.
- Stuart Hughes (Bow Cycle/Kona) won the Espoir category for the second time, as did Sean Barr (Velocity) for the Master Men. Lisa Licis (Sportshack) was the Master Women champion. Hughes actually won in front of his father, who was working next door to the race at the adjacent oil refinery. As he came across the line, his father was standing on the other side of the fence in coveralls and hardhat, cheering.