July 25/02 6:24 am - Mountain Bike Nationals: Story
Posted by Editoress on 07/25/02
Mountain Bike Nationals
This report made possible by Snowcovers and Rocky Mountain
There were familiar faces and new ones on the top step of the podium at the National Mountain Bike Championships in Kamloops, British Columbia last weekend. What they all shared in common was that every single one in the pro categories was from British Columbia.
Held at the Sun Peaks Ski Resort, one hour from Kamloops for the second year in a row, the 700 plus competitors battled heat and dust on courses that many praised as being of world-class standard.
The event was not without its share of controversy: many of the Commonwealth Games riders dropped out early in their races, there was continued complaints of too many categories on the course at the same time, and Michelle Dumaresq, a transgendered downhiller, took third in the women's downhill.
The national championships opened quietly with a poorly attended Team Relay. Despite Canada being the reigning world champions in the discipline, no top riders participated, leaving a collection provincial squads and the Gears Racing trade team (who entered an A and a B team) to battle for the title.
Gears Racing 1 were the victors, led by espoir Ricky Federau. Federau has a unique record - he is the only rider to have been on the winning Team Relay squad at the national championships every year since the inception of the event. He did it twice with Rocky Mountain, once with the B.C. provincial squad, and now in 2002 with Gears Racing.
Federau was the lead-out rider for Gears Racing 1. He and Shawn Bunnin (Saskatchewan) battled for the first 4 laps, and then handed off to the next rider. While Gears 1 gradually extended their lead during each switch, the race behind was more interesting. Alberta overtook Saskatchewan with their second rider, and maintained that position for the rest of the race. Nova Scotia started slow, in fifth place after the first rider, but steadily worked their way up through the field, moving past Gears Racing 2 with the third rider, and into the bronze medal position early in the final rider's run.
The true competition began the next day, with the Downhill. The 4 kilometre race against the clock pitted the riders against an extremely difficult and dusty course. Dustin Adams (Giant) was the favourite in the men's race, having finished fourth one week earlier at a World Cup race in Telluride, Colorado. The 22 year old was fastest in qualifying, and then finished an astonishing 11 seconds ahead of Brant Lyon (Giant), in a sport where the difference is usually measured in tenths or hundredths of seconds. American Shaums March (Chumbawamba/Red Bull) finished third in the men's event. March, who was one of a number of riders who missed their seeding run, started at the front of the category, laying down a fast time of 5:18.87. His time would hold up through over 60 riders until Lyon came down fourth from the end, to squeak in front by 2.57 seconds. Lyon barely had a chance to get used to being in front before Adams' incredible ride.
Adams came oh-so-close to quitting the sport last year. "I almost quit last fall; I was really burned out. But my sponsor, Giant Canada, put together a really good deal to support me and made a push to get me onto the international (Giant) team. I owe everything to my team. I've managed to stay injury free, and I'm riding a lot smarter."
Sylvie Allen (Fanatyk/Maxxis) is a perennial favourite on the Canadian circuit in the women's category, but has never managed a clean run at the national championships until now. Defending champion Cassandra Boon (Giant) was the fastest in qualifying, ten seconds ahead of third place Allen, but flatted halfway down the course, taking her out of contention. "I was on a very good run, I could tell right from the start. It's frustrating, because I know that I was alot faster then my seeding run."
Claire Buchar (Balfa/Rock Shox) finished 1.84 seconds behind Allen, and Michelle Dumaresq (John Henry Bikes), the transgendered athlete, was third, after dropping her chain halfway down. Dumaresq was also having a strong run, as evidenced by her third place, despite having to come to a complete stop to put her chain back on. It would have been an interesting battle between the two.
Allen seemed shocked afterwards by her victory "I've always wanted to do well at Nationals, but it just seemed that something would go screwy every time in the past. This year I just stayed in B.C. to race, and changed my attitude. I came in feeling very positive, and just decided to race for fun."
The Dual was held later in the evening, in a one run elimination format. Claire Buchar moved from silver in the women's downhill to gold, ahead of Katrina Strand. Buchar, a former freerider, is racing in only her 6th competition at the elite level. Tony Pejril, the local course designer, took the men's title with comparative ease, ahead of Cory Banks.
And then it was time for the cross-country. In recent years, due to the depth of talent in Canada, the start list has begun to resemble a World Cup field. On paper, this year would be no different, with names such as Alison Sydor (Trek-VW), Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher), world champion Roland Green (Trek-VW), Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher), Seamus McGrath (Haro-Lee Dungarees), Chris Sheppard (Haro-Lee Dungarees), Andreas Hestler (Rocky Mountain) and Geoff Kabush (Kona). However, spectators were in for disappointment as a number of top riders took the start and then immediately dropped out, either because of injury or because the timing of the event did not fit with their program. The reason the latter riders showed up in the first place was because of a national team rule which requires mandatory attendance at the Nationals for world championship selection.
Among those who DNF'd within the first lap (some in the first few hundred meters) were McGrath, Hesjedal, Green and Redden. Green and Redden suffered injuries during training - Green with a possibly broken finger (he was sporting a splint at the start), and Redden with a banged up knee, the same one she injured a year ago.
"I don't want people to think that I am blowing off the nationals.", explained an earnest Redden. "I want that jersey, and I think it would have been a great race between Alison and I. But Commonwealths are only a week away, and as soon as I tested my leg I felt pain when I tried to pull up on the pedal. If I didn't have a big race for four or five weeks I might have chanced it, but not now."
McGrath, also a Commonwealth Games athlete was more blunt in his assessment of the Worlds policy. "I don't think it is good, to make us travel and race so far (from Manchester, UK), so close to such an important race. Eyes will be on us there, expecting us to win."
The removal of so many top riders definitely impacted on the races. Sydor and Kabush dominated the remainder of their respective fields, with the Trek-VW rider successfully defending her title (even Sydor has difficulty remembering how many she has won), and Kabush filling a hole in his race resume by taking his first elite championship on the men's side.
The extreme heat and dust took their toll on the field. Sydor was one of a few who did not seem to be too affected by the heat. "It wasn't that bad to me, but the course was so demanding that you had to work all the time, there was nowhere to rest."
Sydor went to the front on the first lap (of 5) in her 30 kilometre race, and never looked back. Behind Sydor, Marie-Helene Premont (Oryx) rode a steady race to claim the silver medal, while last year's silver medallist, Kiara Bisaro (Gears Racing) had to settle for third.
Despite the number of titles she has won, Sydor was still visibly pleased to add another maple leaf jersey to her collection. "I consider it a great honour to be able to represent Canada around the world in the national champion's jersey. Canada is so strong (in mountain biking) that it really means something to be able to wear this jersey."
In the men's race, Kabush went to the front of the field at the start with Green, and when the world champion retired, Kabush kept going on his own. Behind, it was a battle between former champion Hestler and Kabush's Kona team mate Peter Wedge. Hestler led Wedge until the start of the fifth lap (of six), before having to back off and conserve energy to finish. "Peter and I were pretty close all race, and then I started to fade during the fourth to fifth lap. Once I got my feed (on the fifth lap) I was okay, but by then Peter had 30 seconds and I couldn't close it."
Kabush was disappointed that some riders chose to abandon the race. "It really means something to win this race, here in Canada. We are the strongest nation in the world in mountain biking, and I think it's pretty brown that some riders would show up and not compete."
- The Junior men's cross-country was won by a newcomer to the Canadian scene - Max Plaxton. Plaxton has an interesting background. Originally from Vancouver Island, he moved to Spain with his family, and only took up racing there. Last year as a cadet he won the Spanish Cup offroad series. His family is now moving back to Canada, and he has done three races back in his homeland: Mont Ste Anne World Cup Junior Challenge (2nd), Grouse World Cup Junior Challenge (1st) and now the national championships. He will defintely be a rider to watch for in the future.
- Ricky Federau took the espoir title for the second year, after Hesjedal withdrew. To be fair to Federau, he rode an extremely strong race, moving up to fourth overall in the second lap and maintaining that position until the finish.