Posted by Editor on 07/29/03
Tour de l'Abitibi
We apologize for the delay in getting this final stage report up, but yesterday was spent travelling. Photos will go up shortly.
Kevin Lacombe came so close to becoming the first Abitibi rider to win the Tour de l'Abitibi, but a combination of an exceptionally strong Dutch rider, a crash shortly after the decisive break was established, and a fatigued Quebec team dashed local hopes. Team Ontario's Brandon Crichton ended up being the top Canadian finisher, in fourth place.
Lacombe went into the final stage with a 9 second lead on American Matt Crane (Hot Tubes), and 13 seconds on Anthony Jaunet (Team France). Reus was back at 19 seconds. Jaunet was the main concern, since he was the best sprinter among the top contenders, and had been steadily nibbling away at Lacombe's lead. The final stage did not have any intermediate sprint bonuses, but a small break and a top-3 stage placing could vault Jaunet into the overall win. It turned out that the French were not the problem...
Less than a quarter of the way into the 32 lap final stage criterium in Val d'Or, a break managed to establish itself. It grew in bits and pieces, as riders jumped away from the peloton. Quebec had national road champion Raphael Tremblay to watch it, but all the top teams were included, and dangerous riders such as Reus, Crane and Crichton had made it across to the front group of approximately 20 riders.
"The break was off, and I realized that I should be in it. I bridged with (Matthias Collet - France)." said Crichton "It was a big group. I didn't think it would stick. I guess I should have gone back to help Lacombe - you can quote me on that - but I honestly didn't think of it until too late. Reus was so strong; he just pulled away from us on his own."
The gap went up to 25 seconds, and then 30. Quebec was trying to chase, but did not have the firepower; as was evident when Lacombe went to the front to assist with the chase. France came to the front as well, but the front group was being powered by the Dutch and the Americans. Tremblay tried to interfere with the rotation ("he went to the front and put his brakes on", complained one rider), but it wasn't enough.
Behind, Lacombe was having troubles beyond an exhausted team. The race was getting physical, and he leaned into either an American ("it was the Dutch") or a Dutch rider ("it was the American") and went down hard, landing on his right side and striking his head. For the remainder of the race, spectators would see Lacombe fighting for the Brown Jersey with blood streaming down the side of his face. Lacombe didn't take the free lap available to him, however, it was doubtful if it would have made any difference.
Even though Tremblay dropped back from the break to assist with the chase, it was not enough, and Lacombe could only watch as his victory disappeared up the road. With five laps remaining Reus rode the rest of the break off his wheel, with only Simon Collard (Belgique - V.C. Ardennes) able to follow. "He was so strong" commented stage 4 winner Steven Cozza (Team USA) afterwards. "The strongest guy won this race."
"The wind in our face on the hill, that was in my advantage - I am stronger then." stated Reus. "Everyone was very alert (in the break), and they knew I was there, so it was not a matter of sneaking away. On the hill I was at the front, riding hard, and only one could follow me."
In those last few laps, Reus took 32 seconds out of the break, and allowed Collard to take the stage, freewheeling in behind with his arms in the air. Reus' victory gave him back the overall lead in the Junior World Challenge series.
National mountain bike champion Max Plaxton (Symmetrics-BC) was the top Canadian finisher on the stage, in fifth place, and Lacombe rolled in with the peloton, 1:19 down on the winners, and dropping to sixth overall. It was a bitter disappointment for the Abitibi native, but the partisan local crowd still gave him a huge cheer.
"Everyone was trying their best, but they were pretty tired" said a visibly upset Lacombe afterwards. "A small break went, and Raphael was there to watch it, but small groups kept going up and I couldn't watch everybody. We could not do any better."
- National coach Jacques Landry, was was watching the race for final World selection, was quoted in a local paper as saying that he was looking for aggressive riding and, besides the automatic choices of Tremblay and Lacombe, it was Crichton and Marsh Cooper (Symmetrics-BC) who had impressed him the most.
- as has been mentioned previously, this is the 35th anniversary of Abitibi. I had the chance to talk for a few minutes with the founder of the race - Léandre Normand. "It is like a child; you see it growing and growing . . . it is a great satisfaction. When we thought of it, in 1967, I did not know anything but what I had read in French magazines. I saw my first race in Montreal and was very impressed. We did our first race in Abitibi in 1968 and had 7 riders. The next year we founded the Tour de l'Abitibi, and I can say that if experience comes from errors, we have gained a lot of experience!"
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