Posted by Editoress on 03/14/04
Canadians didn't take the final stages in the pro categories at the Norba opener in Waco, Texas, missing a clean sweep for the weekend, but they did take the overall titles in both the men's and women's races.
As expected, Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) won the women's title, finishing second to Alison Dunlap (Luna) in the final cross country stage, while Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) was the surprise winner of the men's title, when he finished second in the stage to an extremely fast Jeremiah Bishop (Trek-VW).
The seven mile (11.2 kilometre) circuit was extremely technical, and surprisingly slippery, after a sprinkling of rain the day before. There was also a much greater than normal amount of singletrack in the course, and numerous short steep climbs and descents to punish the unwary.
The two Alison's ("Alison squared", the announcer was saying), seem to have little trouble with the circuit, and quickly left the rest of the field behind. Kiara Bisaro (GearsRacing.com), who started the day in second overall, led the chase early in the first lap (of two), but fell back, overtaken by Dunlap's team mate Katrina Hanusova, Willow Koerber (RLX Polo Sport), Sue Haywood (Trek-VW) and Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher). However, none of these riders could make a dent in the lead carved out by Sydor and Dunlap.
For Sydor it was all about protecting her lead. For Dunlap, it was the UCI points available for the E1 ranked race - very necessary for every U.S. woman who hopes to grab the only Olympic spot available to their country. So, when it came to the finish, Sydor backed off, assured of her overall victory, but allowing her breakaway companion to grab the points.
"Alison (Dunlap) was super strong today, which is no surprise since she is gunning for those UCI points. She just hammered for the first half hour, and I was second into the singletrack, which is where I wanted to be. I wanted to protect my overall lead, so I rode it conservatively, like you should in a stage race. I got what I wanted, and she got what she wanted."
Dunlap, back in her first mountain bike race since last June, was also happy with the way it worked out. "It feels great to come back with a win in the cross country. The overall is important, but today (cross country) was the most important for me. There's not a lot of (UCI) points here, but I'm just taking it one race at a time.
I went into the singletrack first, and Alison was right behind me. We pulled away (from the field) right away, but Alison was always right there, so I knew there was no getting away. We both understood that I needed today and she needed the overall. But, if it had been a one day race, it would have been totally different; it would have been a dogfight."
Chrissy Redden, coming back from her season-ending wrist injury, had a promising sixth place result, to finish seventh overall, with Kiara Bisaro one behind on the stage and one ahead in the final overall. (Note: full results are not yet available, so this is based on preliminary calculations)
"It was obviously disappointing to drop from second to sixth, but I prefer to focus on the positive" said Bisaro. "It's the first race of the year, so I'm just happy to be racing again. I was surprised when I did finish second, and held it after the second stage - it was beyond my expectations to be where I am at this time of the year."
The men's race started predictably, and after the first of three laps a group of nine had formed at the front - race leader Seamus McGrath (Haro), Hesjedal, Kabush, Roland Green (Trek-VW), first year espoir Max Plaxton, Andreas Hestler (both Rocky Mountain-Business Objects), Bishop, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (RLX Polo Sport) and local Texas breakthrough Jason Sager (Thunderbird). Hestler barely managed to catch the express train, after battling with his front derailleur, which was catching on his crank arm. Chris Sheppard (Haro) was less lucky - he lost the brake pads in his rear disc in the first 10 minutes of the race.
The expectation was that when the riders hove back into view at the end of the second lap, the group might be a little smaller, but all the big names would still be there. It was a complete surprise, therefore, when Bishop came flying through, with Kabush on his wheel, and no one else in sight. It would be approximately 40 seconds before the next rider showed up - Horgan-Kobelski on his own, followed by a very dirty Hesjedal and Max Plaxton on his wheel. Sager followed, then Hestler, and finally Green and McGrath.
Bishop attacked late in the second lap, and Hesjedal was the only one able to follow, however, he crashed hard for the second time, in the same spot, and had to back off a bit. Behind, Kabush was trying to make his way up through traffic.
"You could tell some guys were nervous out there - it was slick if you didn't have the right tires. I was testing some super tacky tires (called Super Tacky), and it made all the difference. After Jeremiah attacked with Ryder, Roland was leading the chase, but he was holding back Jeremy (Horgan-Kobelski) and me. We got by finally, and I dropped Jeremy and bridged up (after Hesjedal's crash). I got a bit of a gap, but he brought it back and then attacked me. I made a bit of a mistake in the last descent when I let Jeremiah lead and he got a bit of a gap (to win), but I'm happy with the overall, my first one at a U.S. national series."
Bishop, one of the U.S. Olympic hopefuls, already has multiple races in his legs, fresh back from racing in Cyprus. His win was doubly impressive, since he flatted when he hit a rock at the bottom of the last descent, but still managed to hold on for the win.
- Seamus McGrath just didn't have it today. "This was not the sort of day I expected! But, I didn't feel good after the first lap, and I just started dropping off the pace. The plus side is that overall my form is coming along, and it was great to get the first win of the season for the team."
- Hesjedal would have obviously preferred to win the overall, but was pleased with his first race of the year. "I went with Jeremiah, but he went crazy in the singletrack. Then I had an untimely crash - I went down hard, broke my helmet. I'm not so focused on results here, more on training, so it was a good weekend to see that I am still going well. I didn't know how far ahead Geoff was. I tried to get Max (Plaxton) to work with me, but he was at his limit, and I couldn't have gone any harder anyway."
- Roland Green is another one looking to later in the season. "Jeremiah was riding the singletrack really well, and it's a tricky course. I'm a little rusty right now, but it's coming back. Mountain bike is such a different effort than road, but I'm on track."
- Bishop's victory in the cross country was the first American men's win in three years - Canadians have won everything prior to that. Oh, and by the way, the last U.S. rider to win? Kirk Molday...
- Most readers will be aware of the huge battle that is brewing for the single U.S. women's Olympic spot, which will be awarded based solely on UCI rankings. U.S. women will be popping up all over the world, looking for points and, according to Alison Dunlap, she does not exclude the possibility of racing in the Marathon Worlds (July, in Austria). That event takes place one day before the final date for UCI points in the U.S. selection...
- Mark Batty did preserve his streak in the Junior Expert category, completely dominating his race.
- Jesse Jakomait explained why he raced in the his Canada Cup leader's jersey: "My team kit didn't arrive until just before start of the final stage, when it was too late to use it. I had to wear something (that wouldn't conflict with his team - GearsRacing.com), and I thought, 'Why not show the colours?' "
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