July 4/04 2:52 am - Calgary World Cup: XC Story
Posted by Editoress on 07/4/04
Calgary World Cup Calgary Alberta
Report brought to you with the support of Vélirium 2004 and ORYX
Filip Meirhaeghe (Specialized) and Gunn-Rita Dahle (Merida) may have won the races at World Cup #6 on Saturday, but the real battle was behind them, as the Canadian and American riders battled it out for Olympic spots. While the women's team was all but decided (Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher) needed a podium ahead of Kiara Bisaro (GearsRacing.com) to have a chance of displacing her), the men's second spot was open, with Seamus McGrath (Haro-Adidas), Roland Green (Trek-VW) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) all battling it out. In the end, McGrath put in one of the finest rides of his career, under extreme conditions to lock down the Olympic spot and join Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher) for Athens.
The 5.5 kilometre course was not technical, and without major climbs. However, there was a lot of singletrack to make passing hard if you weren't at the front and, if the ground got wet, large portions of the clay-based track would turn into slippery and wheel-clogging glue. It had rained most of the night before the race, so the women started their five lap race (plus a 1 kilometre start loop) with a tough decision - start with semi-slick tires for speed, and hope that it dried out quickly, or go for slower mud tires, and hope that you wouldn't get stuck with a big speed disadvantage as the track dried out.
Chrissy Redden opted for fast tires. "Bad tire choice. It didn't dry out as quickly as I thought it would back in the woods, and I was all over the trail in the early laps." Despite that, she ended the start loop in good position - seventh place - as the leaders charged into the first full lap.
Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) was second behind Barb Blatter (Specialized) after the start loop, and moved into the lead on the first climb, but then disaster struck, in the form of German rider Yvonne Kraft (Ghost Racing), who is rapidly becoming her nemesis (Kraft got into a shoving match with Sydor in Madrid at the first World Cup and received a warning).
This time "I backed off slightly before the siingletrack because Gunn-Rita was coming up behind me, and I wanted to get on her wheel. It's just proper etiquette to let the faster rider through. But she (Kraft) squeezed by me at a bad moment and then promptly crashed. I crashed into her and we fell off the trail, all tangled up and went down over the bank. It took a little bit of time to get untangled and I lost about 12 spots. Riders should show some respect for others when they are racing." Sydor would gradually recover to finish 8th.
At the front, it was the Dahle show, as always, with the Norwegian enroute to her tenth straight victory (not consecutive, because she skipped Schladming, Austria). As Dahle cruised away to yet another victory, there was an unexpected face moving up to second - U.S. national champion Mary McConneloug (Seven Cycles), who was having the race of her life, and all but assuring herself of the lone U.S. start spot for women at Athens. McConneloug's Olympic rival, Sue Haywood (Trek-VW) was not having as good a day, eventually finishing 15th. She still has an outside chance of overtaking McConneloug, but it will take a superb day for her at the Marathon Worlds (Bad Goisern, Austria), and a very bad day for McConneloug.
Behind, Italian national champion Annabella Stropparo rode steadily in third, while Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) recovered from a slow start to move up to, and eventually finish in fourth place.
"The first two laps I over paced myself, and my legs were hurting too much; I think the altitude was a bit of a problem for me. After that, I was okay and was able to move up a bit. Now it is just good that the pressure is over and we can prepare for Athens."
Bisaro felt the same way, after overtaking Redden in the last two laps, shortly after the Subaru-Gary Fisher rider had to stop and remove a branch from her front wheel.
"Today was mostly about watching Chrissy for me. I had a little trouble with the start - I was so nervous - and she got ahead of me. But I was staying in touch, and I passed her on the hill. I definitely wasn't sharp today, though."
Redden, an Olympian in Sydney, was disappointed but philosophical about not making her second Olympic team. "By the end of the third lap I was doing okay, but it was bad tire choice - I had a semi-slick on the front, and I couldn't even go in a straight line. The last two laps started to dry out and I could do better, but then I got a log in my front wheel; I lost a minute and probably four spots. I just lost it mentally at that point. It's very disappointing, but I had such a difficult season, being sick in Europe. Life goes on."
The men's race started under perfect conditions, with the trail dried out from the sun and the women's race. For the first four laps (of seven) conditions were good, and the Siemens Mobile Cannondale) duo of Christoph Sauser and Roel Paulissen rode away from the field, and looked to be in line for a repeat of the 1-2 finishes they had in Houffalize and Fort William. Meirhaeghe was at the front of the chase, with Jose Antonio Hermida (Merida), Jean-Christophe Peraud (Lapierre), Ludovic Dubau (Devinci) and Seamus McGrath.
The chasers weren't gaining any time, but then the temperature dipped markedly, the wind picked up, thunder started booming and, from the west, a huge black wall could be seen rolling in. It began to rain; rain so hard that riders couldn't be seen from 10 metres away. Then the hail started, pea-sized chuncks of ice in a deluge. Portions of the course flooded, and at one point discarded water bottles could be seen floating down a stream that ran down the course.
This changed the race totally, and Meirhaeghe made up an incredible two minutes in one lap, taking the lead late in the sixth lap. The world champion turned the fastest lap times on each of the three final laps, to win by three and a half minutes over Sauser. Paulissen ran into braking problems, as the mud destroyed his disc pads, and dropped to sixth at the end. Geoff Kabush also had brake problems, crashing into a tree on the last lap, and at the finish line had his feet sliding along the ground trying to slow down - eventually the marshals had to catch him to stop his forward momentum.
"It was an advantage for me when the weather changed" agreed Meirhaeghe. "I knew once the rain started I had a chance. I ride well in the mud, and it was getting really slippery. But when it started to hail, we were going against the wind, into the finish. It was so painful, I had a headache. It was so cold that I thought about just going back to the truck, but I decided to try one more lap. Then we turned after the finish and the wind was at our back, and it was not so bad. It doesn't happen often that you feel the cold when you are racing, but here it was bad."
Meirhaeghe usually finishes races in fine form, but after this race he was staggering, and had to be wrapped in a blanket and supported by first aid personnel while he recovered.
One rider who benefited from the weather was Canadian Espoir Max Plaxton, who went from 26th at the end of lap four, to 14th by the finish, and even had the energy left at the finish to execute a controlled slide at the line.
"I was worried about tires - mine didn't shed too well. Usually I go hard right from the gun, but there was no passing and I had a poor start position, so I waited until there was space opening up. When it started to hail my bike went sideways - it hurt out there! But I like the rain and cold, I'm used to it. This wasn't really my kind of course - not a lot of climbing, more of a power course. But, I felt strong , so I guess every course is your type then."
But the Canadian focus was the Olympic race. Hesjedal, who pretty well has a lock on the number one Olympic slot pulled out after the first lap. McGrath made the front group, and then backed off slightly frrom the speed to ride his own pace.
"Today was hard, in the rain and the hail, but I was super confident after racing so well at Mont Ste Anne World Cup last weekend and finishing eighth. There was no doubt in my mind that my legs had come back. I was lucky to get a good start, but those guys at the front were so fast that I couldn't hang on, and had to ride my own pace."
Green, starting well back, with only one finish in four previous World Cup starts, managed to move up to the top-30, before sliding back and eventually pulling out as the bad weather started. Kabush moved up to the mid-teens, but then ran into brake problems, and slid back to 21st.
- Dahle has now mathematically won the women's World Cup, and Meirhaeghe holds a 100 point lead over Sauser, so he will be very hard to beat unless he has a mechanical in the last race in Livigno, Italy one week after the Worlds. Premont is third, Sydor fifth and Bisaro eighth in the standings for the women, and Hesjedal 15th and Kabush 16th for the men.
- Chris Sheppard (Haro-Adidas) crashed hard at the start of of the sixth lap through the start-finish. "I thought they were going to pull us, and then they sent us around again. I was carrying a lot of speed and then lost it just before the corner. Slammed down hard, broke my helmet. I was out of it for a couple of seconds."
- Making the Olympic squad will be a vindication for McGrath. He missed Sydney while in a battle with Geoff Kabush at the Nationals after flatting when riding neck and neck with Kabush. He has also dealt with considerable adversity this year. "Yeah, I've had a lot of adversity. 2000 was unfortunate, but I'm a better rider now. The Olympics has been my major goal since last year, but I had a crash in February and was off the bike for two weeks, then bronchitis, then the incident in Spain (he was mugged before the Madrid World Cup, suffering a concussion and stitches to his head). It's been one thing after another. But, everyone else is not riding so hot either. Now I just want to go to the Games and kick ass."
- The U.S. team looks mostly sorted out as well, with McConneloug favoured for the women's spot, and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (RLX Ralph Lauren) and Todd Wells (Trek-VW) for the men. Todd Wells moved into the second spot after jumping into the top-25 in the World Cup standings, meeting a selection criteria that U.S. men weren't expected to meet.