Posted by Editor on 01/7/06
2005 - A Year in Review
Yesterday our review of the 2005 season covered August. Today we look at September. September is one the most important months of the year for riders. It is the month of world championships for Mountain Bike and Road, World Cup Finals for mountain bikers and the Vuelta for roadies. It is also one of the last opportunities to impress team managers for younger riders who are looking for a spot on a squad the following year.
The month opened with the individual events at the Mountain Bike Worlds in Livigno, Italy. Canada had one of its 'worst' results in recent memory - only one medal. Micayla Gatto, a first year Junior Downhiller salvaged Canadian honour with her Bronze medal - the first Downhill medal for Canada since 1992.
"I feel pretty good about this, my goal was to finish in the top five." said Gatto. "I didn't realize that it had been so long (since Canada won a downhill medal). I feel proud that I did something great for my country; I like to get Canada's name out there."
By most estimations, Canada didn't do so bad - Marie-Helene Premont was 4th, Alison Sydor 6th, Geoff Kabush 14th (after flats), Neal Kindree (Junior Men XC) 8th and Andrew Mitchell (Junior Men DH) 7th. Seamus McGrath was into the top-10 on the final lap but flatted, and Roland Green's comeback season ended when he doubled flatted after battling his way up through the field.
The 'problem' is that Canada is used to being among the very best, every year. These Worlds saw the breaking of two Canadian records: It is the first year since 1997 that Canada has been shut out of the medals in the elite cross-country, and it is the first year since 1991 that Alison Sydor has finished outside of the top five at a world championships (a 14 year record of consistency that may never be broken). Sydor was philosophical about her record being broken: "Sixth place isn't too bad on this tough course. Now I have a record of never lower than sixth!" Canada's other top female rider, Kiara Bisaro, had to drop out after suffering a broken derailleur.
The other news of the Worlds was the retirement of downhiller Anne-Caroline Chausson of France. Chausson's retirement announcement stole the thunder from anything else that happened in the downhill. The French legend has a staggering total of 19 world titles (even she didn't know how many, and had to be prompted):
9 Elite Downhill (1996-2003, 2005)
3 Junior Downhill
She was asked about returning to BMX for the Beijing Olympics, but said that she is finished with all competition. "I am stopping because I don't want the stress of racing anymore. It was my plan to stop last year, in France (at the Worlds in Les Gets), but I broke my collarbone during training and could not race, so I decided to go one more year. I'll only do freeride now."
The World Cup Final in Fort William, Scotland was also a bit of a bust for Canada. Premont was expected to battle it out with Sabine Spitz of Germany for second place in the overall standings, but barely completed one lap before dropping out; a victim of food poisoning from bad mussels two nights before the race. Premont would finish the season third overall in the World Cup standings, plus two World Cup victories - not too bad a season...
Canadian road racers were putting in some strong performances at the same time - Audrey Lemieux finished 9th at the Tour of Rotterdam World Cup and Dominique Perras was 10th at the San Francisco GP (Mark Walters finished 12th). Charles Dionne made the jump across to the top ranks of pro teams, signing with Saunier Duval-Prodir for 2006. This makes Dionne the third Canadian to ride on a ProTour squad (along with Michael Barry and Ryder Hesjedal). Once again, Michael Barry rode the Vuelta for his Discovery team, and finished 57th overall (8th in the final stage). Hesjedal confirmed that he was leaving Discovery for Phonak.
On September 13th, we had to publish a news items that was one of the disappointments of the season: Chris Sheppard - 'Shep' - had tested positive for recombinant erythropoietin (rEPO). The result had occurred in an out-of-competition test back at the end of May, but the proceedings and announcement were only concluded at this time. Sheppard accepted a two year suspension and immediately retired.
I spoke with Chris after the announcement, but we never published the interview - this was a personal conversation with a long-time friend who made a mistake; one which, rightly or wrongly, has tainted an otherwise strong career. Chris, unlike most riders in the same situation, had the backbone to stand up and accept the mud slung his way - I spoke with a team manager who said he watched Chris bravely appear at the Norba race after the announcement and try to personally apologize to other riders. Some accepted his apology, others would have nothing to do with him.
Understand: I in no way condone what Chris did, however, this does not diminish the sorrow I feel for both Chris and our sport. Personally, I believe Chris would make an excellent spokesperson and example to young athletes about the damage the use of banned substances can do to a career. Listening to someone who lost everything would have a bigger impact than any number of studies or warnings. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen given the current political climate over doping in sports.
The month concluded with the Road Worlds in Madrid. The highlight was watching Tom Boonen fulfill predictions and take the men's title. Ryder Hesjedal had a couple of strong performances in his first Road Worlds, finishing 22nd in the time trial, and managing to stay with the main field (where Boonen was) until the final climb, 10 kilometres from the finish line. I have never seen him so shattered as when he finally rolled through the finish after that race...
Sue Palmer-Komar once again was the top Canadian woman, finishing 14th in a field sprint won by Regina Schleicher of Germany (ahead of an extremely disappointed Nicole Cooke of Great Britain). Also in the group were Erinne Willock (21st) and Alison Sydor (31st). Sydor was a last minute substitute for national champion Genevieve Jeanson (injured). Also missing was Lyne Bessette, who declined an invite to the Worlds. In the Espoir road race Brandon Crichton was at the front in a break for a few laps before they were reeled back in.
Canadian trivia from the Worlds: Canada had the oldest man in the elite time trial (Eric Wohlberg), the oldest woman in the road race (Alison Sydor) and the second oldest woman in the time trial (Sue Palmer-Komar). If Eric Wohlberg had started the men's road race (instead of Dominique Perras), we would have had the oldest man in the road race as well...
Tomorrow - October to December
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