Posted by Editoress on 04/11/10
The United States brought their 'A' team to the Pan American Mountain Bike Championships for the cross-country and the riders did not disappoint, with the women sweeping the podium, led by Willow Koerber, and Todd Wells taking the men's title. Canada put two riders on the podium, with Mikaela Kofman winning silver in the Under-23 women's race, and Max Plaxton taking bronze for the elite men.
With Koerber, Mary McConneloug and Heather Irmiger on the start line for the U.S., the only surprise would have been if they hadn't taken at least two medals. Koerber rode away early in the first lap of the five lap race, and maintained her lead all the way to the finish. McConneloug similarly took control of second place, but Irmiger had a battle early in the race with Canada's Mical Dyck, before finally pulling away to complete the podium sweep.
"I just wanted to push it," explained Koerber. "I got a gap on the first lap, and I was trying to make myself hurt, because that is what the World Cups will be like. I had my first race of the year just a couple of weeks ago at Fontana, and I won the short track there, so I knew that I had the speed. I've had a couple of thirds at the Pan Ams, so I'm happy to get my first win."
Dyck then got into a fierce battle with Angela Parra Sierra (Colombia) for fourth, with the two trading positions through the race. Parra Sierra was better on the climbs, but Dyck was pulling her back in the technical sections. Coming into the final kilometre, Dyck managed to catch the Colombian, and the pair sprinted to the line, with Parra Sierra taking fourth by half a wheel. Canadian Amanda Sin came back from a slow start to finish seventh.
"I'm really, really happy with my race," commented Dyck. "I didn't really know how my form is because I've had to work on an oil rig all winter and just ride my trainer, so this is a real confidence boost for me. I was amazed at how well the Colombian was climbing! I would come back to her on all the technical sections, but she was just zipping up the climbs."
In the four lap Under-23 race, Laura Abril of Colombia took control early in the first lap, and quickly distanced herself from the rest of the field. Mikaela Kofman had early problems, with a rear flat the necessitated a pit stop. She steadily worked her way back through the field to move into second by the final lap, with Paula Quiros of Argentina finishing third. Canada's Rebecca Beaumont had a strong start, but was forced to drop out at the halfway point due to back problems.
"I'm very pleased with my result," said Kofman. "The race didn't start so well with the flat, and I had to ride half a lap before getting a wheel change, but I was confident that I could make it back to the podium."
Wells was the favourite coming into the men's six lap race, but there were plenty of other riders in contention, including Plaxton and Wells' countryman Sam Schultz. However, it was unheralded Reubens Valeriano of Brazil who joined Wells at the front on the first lap. Chasing on his own was Colombian Fabio Castañeda Monsalve, and behind him, a chase group formed containing Schultz, his team mate Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Canadians Andrew Watson and Derek Zandstra, Catriel Soto (Argentina), Paolo Montoya (Costa Rica) and others. All these riders were within 40 seconds of the leaders.
Missing from this group was Plaxton, who had crashed into a fallen rider on the start loop, dropping back to the mid-teens. His chase would see him leapfrogging from group to group as he worked his way back into contention. As Monsalve faded, his countryman Luis Anderson Mejia Sanchez moved into third, while the Watson-Zandstra-Schultz group was gradually shedding riders due to the pace and increasing heat.
The front pair were set, although Wells received a bit of a scare mid-race when a crash dropped him back 15 seconds on Valeriano. The Specialized pro quickly caught up, and then attacked late in the third lap to open a gap. His lead rapidly grew to 40 seconds, and then steadied for the remainder of the race.
"I've come into the start of the season before with good form, and then had mechanicals or crashes, and gotten thirds, fourths and fifths, so it was really good to get the 'W'. That Brazilian guy was riding really well, and I tried a bunch of times to attack him and get a gap, but I couldn't drop him. Then I had a little crash on an off camber section, and after I got back up, I attacked on a flatter section and finally got away. To get this win, and in Fontana a couple of weeks ago is a great start to the season."
Behind, Plaxton had caught and dropped all the chasers but Sanchez, and he finally caught the Colombian in the last lap, taking the lead on the final technical descent to win the bronze medal.
Unfortunately for Plaxton, he was about to receive his second setback of the race, when the Colombian team protested, claiming that the Canadian had shoved their rider to take the lead before the final descent. Plaxton countered that the Colombian tried to squeeze him into the bushes, and that he had put his arm out to stop being pushed off the course.
Both riders met with chief commissaire Josée Bedard to provide their sides of the story - there were no corroborating witnesses to support either version. That is, until the Colombians claimed that the official in the feed zone down the hill behind the incident saw what happened, and would support their version.
The said official, when brought into the fray, immediately recanted, stating that he had not seen anything, and that the Colombians had told him what to say ... The Colombians then backpedalled away from the situation and Plaxton got to keep third.
Just another day of racing in Latin America...
Plaxton just shook his head about the incident. "I've raced a bunch of Pan Ams now, and there's always something going on. When I went down at the start, I basically t-boned a guy in front of me and went over the bars, twisting my shifters all around. I was pretty far back, but I just rode a steady race and got back up there, which proves that I was strong enough. Then he started squeezing me into the bushes and I had nowhere to go, so I had to take my hand off the bars and push him back. I was getting a little worried about how long [the protest] was taking, but it all worked out."
Andrew Watson attacked the remains of the chase group to record one of the best results of his career in fifth, with Derek Zandstra coming in just behind Schultz in seventh. Raphaël Gagne finished 12th.
In the five lap Under-23 race, two Brazilian riders rode off the front on the first lap and stayed away all race, with Sherman Paiva taking the victory ahead of Henrique Avancini. American Rob Squire took the bronze medal after a consistent ride. Top Canadian was Cody Canning in 12th, while Zach Hughes finished 26th.
Hughes almost didn't start due to stomach problems, but was having a strong race just behind Canning until the final lap when he crashed hard, and was briefly knocked unconscious. After losing some ten minutes at the side of the trail, he remounted his bike and rode the final two kilometres to the finish line.
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