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June 30/03 11:39 am - Road Nationals Men’s and Women's Road Race Story

Posted by Editor on 06/30/03

2003 Road Nationals - Hamilton, Ontario

This report made possible through the sponsorship of Evolution by Oryx

Women's Road Race

The first test of the Hamilton Road Worlds course can be considered an unqualified success after Sunday's men's and women's road races. Road closures went almost hitch-free, and police estimates put the crowds on the day at 10,000 - by far the highest for a national championships in recent memory.

By now, most readers will have some familiarity with the course, but a description is in order: Starting in front of City Hall, the riders head west along Main Street for a little less than a kilometre before turning left onto Queen Street and riding another kilometre to the base of the first climb up the Niagara Escarpment. This is the shorter of the two climbs, but many consider it the more difficult, since it goes up in a series of "ramps", rather than a steady climb like the Claremount one.

Once over the top the riders turn left onto Fennell, heading east along the top of the Escarpment. This section had a tailwind during the races, and was very fast. Another left onto Upper James Street leads to the second climb, the Claremount Access. For spectators this is a particularly good location, since they get to see the riders drop down the Escarpment (called "The Mountain" by locals) and then, after a quick left-left at the bottom grind all the way back up. This climb is longer, but steady, with the Hamilton steelworks spread out in the distance behind.

At the top of the climb (where the spectators congregate), the riders funnel into a single lane to the right - a strong headwind as they came through here made this a difficult section. After coming over the top, they make a 180 degree turn and drop into the second descent down West 5th - a narrow, twisting drop that brings out of shaded greenery to the downtown core. It is about a kilometre to the finish from here, with a sharp left about 350 metres before the line. Total distance: 12.4 kilometres.

Nathan O'Neill (Saturn) described it best, when he said: "this course is just like a mongrel dog - it jumps out and bites you. This is by far the hardest Worlds course I've ever ridden - everyone talks about how hard Lugano (Switzerland, 1996) was, but this is much, much harder."

The 9 lap women's race was expected to come down to four riders - Genevieve Jeanson (Rona-Esker), Lyne Bessette and Manon Jutras (both Saturn), and local favourite Sue Palmer-Komar (Genesis-Scuba). The only real unknown quantity was former worlds medalist Linda Jackson (who won her bronze medal in Lugano), who had come out of retirement to race.

The race began with an attack from three riders - Jane Despas (RDM), Melissa Holt (RONA), Carrie Tuck (RONA). At the start of lap 2, they had a gap of about 40 seconds on a chase group of 3, containing Stephanie Bourbeau (Quebec), Cybil Diguistini (Genesis Scuba), and Jessica DeMars (Team Alberta). This group was closing on the leaders on the Claremount descent, but almost getting scooped on the climb by the peloton, which was being led by Amy Moore (Saturn). At the end of the second lap a little rain fell and this, combined with the inexperience of some riders led to bad crash on the second descent, with Jutras and Andrea Hannos () going down hard. Jutras suffered a broken collarbone in the crash, a big blow to Bessette and the Saturn team plans.

After this, Bessette launched an attack early in the third lap, before the climb. "It was scary with some of the riders, who aren't used to racing in a peloton, so we decided that it was best to be off the front." 'We' was herself, Jeanson, Palmer-Komar and Leigh Hobson (Cervelo). Linda Jackson tried to get across, but didn't have the kick.

"I came up here for some fun, and to get a gauge of how I'm going. I've haven't been racing, but I've been doing lots of riding. But when Lyne put the pressure on I just didn't have the snap - those girls are in a different league."

These four quickly scooped up the chasers and leaders, and on the first climb of lap four there was a group of five at the front - Jeanson, Bessette, Palmer-Komar, DiGuistini and Depas. Shortly afterwards it was three, when DiGuistini and Depas were dropped.

"I thought that if I went with an early break I would be in good position to 'get on' when they (Bessette, Jeanson and Palmer-Komar) came through." explained DiGuistini. "I was right, but there was just no way that I could stay with them."

Then Bessette decided it was time to remove Palmer-Komar from the equation. "Sue didn't want to pull at all, so we just got rid of her" stated Bessette succinctly. "Sue is a good sprinter, and we couldn't have her fresh at the end."

At the top of the first climb Bessette let a gap open to Jeanson, and then jumped across, leaving Palmer-Komar behind. All along the top of the course, down the Claremount descent and back up the climb Jeanson pulled at the front, with Palmer-Komar chasing. Up the second climb she was visibly reeling in the pair at the front, and was only 10 metres back as they all entered the chute at the top. But then Bessette looked over her shoulder, stood up and went to front, towing Jeanson away with her. Palmer-Komar cracked at this point, slowing and sitting up, knowing that she would not be able to get back."

"They were definitely working against me, but I knew they would be the ones. Right now they are stronger, but they have a history of not being as strong at the Worlds, and I'll be that much stronger in October."

Palmer would finish third.

Up the road, the remaining duo were steadily riding, with Jeanson pulling on the climbs, and Bessette on the flats and into the headwind. As the race wound down, everyone kept waiting for the inevitable attack, which didn't happen. On the last climb up Claremount, the only opportunity before the descent to the finish, Bessette went to the front for the whole climb, looking over her shoulder, expecting something from Jeanson, but it didn't happen.

Instead, the crowd was treated to a drag race out of the last corner. Out of the last corner it was Bessette in front, but Jeanson managed to squeak by her at the line as her rival faded in the headwind.

"It was scary at the finish, in the last corner I almost went into the barriers." Said Jeanson. "I knew that she was waiting for me to attack on the climbs, but for me, the best strategy today was to stay in her draft until the last minute and then come by her."

Bessette was philosophical. "I didn't know what she was going to do (on the last climb), I thought she might attack, but I decided to ride at my own pace and she followed. I thought it would be best to lead out of the last corner, because it was so close to the line, but there was enough of a headwind that she got the advantage of my draft."

Men's Road race Story

Nathan O'Neill (Saturn) described it best, when he said: "this course is just like a mongrel dog - it jumps out and bites you. This is by far the hardest Worlds course I've ever ridden - everyone talks about how hard Lugano (Switzerland, 1996) was, but this is much, much harder. Whomever wins here will be a truly worthy world champion"

O'Neill should know - he spent 14 of the 15 laps of the men's race out in front, after covering an early break. Vassili Davidenko (Navigators) spent nearly half the race up front with O'Neill, before dropping back to help his Canadian team mate Mark Walters.

The presence of foreign riders such as O'Neill and Will Frischkorn for Saturn, and Davidenko and Burke Swindlehurst on Navigators was something new for the Nationals. The race was a required test event for the Worlds, and carried a UCI 1.5 ranking. It also provided Canadian pros such as Walters, and Saturn's Eric Wohlberg and Charles Dionne the opportunity to have team mates for a change. Michael Barry provided a first ever pairing of US Postal shorts with Team Ontario jersey, while Svein Tuft traded Prime Alliance clothing for Symmetrics and eventual men's winner Dominique Perras was riding for Quebec rather than his usual

It turned out to make very little difference in the end, with O'Neill opening up a gap of over 9 minutes at one point and soloing in for the race win. Behind, there was a race of attrition going on, with all the top riders - Dionne, Wohlberg, Walters, Barry, Perras, Jean-Francois Laroche (VW-Trek) and Tuft watching each other closely.

The situation one third of the way through the race was: O'Neill and Davidenko at the front, with O'Neill doing all the work. One minute back was a chase group of 3 - Aaron Fillion (Team Ontario), Jean Francois Racine (Quebec) and Darko Ficko (Pavan). Behind them was another chase group of 5 - Alexandre Nadeau (Quebec), Pascal Choquette (Trek VW), A. De Cardenas (Quebec), Stig Somme (Jet Fuel) and Thorben Weiditz (TSB).

Three laps later (lap 9, 8 laps to go) the rapidly shrinking peloton had caught all the chasers, with most of them going right out the back. Cory Lange (Symmetrics) attacked at the top of Queen Street two laps later, taking Frischkorn as a shadow. "I figured that I could get myself into position to catch on to any moves."

On the Queen Street climb with three laps remaining, Perras attacked four times, with a group containing Walters, Dionne, Czeslaw Lukaszewicz (Equipe Quebec) and Joe Giuliano (Atlas-Italpasta) that was just in front of the other chasers at the bottom of the climb. He attacked again, dropping Lukaszewicz and Giuliano, and then again twice more,and eventually shedding all his rivals. "I was hoping that Mark would come with me, but I knew that we could not take Charles up to Will, or it would be all over. I think Mark hesitated a bit, but I knew that I had to go."

He stormed along the top of the course and charging up to Lange and Frischkorn, who had now been dangling out in front of the chase group for a couple of laps. Perras went right by them on the Claremont climb at over 30 kilometres an hour, with only Frischkorn able to latch on. "Dom was stomping when he came by us", commented Lange.

The gap between Perras and his rivals quickly grew to 2 minutes as they all looked at each other. The chasers dropped to four with a series of attacks - Dionne, Wohlberg, Barry and Walters - but the 'problem' was Dionne. "None of us wanted to bring Charles across", explained Walters. "With Frischkorn there, and Charles' sprinting ability it would have been pointless."

The group did start to make time back on the final lap, with the gap dropping to 90 seconds as they started the last climb of Queen Street, but Perras dug deeper and managed to crest the last climb still a minute ahead. Dropping down into the city centre, he rolled across the finish line behind Frischkorn with a broad grin across his face, having secured his spot for the main event in October. Walters outkicked Wohlberg for second in the Canadian title race (fourth overall), followed by Dionne and finally Barry.

"My plan before the start of the race was to be cautious in the first half, and then try to follow some moves in the last three laps. But I knew that I had to drop Charles" said Perras afterwards.  "This is my best result ever; to wear the national jersey and be the Canadian champion while racing in Europe will be incredible."

Race Notes

- Mike Barry praised Perras for his race. "Dom rode a very smart race. This is a good circuit for him and he played off the team tactics going on really well. I think he will make an great national champion and represent Canada well in Europe."

- Mark Walters maxed out at 94 kmph during the men's race "but there were other guys who I think must have hit 100."

- Charley Mottet was over from France to represent the UCI and look at the job the organization was doing. Overall, he said "the job is very good, I am pleased. There are a few little details - the (TV camera) motos were too close to the riders, but everything is on track."

- Photos are still being sorted through, and will continue to go up all week. We have close to 1800 images at last count . . .

Hamilton, Nationals


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