July 10/09 18:35 pm - Mountain Bike Nationals Preview
Posted by Editoress on 07/10/09
The Manager's meeting concluded a short while ago, with the final details for tomorrow's Elite and Espoir Mountain Bike National Championship races. Currently, it is a beautiful day in St-Felicien, Quebec, in the Saguenay region northeast of Quebec City. However, there is a strong chance of rain tomorrow afternoon, meaning that both the women and men could be hit with wet and slippery conditions.
The action begins at 9:00 am (EDT) tomorrow with the Junior Expert Men (4 laps), Junior Women (3 laps), Cadet Men (3 laps) and Cadet Women (2 laps). At 11:30 am (EDT) the Elite and Espoir women race 4 laps, followed by the Elite and Espoir men at 2:00 pm (EDT) for 5 laps. Each group will do a start loop before the full laps. Our live coverage starts at 9:00 am EDT with the Juniors.
For the Elite and Espoir riders, the circuit is 6.6 kilometres - the Juniors and Cadets cut out one 300 metre section. The course is quite similar to the World Cup course run here in 2007, which received strong reviews from riders, and held up well in wet conditions.
After the start loop riders face a long steady climb, with the upper portion single track. From here they head back down towards the Start/Finish area on a combination of single track and gravel fireroad to enter the Velo-Parc area, which twists and turns back and forth, requiring good handling skills to avoid losing time. Exiting the Velo-Parc, they pass the second Tech/Feed Zone (the first is just after the Start/Finish) and face another long singletrack climb to the highest part of the course.
At the top, they immediately zigzag their way down the ski slope, then face another short, sharp climb on grassy double track, before once again descending on gravel trail and singletrack back to the Start/Finish. The top men are expect to cover a lap in around 20 minutes at race pace.
Both the men's and women's races should be extremely exciting. Defending champions Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) face some of the stiffest competition they have had for a few years.
On the women's side, world number one ranked Catharine Pendrel (Team Luna) is just coming off a victory in the BC Bike Race, and the flowing, technical nature of the course should suit her. Premont has not been seen in competition (she was at the Canada Cup last weekend but experienced mechanical problems) much since her second place at the Madrid round of the World Cup, but she has been building steadily for her home race of Mont Ste Anne in a couple of weeks; this should be a very good test of her fitness. The overwhelming favourite for the Espoir women is defending champion Emily Batty (Toronto Trek Store). Other strong podium contenders are last week's Canada Cup winner Amanda Sin (3 Rox Racing), Mical Dyck (Toronto Trek Store) and Sandra Walter (Local Ride).
Pendrel is anxious for the chance at her first national title. "This is a super fun course, with a bit of everything. I came out of BC Bike Race feeling really good, so I'm hoping for a good ride here."
On the men's side, Kabush is the perennial favourite, but he faces competition from a couple of pros who have stuck to the North American circuit this year - Max Plaxton (Sho-Air/Specialized) and Seamus McGrath (Jamis/Oakley). Both have had strong rides so far this year, with McGrath having just won the BC Bike Race, and Plaxton leading the U.S. National series. Defending Champions and Canada Cup leader Raphaël Gagné (Team MAXXIS-Rocky Mountain Bicycles) is the favourite for the Espoir title but Francis Morin (Quebec), Cody Canning (Team Alberta), and first year Espoir Ryan Atkins (Team Ontario) will make him work for it.
"This is true mountain biking," commented McGrath.