Posted by Editor on 07/26/09
Mont Ste Anne World Cup XC - Pendrel and Absalon Claim Victory
This report made possible by Shimano
Report by Mike Badyk & Rob Jones
In the fifth round of the Mountain World Cup at Mont Ste Anne, Quebec, Canadian National Champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team) and Julien Absalon (Orbea) claimed victory on a rain-slicked course. This was the second World Cup victory of Pendrel's career. For Absalon it was the fourth consecutive World Cup victory of this season.
We had mentioned in our race preview that the track here is brand new and much more technical in nature than seen here previously. Many of the pros described it as the most technically demanding course on the World Cup Circuit. Making things even more interesting was the weather. Many of the locals had been remarking that they have yet to have a summer and it has been raining an awful lot. Sure enough, the day started cool (15C) and windy, and true to form with this summer, 10 minutes before the start of the women's race the skies opened up and it poured rain. With the forecast being so poor well in advance of today's race the organizers added a "chicken run" on the now infamous new rocky descent. The technical nature of this section attracted a huge crowd of spectators waiting to cheer on both clean rides and crashes.
The women's World Cup was four laps of the 5.7 kilometre course. In an approach that hasn't been seen here in recent memory there was no start loop. This mandated a lightning fast start to be the first into the singletrack in the woods after the opening fire road climb. Up the climb it was Katrin Leumann and Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher) in the lead followed by World Cup leader Marga Fullana (Massi). The climb didn't do much to separate the pack and they entered the first section of woods en masse.
Out of the woods Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), the perennial home-town favourite and defending champion, gained an eight second lead on Fullana, followed by Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon), Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Gary Fisher), Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost) and Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher). Pendrel was sitting tenth and Emily Batty (Toronto Trek Store) was in 15th.
By the end of the lap Pendrel had taken the lead, followed by Premont, Kalentieva and Koerber together at seven seconds. The first lap was completed in 23:11.
Pendrel steadily increased her lead on Kalentieva and Koerber in lap two, followed closely by Nash, and then Premont. Fullana was in 14th and having real difficulty on the technical sections. Much to the disappointment of the partisan crowd, Premont had had a flat towards the end of the first lap, and then ran into suspension problems, dropping her out of the top-ten. Although Pendrel had the lead she was also showing the signs of a crash on the rocky descent, mainly an abrasion on her chin. By the time she reached this spot on the third lap she was opting for the Chicken Route.
On the final lap Pendrel was in cruise control, looking very comfortable in the lead. Nash was still in second place, but Kalentieva was catching her, and would pass to take the silver medal. Lene Byberg (Specialized) had worked her way up from a poor start to overtake a fading Koerber for fourth, while Koerber managed to hang on for the final podium spot.
Pendrel was very pleased with her win, especially considering her crash and other aspects of the race. “It was a great day. I was a little worried at the start. I didn't start as fast as I wanted to. I was a bit behind in the first singletrack. It was all single-file. Luckily the girls that were at the front didn't string too far ahead. I was able to use the climbs and the fitness sections to bridge up. Once I saw the front I wanted to hang onto it and make as few mistakes as possible. I took the lead from Marie-Helene at the end of the first lap, just before the switchbacking climb. The rain made things very slick and the degree of technical difficulty was high but I got better every lap.”
Premont was philosophical with her placing. “It wasn't the best day for me. I was feeling good on the first lap. I had a rear flat tire and I had to stop and change it, and then I had to come back. It just wasn't the best day for me. I would have liked to win here at Mont Ste Anne, but that's life. My fitness was better than it was at Nationals, but still not as good as I had hoped for.”
Premont also spoke about the course with respect to next year's Worlds. “It's a nice course. I really like it and I know I can do well here.” We asked “Will we see you racing next year.” She laughed and said “I might be!”
Other Canadian finishers were Emily Batty (Toronto Trek Store) in 15th, 23rd was Mical Dyck (Toronto Trek Store, 32nd Amanda Sin (3Rox Racing), 36th Sandra Walter (Local Ride), 39th Marie-Claude Surprenant (Equipe Quebec), 41st Caroline Villeneuve (Norco), 46th Josiane Mathieu (Equipe Quebec), and in 47th was Kathleen Villeneuve.
In the women's U23 category the winner was Aleksandra Dawidowicz, finishing ninth overall. With her win she took over the series points lead. Batty was the second place U23, standing fourth.
After this round Fullana remains the World Cup Points leader, but has lost ground to 4 riders including Pendrel who moved up to fourth from fifth. Osl remains in second with Kalentieva in third.
A large men's field of 104 riders took the line for a total of 6 laps. The off and on rain that had plagued the women had fortunately stopped by the time the men started. The clouds remained low all afternoon and it looked like the heavens would open at any moment but they never did, much to the relief of the riders. However, it did remain windy and cool for the duration, and the track was still wet from the morning's downpour.
Without a start loop, the whole key for many was to try and get to the front from the gun. The start was done at very high speed by the field. Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida Biking Team) took the early lead, followed at 15 seconds by Martin Gujan (Cannondale Factory Racing) at the front of a large chase group.
At the end of lap one, Näf was still holding the lead with Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Bicycles) in second at 32 seconds and Absalon 41 seconds back in third. Just behind Absalon was a small group with Gujan, Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) and José Hermida (Multivan Merida).
By the second lap, Absalon had become comfortable with the conditions and had caught and passed Kabush. He continued to gain time on the lead as Näf started to tire. Meanwhile, Hermida was slowly reeling in the leaders. By lap three, Näf had only one second on Absalon, with Kabush at 20 seconds and about to be caught by Hermida. It didn't take long for Absalon to take the lead and once he was at the front he started to open a gap on the chasers. Meanwhile, Näf continued to go backward, dropping to fourth by the end of the lap.
Into the second half of the race, Absalon was riding comfortably, followed by Hermida at 29 seconds, Kabush at 32 seconds, and Näf at 58 seconds. In fifth was a surprising U23 rider - Alexis Vuillermoz (LaPierre International). Jean-Christophe Peraud (Massi), Todd Wells (Specialized), and Burry Stander (Specialized) were chasing just behind Vuillermoz.
With the top four firmly in place, the battle for the final podium spot was all that was left. The first to put on a charge was Stander, who by the fifth lap had moved up after his U23 opponent Vuillermoz hit the wall after a strong start and rapidly dropped out of the top 10 to finish 19th. Also blowing up was Wells, who fell to 15th by the finish after ridng as high as fifth.
Creating even more excitement was a last lap flat by Näf, who lost some time to Stander initially but then charged back to maintain his fourth place. Course conditions hadn't improved much, with even the lead moto crashing on the top of the rocky descent.
Absalon cruised in with a winning time of 2:06:05, 32 seconds up on Hermida and 2:48 up on Kabush. A tired Näf had a enough left in the tank to retain fourth, 4:50 back. Stander claimed fifth (and the U23 win) 5:42 behind. Raphael Gagne (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) was the fifth-placed U23, in 33rd overall.
Two years ago Hermida also placed second to Absalon, with Kabush also third. Last year it was Absalon winning, with Kabush in second. Clearly this venue favours Absalon, Hermida and Kabush.
Absalon has always performed well at Mont Ste Anne, going back to his World title in the Junior category in 1998. “I was concerned at the start of the race. Through the first 2 turns at the start I wasn't in a good position. Through the first lap I tried to work my way up. Näf was very strong at the beginning of the race but he started to drop back and I took the lead. I had to work hard not to make mistakes. It was really, really slippery out there. It was a very technical track, but I like that. To win here under these conditions is very satisfying. It is the most technical track of the year. I'm very excited that the World Championships will be here next year.”
Hermida, one of the most congenial racers on the circuit, also liked his result. “I lost some time at the beginning of the race. It was quite complicated and it was important without a start loop. I should have been more focused on the start. Julian and I both lost time. Overall, I thought I could catch him. In the beginning he had a gap of 30 seconds and it didn't change during the race so I thought I could attack and get him on the final lap, but it didn't happen.”
Kabush was pleased by his result. His season hasn't been up the standards he has set in recent years. “I have a history of doing really well here. I started on the third row so I was really focused on the start. I got a really good start and I was climbing really well. This is a course that really suits me. The World Cup has been up and down this year and I'm happy to have a good result for my team. It's been a while. It felt good to be back in the action. Being back in North America has been good for me. I feel grounded again. I'm 100% healthy now.”
In the World Cup Points Series, Absalon has 480 point lead over second place Stander. Hermida jumps to third from sixth with his placing here, while Kabush jumps 10 spots to 14th.
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