Posted by Editoress on 08/3/09
Round six of cross-country series in the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano at Bromont, Quebec in Canada saw two first time winners take the top step of the podium, with Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory Racing) and Canadian champion Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) taking the women's and men's titles under the most grueling conditions of the season. Byberg also took over the lead in the women's overall standings from world champion Marga Fullana (Massi), while Julien Absalon (Orbea) continues to lead the men despite finishing a distant 17th after suffering mechanical problems.
Shortly before the start of lap two in the women's five lap race, the rain which had been threatening all morning began to fall, turning the rocks and roots slippery and treacherous. The race had already begun to sort itself out by that point, with Byberg bridging up to the early leaders Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon), Catharine Pendrel (Luna) and Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher) on the second lap. Early in the race, on the first lap, Fullana had been among the leaders on the climb, but she quickly slid back when the race entered the more technical second half of the lap and eventually abandoned on lap two.
After Koerber fell off the pace, the Kalentieva, Pendrel, Byberg trio gradually pulled away from the rest of the field, and then began to split up on the next lap, with Pendrel dropping off first in lap three, and then Kalentieva a lap later, leaving the Norwegian on her own out in front.
"It wasn't really an attack," explained Byberg. "I was riding very strongly, and felt good in the conditions, especially on the climb, so I could see that I would get a little gap, and then it started getting bigger and bigger. For the last lap, all I could think was to be careful and not to crash, so that I could take this most unbelievable victory of my career."
“I maybe went too hard earlier in the race,” said Pendrel, “trying to break things up, and then I didn’t have it when the serious effort came later in the race.”
Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) had been expected to challenge the leaders in conditions that generally suited her, but was not a factor during the race, eventually finishing 13th. Premont appeared to be labouring on the climb by the second lap, and facing some of the breathing difficulties that knocked her out of the Olympics last summer.
“It was very hard for me out there today,” Premont admitted. “I felt dizzy a bit, and I couldn’t breathe, so I had to stop at the side of the track for a while before I was able to go again. It was not a good day for me.”
Kalentieva and Pendrel followed Byberg in for second and third, with round one winner Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost) taking fourth and American Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven-No Tubes) making a late race surge to claim the final podium spot after a battle with Koerber.
Byberg now holds a 25 point lead over Osl and Kalentieva in the overall standings, with former leader Fullana dropping to fourth and Pendrel in fifth. Any one of these five could take the final title, depending upon what happens in the last two rounds.
Canada's Emily Batty (Toronto Trek Store) took her third U23 World Cup victory of the season after finishing 15th overall, and moves into second in the standings behind Caroline Mani (Team Bikepark.ch), who finished four spots behind Batty. In the four World Cups she has entered, Batty has three firsts and a second for the U23 category, and has finished in the top-15 overall in all four events.
Other Canadian results include Amanda Sin (3 Rox Racing) in 16th and Mical Dyck in 27th.
The men's race began under worse conditions than the women, if that was possible, with officials reducing the distance by one lap to six. The rain and the 50-plus women racers had churned up the mud, making the climb an even harder grind than usual. The mud also began to impact equipment, with most riders experiencing brake failure at some point in the race as brake pads wore away in the gritty mud.
Max Plaxton (Canadian National/Sho-Air), who pulled out on lap three, said “The mud in my brake pads meant that by lap three all I had left was metal on aluminum rotors, and I couldn’t control the bike at all.”
Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida) got off to his usual fast start, and was quickly joined by Absalon, with Kabush steadily making his way up towards the front. Näf dropped back from Absalon on lap two, to be passed by Kabush, who joined the Olympic champion near the top of the climb, just before Absalon broke his chain, putting him out of contention as he lost nearly 40 places before rejoining the race.
Kabush was now alone at the front, with Näf dropping back to a chase group with his team mate Jose Hermida, Florian Vogel (Scott-Swisspower) and Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower). Kabush would continue to power away from the chasers to finish over 90 seconds in front of Hermida, with Näf holding on for third ahead of Vogel and Lukas Flückiger (Trek World Team). Both Todd Wells (Specialized Factory Team) in ninth and Adam Craig (Giant) in tenth moved up in the latter half of the race. Sam Schultz (Subaru-Gary Fisher) was on the race of his career for the first four laps, sitting in fifth place until a flat dropped him out of contention.
Brakes were a problem for many riders, with Näf explaining “in the final lap and a half I started to lose my brakes completely, and trying to ride through the technical parts became very, very dangerous. I had to slow down a lot, and I think otherwise I could have stayed in second. I could not have caught Geoff, because he was so strong today and riding everything so well.”
Hermida, the winner of round one in South Africa, said he also suffered from brake problems, but the timing was more fortuitous. “I was lucky that my brakes stopped working early in the race rather than late, because I stopped then in the technical area and was able to catch people later in the race when their brakes failed.”
Stander has all but mathematically locked up the U23 title (it would take consecutive wins in the final two races by second placed Alexis Vuillermoz (Lapierre International) while Stander got no points) with his seventh place in Bromont. Canada’s U23 champion, Raphael Gagne (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) was the sixth U23 across the line in 40th place after suffering a flat late in lap three, and is now ninth in the overall U23 standings.
"To win here, in my own country, it still hasn't sunk in," said Kabush. "I knew I was riding well, after finishing third a week earlier, and this course really suited me, so I was confident that I could go head to head with Julien. It's too bad that he broke his chain, because I am still confident that I could have ridden against him. I didn’t have any of the mechanical problems the other riders were having, so I really have to thank my team and the mechanics. I went with the hardtail and the mud tires, and I was able to ride everything with no problems. This win is the biggest of my career, because with Julien so strong, for anyone to win a World Cup is very hard. This just shows that it can be done."
Absalon's lead in the series standings dropped a few points after his 17th place, however, he is still an almost uncatchable 412 points in front of Hermida, with U23 leader Burry Stander (Specialized Factory Team) 20 points behind Hermida. Kabush has vaulted up the standings from 24th before Mont Ste Anne, to 14th before Bromont and now seventh. In the final two rounds there is likely to be a three-way battle for third between Hermida, Näf and Stander who are separated by 50 points, and the same for fifth between Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon), Schurter and Kabush, who are only 40 points apart.
Kudos to the organizers of the Bromont World Cup who, under extremely adverse conditions managed to run everything on time and track. A lot of people don't realize the amount of work that goes into running a World Cup in good conditions; the rain just makes everything much harder - and there was a lot of rain! Bromont also completely rebuilt the XC track in less than a month after the Canada Cup, and for the World Cup, while muddy, it was all completely rideable.
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