Posted by Editor on 08/11/02
2002 National Road Race Championships
Two new names will appear in the record book of Canadian national road champions - Katy St-Laurent and Andrew Randell. Both riders played a savvy waiting game to scoop the road titles from favourites such as Lyne Bessette (Equipe du Quebec), Genevieve Jeanson (Rona), Eric Wohlberg (Saturn) and Mark Walters (Navigators).
The course for the national road championships was not as selective as in previous years. The 27 kilometre loop did have some small climbs, but nothing sufficient to break up the fields. Defending champion Walters knew before the start that this would make it difficult for the solo pros such as himself, Wohlberg, Svein Tuft (Prime Alliance) and Dominique Perras (iTeamNova.com).
"It wasn't a hard enough course; there weren't enough hills and no wind to break it up. We knew that we had to make the race hard, and I was hoping for a break to develop like last year, when there were fewer and fewer riders left at the end until it was just Mike (Barry, US Postal, who didn't attend this year) and I. But this time every time I tried something there would be a lot of guys all over me."
This was a complaint echoed by Wohlberg. "It was horribly, horribly negative. It was a decent course, but one of us (pros) would attack and the pack would just sit on. When the break went up the road, they (the rest of the field) seemed willing to let it get 10 minutes as long as one of us wasn't in it."
The break was one that formed on the first lap of the 189 kilometre race, with representation from all the domestic squads - Sympatico-Jet Fuel, VW-Trek, Ital Pasta-Atlas Cold Storage, Colnago-Carrera and Equipe du Quebec. Within 30 kilometres the gap was three and a half minutes and growing.
So, Wohlberg, Walters, Perras, Tuft, and mountain bikers Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Seamus McGrath (Haro-Lee Dungarees) went to the front and chased it down. The final remnants of the original front group of 11 were caught with approximately 60 kilometres remaining, and Dominique Rollin (Equipe du Quebec) counterattacked through the start-finish to set up what would be the winning move.
"When we caught the 3 guys left in the break it slowed and I attacked really hard with Antoine (Varghese, Ital Pasta-Atlas Cold Storage). Dom (Perras) caught up, and then Andrew (Randell) came up after the feed zone."
Rollin, who usually rides on Sympatico-Jet Fuel with Randell, was the only Espoir in the group, so he took on the majority of the workload to make the break succeed. Initially, the group gained a quick minute and a half, but then the field began to splinter behind and a chase group of 9 came within 45 seconds with 15 kilometres to go. The gap stabilized, as all four frontrunners worked to stay away, and then crept back to a minute with 10 kilometres to go.
Rollin went to the front and buried himself for the last 6 kilometres. "Dom was the strongest rider out there", acknowledged Perras. "He pulled us for the last 6 or 7 kilometres."
"He was working like a horse" echoed Randell.
Once the front group crested the final rise and could see the finish line, they knew it would come down to a sprint. Rollin hung back to avoid interfering with the sprint, his title secure. On paper, Randell was the strongest sprinter, and he did not disappoint.
"When it came down to a sprint I knew that I had a pretty good chance. Dominique (Perras) attacked with 5 K to go. I was cramping a bit, but we all got back on and stayed together until the end. It was a weird sprint - downhill to start and then it flattened out. Dom led it out - I think he probably went too early - and then I came off his wheel."
While the men's race was either a good example of team tactics or negative riding, depending upon your point of view, the women's race was just plain strange. Rona and Equipe du Quebec were clearly the dominant squads, with others such as Sue Palmer-Komar (Talgo America), Anne Samplonius (Trek Plus), Leah Goldstein (Boise Cascade) and Sandy Espeseth riding solo.
It was expected that Rona and Quebec would try to split the field up, and try to set things up for their stars - Jeanson and Bessette. Instead, spectators were treated to a 4 lap, 108 kilometre training ride, with a sprint at the end. Every time some tried to get away (such as Samplonius on more then one occasion), Rona would go to the front and tow the field back up to them.
"Okay", the thinking became as the race progressed, "any moment now Jeanson will launch a massive attack off the front, or Bessette will, and a few strong riders will chase up." The only problem was that it didn't happen.
So, 200 metres from the line, Katy St-Laurent, a 26 year old former swimmer and triathlete who started racing one year ago, stood on the pedals and sprinted to the national title.
"It was a strange race", St-Laurent agreed. "There were many attacks but it was so flat that nothing could get away. Rona chased everything, but didn't do anything at the end. I just kept my concentration and then tried at 200m, and no one came up to me."
- St-Laurent was a member of the women's development team that spent 3 months in France in the spring.
- When asked where his home base was, Randell replied "my car".
- All riders praised the organizers for their efforts. "Hats off to the organizer", said Eric Wohlberg. "It was a decent course and well run."
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