Posted by Editor on 11/6/10
The Canadian Cyclo-cross National Championships saw two riders return to the top step of the podium after an absence - one after two years, and the other after 19. Wendy Simms (Ridley) won a hard fought battle in the Elite women's race to take her first national title since 2008, while Chris Sheppard (Rocky Mountain) became the men's champion; his only previous national title was as a junior mountain biker in 1991.
After two years in Edmonton, Alberta, the Canadian Nationals moved to the middle of Toronto, with local organizer ZM Cycling and Fitness putting together a course that garnered strong praise from the riders.
The two-plus kilometre circuit barely gave riders a moment to rest, with multiple short steep climbs, and constant twists and turns on the flat sections. While the weather conditions were excellent - low single digits Celcius, with sun for much of the day - rain earlier in the week made many of the corners slippery, and a number of riders crashed as they tried to push the pace.
The women's 20 rider field had strong depth, and no clear favourite. Defending champion Alison Sydor was missing (retired), but Simms had to go up against top ranked Natasha Elliott (Garneau- Club Chaussures- Ogilvy Renault), Alberta's Pepper Harlton and Katy Curtis, and world number one ranked mountain biker Catharine Pendrel (Luna).
Simms, back in competition after missing last year due to having her first child (son Tycho), wasted no time in showing her competition that she was there to win, with an attack on the opening half lap. Harlton led the chase back to Simms, with Curtis and Elliott on her wheel. Pendrel was back in seventh, perhaps not used to the super fast starts of short 'cross racing.
Simms continued to set the pace through most of the race, with Harlton and Curtis following, as Elliott dropped back. Pendrel was moving up, in fifth after two laps and fourth (ahead of Elliott) after three laps. With a lap and a half to go, Harlton slid out in a gravely corner after the finish straight, allowing Simms to open a gap. The Vancouver Island rider did not hesitate to attack, and only Curtis was able to claw her way back to the front as the race entered the final lap.
Simms kept the pace high, worried about the climbing ability of the smaller Albertan, but Curtis was unable to come by her rival, and was gapped in a final half lap surge that enabled Simms to regain her crown. Pendrel, continuing to improve as the race went on, moved past Harlton in the last kilometre to take the bronze medal.
"That was tough, those girls were really pushing me," commented Simms. "I wanted to get out in front early, get away from any potential bottlenecks. When it was just me with the two Alberta riders I was a little worried, but when one of them [Harlton] had that problem, I just took the opportunity. Katie certainly gets the Most Improved award; coming from last unlapped rider last year to second this year."
Aaron Schooler set the early pace
The men's race unfolded in a similar fashion, with Aaron Schooler (Team H&R Block) setting a blazing fast pace on the opening loop. Only Sheppard, 2007 national champion Mike Garrigan (Team Ontario) and Tyler Trace (Trek Red Truck Racing p/b Mosaic Homes) were able to respond. Missing from the mix was one of the pre-race favourites, Derrick St John (Garneau- Club Chaussures- Ogilvy Renault), who had a poor start, dropping to tenth on the opening loop; he would eventually work his way back to finish fourth. Also missing was defending champion Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), who had decided not to make the long trek East.
Schooler's effort soon burned off Trace, but Sheppard and Garrigan stuck like glue, with all three working to make sure St John didn't make it up to the front of the race. In the third lap, Sheppard decided the pace wasn't fast enough and, while Garrigan was able to make his way back to the front, Schooler was done - he would hold on for third.
Chris Sheppard over the barriers
Sheppard and Garrigan then began trading attacks, with Garrigan soft pedaling more when at the front, frustrating Sheppard, who had sharp words with his rival. Coming into the final half lap, the pair were still together, until Garrigan rolled a tire and had to stop briefly, which enabled his rival to cruise home for the victory.
"In the heat of the moment, I maybe said some things that I shouldn't have," admitted Sheppard. "He [Garrigan] was strong, and maybe he was riding a smart race, but that's not the way I like to ride, so it was little frustrating. I don't know how it would have ended, but he had that problem and I was able to get that little bit of a gap."
"I was looking for a sprint," revealed Garrigan. "I felt that today I was good for an effort like that, so I was taking it easy when I was at the front, and actually hoping that Aaron would get back to us. In hindsight, maybe I should have attacked earlier, seeing how strong I was."
Note: Video interviews with the top riders will follow.
- Evan McNeely (EMD Serono/Specialized) took the Under-23 title with an impressive ride away from a very strong field. Fellow Ontarian Jared Stafford (Bikesports) worked his way up from fifth to take the silver medal, while Nova Scotia's Garrett McLeod (Team H&R Block) did the same to win the bronze. Defending champion Evan Guthrie (Rocky Mountain), still working his way back from a season-long illness, had a very strong start, but faded to finish fifth.
- Neither elite national champion will attend the world championships at the end of January (in St Wendel, Germany). Simms had work and child rearing obligations, while Sheppard says "that part of his career" is over, but is interested in going as a masseuse for the Canadian team.
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