Posted by Editoress on 04/24/16
The opening round of the Cross-country World Cup in Cairns, Australia, saw two Canadians on the podium, with Catherine Fleury (Canadian National) finishing second in the Under-23 Women, and Catharine Pendrel (Luna) taking fourth in the Elite women. Two Canadian men finished in the top-20 in the Elite Men's race.
The winners of the final round of the 2015 World Cup continued their winning ways, with Annika Langvad (Specialized Racing) and Nino Schurter (Scott-Odlo) becoming the first riders to don the leader's jerseys in 2016.
The women's field was missing a number of the top riders, who elected to skip the long trip to Australia. Among those absent were Jolanda Neff (Stockli), Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) and Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Rabo Liv).
Langvad quickly jumped into the lead, with only Linda Indergand (Focus XC) able to respond. Australian champion and local favourite, Rebecca Henderson (Trek Factory Racing) initially went with the front two, but the pace was too much and she had to back off, eventually being caught by Pendrel.
Langvad and Indergand stayed together until a lap and a half to go, when the Danish rider attacked on the climb, quickly opening a gap, which she held to the finish line. Henderson, buoyed on by the crowd dropped Pendrel to take third, with Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) also making the top-10, in seventh.
"This [win] is so special," said Langvad. "The first one [in Val di Sole, Italy, last year] was quite a surprise to me, because I came straight from a crazy race the weekend before and I was absolutely dead during the week leading up to Val Di Sole. So to win that one was absolutely amazing."
"This week I struggled a lot with the jet lag and the heat and everything and only just yesterday I felt great. So I said today I don't care about anything, let's go. I felt really good and I focused a lot on staying within my comfort zone, and it paid off quite well."
"Only in the last kilometre I allowed myself to say 'yeah, this is really, really amazing'. I'm just so excited because it's the first time I have the leader's jersey in the World Cup and it is so special to me."
Pendrel overcame a slow start to move into the top five after two laps, then fourth a lap later, and then to third with two laps to go. However, a mistake on a descent allowed Henderson to get away on the final lap to take third.
Other Canadian results include Sandra Walter (Canadian National) in 24th and Cindy Montambault 36th. Haley Smith (Canadian National) finishing 3 laps back after crashing.
"Fourth isn't what I ideally wanted to start with," admitted Pendrel, "but I had thumb surgery two weeks ago, so I'll take it today. I was riding pretty sketchy out there, so I'm happy that I kept it together for fourth."
Note: We have posted an interview with Catharine HERE
The men's race was missing only one top ranked rider - Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing) - who is still recovering from a broken hand suffered earlier in the year. The race was expected to be the resumption of the ongoing battle between the two top men in the world - Schurter and Julien Absalon (BMC).
However, after Absalon suffered a rear flat on the first lap and had a slow change, he dropped to the high-40s, and it appeared his race was over. At the front, Schurter was on cruise control, with only Mathias Fluckiger (Stöckli Pro Team) and Maxime Marotte (BH-SR Suntour-KMC) able to keep pace with him; and Schurter appeared to be just biding his time before dropping first Marcotte and then Fluckiger who started to tire and make mistakes.
The real story was behind, where Absalon was making a remarkable charge through the field. By the halfway mark he was back in the top, with two laps to go into fourth and then into third with a lap to go. Schurter had clearly received word that Absalon was coming back, because he quickly accelerated and began to race seriously.
Marotte fought back, but came up short by three seconds, with Absalon at 27 seconds. Absalon pulled back over half a minute, through heavy traffic and limited passing options. We can only speculate the battle that would have happened if Absalon had not flatted.
"Yeah, it's really amazing," commented Schurter. "I was hoping for a good start [to the season]. I felt really good in the spring but I had a bit of a cold a couple weeks ago and I didn't know how fit I really am. So, yeah, I'm really lucky and happy with the win."
"When I realized that Absalon had a flat I knew I could sit in a bit in the group and see how fit the others are. Then mid race I saw that Absalon was making his way back [up] so I had to attack and go full out."
"I am a bit disappointed," admitted Absalon, "because the legs were very good today. I had a flat tire in the first lap, right on the first climb, and I lost a lot of time when it took quite a bit of time in the tech zone to change the wheel."
So it's a shame, because my shape was really good and the legs were perfect today to fight for the win and maybe another good fight with Nino. So even with the technical problem, my shape is really good. It will be nice to go back to Europe and try to fight in Albstadt [Germany, Round 2] and La Bresse [France, Round 3]."
Raphael Gagne (Canadian National) had a top-20 start in the Elite men's race, and managed to improve on that in the first few laps, moving as high as 13th. He faltered in the middle portion of the race before recovering to finish 12th; a career high in a non-North American World Cup.
"I'm absolutely satisfied with my ride," said Gagne. "I started around 18th or 20th, and picked my way up. So I rode a consistent race and paced myself. I felt strong physically and technically and felt that I finished well for the high heat conditions. Last year I cracked the top-20 in World Cups, so this year I wanted top-10 to top-15. Last year, outside of North America my best result was 14th, so I improved on it today."
Note: We have posted an interview with Raphael HERE
Leandre Bouchard (Canadian National) is only a second year rider in the elite ranks, however, he moved from his 47th start position to the mid-20s in the first two laps and then held that position until the finish, when he outsprinted others in his group to take 19th.
Note: We have posted an interview with Leandre HERE
Other Canadian results include Derek Zandstra (Scott-3Rox) in 29th, Geoff Kabush (Scott-3Rox) in 56th, Evan Guthrie (Norco) in 57th and Andrew L'Esperance (Norco) in 58th. Evan McNeely (Norco) did not finish after crashing.
In the Under-23 Women's race, Catherine Fleury moved into second on the first lap, behind American Kate Courtney. Fleury rode a consistent race to maintain her position unchallenged through the entire race.
"This is my best result ever," said Fleury. "I think I rode really strongly, and I was catching Elite riders [who started two minutes ahead] every lap, so I'm pretty happy with what I have done."
Note: We have posted an interview with Catherine HERE
In the Under-23 Men's race, Marc Andre Fortier (Equipe du Quebec) was the top finisher, in 25th place, after Canadian national champion Alexandre Vialle flatted on the final lap while a few spots in front of him. Vialle recovered to finish 29th. Other Canadian results include Felix Belhumeur in 32nd and Raphael Auclair in 35th.
Note: We have posted an interview with Marc Andre HERE