June 25/03 8:48 am - Road Nationals Preview
Posted by Editor on 06/25/03
Road Nationals Preview
Today was the press conference for the Road Nationals, which begin on Friday with the time trials. A number of Canadian stars - past, present and future were on hand for the launch, including Clara Hughes, Sue Palmer-Komar, Mark Walters, Eric Wohlberg, Steve Bauer and the Quebec Junior Women's squad, just back from a European project. The following are random notes from the conference and conversations with athletes and organizers.
Pierre Hutsebaut, Technical Director for the Worlds, and Chair of the Road Nationals, pointed out that the event was last held in Hamilton 8 years ago, and that a number of riders are still competing at the highest levels - Hughes, Wohlberg, Palmer-Komar, Walters, and 1995 women's road champion Linda Jackson has come back out of retirement to compete at Hamilton in 2003.
He also pointed out that the Nationals bestows upon the winner the privilege of wearing the maple leaf for one year at competitions around the world, and that riders fight fiercely for this right.
I asked him about the new UCI sanction, and how it has affected entries in the elite categories.
"It does hurt entries (in the elite catgories for the road race), but in a good way, I think. We need to be aware that the road race is a team event at this level, and encourage it. It is a necessary step in the right direction. There has been lots of opportunity for riders to register as (composite) teams and enter the race, but I am disappointed in the Ontario participation, and the number of riders that (have not) put together teams."
Hutsebaut said that there were about 600 entrants as of last night (Tuesday), with approximately 120 men and 65 women registered for the elite road races. Of the 120 men, 20-25 were foreign riders. Time trial registrations for all categories have exceeded expectations. Staying with the time trial, this is the event of greatest concern to the organizers, since it involves closing roads in downtown hamilton all day Friday - this is their first real test of how the system will work for the Worlds. In addition to marshals, police and 6000 barricades, the event is bringing in auxiliary members of the armed forces...
Clara Hughes will be racing the time trial and, possibly, the criterium, depending upon her back. Hughes injured her back at the end of the speedskating season, lifting her bike out of the back of a car. She has had physio, massage and chiropractic help, and says that her back is recovered, and that she is coming off "three really good weeks of training." She also did her base mileage on an 1800 kilometre bike touring trip down the Baja penninsula of Mexico with her husband Peter, a trip that she says was "amazing."
Clara predicts that the women's race will be for the climbers, while the men's will come down to power and who is the strongest.
Mark Walters will race only the road race, not the time trial. "I want two days recovery between two such important races, so unfortunately I will not do the time trial." Walters has the support of three team mates from Navigators - Vassili Davidenko, Burke Swindlehurst and Chris Wherry. "I have 3 guys focussed 100% on helping me. It will be a long, hard race on Sunday, and I think a lot of guys will crack. It's a strong man's course, and I think it will come down to a small group together at the end."
Eric Wohlberg will be racing with Saturn team mates Charles Dionne, Will Frischkorn and Nathan O'Neill - along with Navigators this is a powerhouse team. Obviously, Wohlberg's focus is on winning his 8th straight national TT title. "This is a very hard, power course, not just a climber's course, which suits me a little more. The course is hard, and along the top there was a lot of wind when I rode it today. I was hitting 90 (Kmph) on the downhill with traffic today, so we could be doing 100 on race day. Luckily the hospital is on the course..."
Other notes: Palmer-Komar has Cybil DiGuistini and two Genesis-Scuba team mates for support, Genevieve Jeanson has her Rona squad, and Lyne Bessette leads a strong Saturn women's team, with Manon Jutras and Amy Moore. Michael Barry will be riding for the Ontario provincial team, probably the first time that US Postal shorts have been matched with the red Trillium jersey of Ontario... He is not alone among the pros, with Dominique Perras (Flanders-Iteamnova.com) and Anne Samplonius riding for Quebec and Svein Tuft (Prime Alliance) with Symmetrics out of BC.
Last note: Eric Wohlberg said: "I don't care how hot it is as long as it stays dry." Sorry Eric, the call is for rain Thursday evening, and showers Friday...