June 27/03 9:49 am - ITT Nationals-The Story
Posted by Editor on 06/27/03
2003 National Time Trial Championships
This report made possible through the sponsorship of Evolution by Oryx
Saturn made it a double on the first day of the Canadian National Championships, with Eric Wohlberg and Lyne Bessette taking the men's and women's national time trial titles. The event is being held in Hamilton on precisely the same course as the Road Worlds in October, so, in addition to the numerous titles on the line, the organization was trying out their action plan to close down the centre of a city of over 600,000 for the first time. Overall, the indications are that the test was successful. More on this in the race notes.
The 21 kilometre long course that the elite men and women raced (2 laps and 1 lap respectively) begins with the first of two climbs up the Niagara Escarpment almost immediately. The riders then completed a big loop at the top before dropping down to the base of the escarpment and immediately heading back up to the top again. They make a U-turn and headed back down again to finish in front of City Hall. In addition to the climbs, they had to contend with strong winds at the top, and a 100 kilometre per hour descent to the finish. (Note: Eric Wohlberg may have thought he was "only in the high 80's, but we were following Svein Tuft on the final downhill on a moto after Eric had passed him, and were not catching him with the needle pegged at 100 kmph+...)
It is approaching the point that Wohlberg should just be automatically awarded the men's title, with 2003 being his 8th consecutive title. Although some top contenders did not race - Roland Green at Mont Ste Anne, Mark Walters and Michael Barry choosing to skip the race to rest up for Sunday's road race on the same circuit - Wohlberg still had to contend with Svein Tuft (Prime Alliance) and rising star Jean-Francois Laroche (VW-Trek), in his first year out of the Espoir category.
Wohlberg rose to the challenge, catching Tuft, his two minute man, who finished second at 2:18. Laroche, in his first year out of the Espoir ranks, was third at 2:43. Stomping on the pedals on the climbs, gaze fixed at some unknown point ahead, Wohlberg was machine-like and awe-inspiring in his intensity.
"I felt good on the climbs today, which are not one of my strongest points usually. I felt on top of the gear all day. I knew I was having a good ride when I started catching guys - either that or they were having a bad day!"
Wohlberg considered the first climb the most difficult: "You have to nail it pretty hard into the first climb and make a solid 8-10 minute effort to the far corner of the course (Scenic Drive and Mohawk Road). Because of the head and crosswinds in the open sections of this part of the course, you can lose a lot of time if you don't remain on top of it. This is the toughest course we have seen at the nationals for a long time."
Svein Tuft, third last year, and second the year before, started the race with not the best form: "I came out of Beauce feeling pretty good - I wasn't too far behind Eric in the time trial there, and had a strong last stage. But, I got sick when we arrived in Hamilton, so I haven't done any training all week."
Despite that, Tuft recognizes that Wohlberg appears almost impossible to beat. When asked what it's going to take to beat the 38 year-old, he sighed and said "I'm going to have to turn into a midget and lose 60 pounds."
Laroche is more and more starting to look like one of the brightest stars on the Canadian horizon. After faltering early in the second lap - "I cracked on the first climb in the second lap" - he pulled himself together along the flats and "regained my composure in the tailwind. I wanted top three, but did not expect it, so this is a special result for me." Laroche was only 25 seconds behind Tuft.
In the women's race, it was expected to be a battle between Bessette, the powerful all rounder, and defending champion Genevieve Jeanson (Rona-Esker), one of the best climbers in the world. The duo started the first climb fairly evenly, but then Bessette started to pull away into the crosswind on the top of the course, eventually taking 25 seconds out of Jeanson.
Bessette herself was unsure of how she would do against the favoured Jeanson. "It was better than I was hoping for. I really wanted to do a good race, but I didn't expect to win. I felt good, but I know my opponent, and she is good on this type of course. Today, I was just trying to be steady. I knew I was having a good ride, when I could see Clara (Hughes) and Anne (Samplonius) in front of me."
Anne Samplonius (Equipe Quebec) nipped Manon Jutras (Saturn) for third, with Hughes an uncharacteristic fifth. Hughes is recovering from a back injury suffered at the end of the speedskating season, and rates herself at "60% fitness".
Jeanson had no excuses. "No, no, I had no mistakes. I did a good ride technically, and cut my line in all the corners the way I wanted. She (Bessette) was fast today. I rode my butt off. I think I suffered the course more than rode it today. Sometimes you are crushing the course, but today it was crushing me. When you are doing a good ride you can feel it, but not today."
Samplonius was first credited with fourth place, but bumped Jutras out of the bronze medal spot when it became apparent that "with the time they gave me, Lyne should have passed me, but she didn't." Samplonius agreed that she was not an obvious choice to be on the podium after such a hilly course, although it should be pointed out that she is a former Worlds silver medalist in the time trial (1994).
"I would have picked (Lyne, Genevieve and Manon) for the podium. I was pretty surprised. I was hoping for top-5 and wasn't really expecting anything better on this course. I think what helped me was that I've been building up slowly this season, and it (Nationals) came at the right timing. I rested well this week, and I rode the course hard from the start; not saving anything for the final climb, just going hard all race. I rode the TT the way it should be ridden - all out."
- Audrey Lemieux (Equipe Quebec) continues to impress in the Junior Women's ranks, taking the title after a strong and consistent ride. "It is a very beautiful parcours - the downhill is fantastic! I go very fast here, I like the sensation!" Not to be forgotten is second place Emilie Roy (Espoirs de Laval), coming off a viral infection that put her out of action for a season, she was a strong 1:02 behind Lemieux.
- Mountain biker Max Plaxton made a credible tenth place showing in the Junior Men's results.
- Dominique Rollin (Equipe Quebec) finished a scant 6 seconds in front of late charging Chris Issac (GearsRacing.com). Rollin, the 2000 Junior champion led throughout the race, but Issac came on strong in the second half of the second lap to overtake Martin Gilbert (Equipe Quebec), Ryan Roth (Jet Fuel) and Marc Bomhof (Alberta) to take the silver. Also worthy of note is Bomhof, returning after a year off.
- Course closure was excellent, with very few cases of people being where they were not supposed to be. In fact, the marshals and police were almost too vigilant, attempting to throw our photo moto off the course a few times... We saw few instances of problems with local residents, although we did hear of instances where irate locals tried to cross barricades with vehicles after the road lockdown (they've only had, town hall meetings, TV, newspaper, radio and hand delivered notices over the past 6 months...). The communications side needs some work, since getting results was a bit of a hit-and-miss proposition: tech people had results but weren't "allowed" to give them to us ("the database is complicated", riiiight...), and the high speed internet connection in the press room fell apart after paranoid City bureaucrats refuse to let us scribes connect, afraid that we would somehow contaminate their system...
- Results are posted for all categories. We are going through 500+ photos and they will go up in the morning.