June 29/03 6:45 am - Mont Ste Anne XC Story
Posted by Editoress on 06/29/03
Mont Ste. Anne World Cup XC
This report made possible through the sponsorship of Rocky Mountain Bicycles
Dahle and Absalon Win
by Mike Badyk
Nearly perfect weather and huge crowds were the order of the day. While the women's race was decided early on with Gunn-Rita Dahle (Norway - Merida International) walking away from the other women, the men's race had some of the most exciting action seen in years. Strategy, attacks and counter-attacks were the order of the day, with final attack by Julien Absalon (France - Motorex Bianchi) proving to be the winning move.
While many of the women racers were relaxing this morning, Dahle was seen in her team tent riding the rollers, head phones on high and absolutely focused on the task ahead. We have seen her on the circuit for many years, and even though she has had numerous victories, her form of late must be frightening to the other competitiors. From the start gun, she was in the lead, never really looking back. She led through the start lap, at the end of lap one and just continued from there. Dahle had only one mistake - a crash on the second lap.
"I had a big crash on the first descent in the second lap. I was worried because the chain dropped behind the cassette. I was afraid I destroyed my bike not myself!"
Despite this minor error, it inspired her to work that much harder. "I rode a steady pace. I didn't push too hard on the climbs. On a course like this if you get tired you make mistakes on the downhills. I was testing things a bit on the first lap, then I had the crash so it became a matter of having control and finding your own pace. I was worried also because I haven't raced in 4 weeks. I have to do my own race and if the other girls are going too slow I don't have the patience to stay in behind! Staying behind on a technical course like this is harder than staying at the front."
Dahle's team mate Sabine Spitz (Germany) was a strong second, finally outlasting Barbara Blatter (Switerzland - Specialized) after a prolonged see-saw battle that saw them pass and re-pass each other. Spitz was 1:48 back of Dahle. Behind Blatter was yet another Merida International rider Irina Kalentieva (Russia) in 4th. The ride of the day was from home town favourite Marie-Helene Premont, who was in 3rd place for much of the race, but finally came in 5th. You could tell her progress on the course by the huge cheers that went up every time she went by the crowds.
"The last lap was very hard. I had a stomach ache all the race. I wasn't feeling good but I did the race and gave 100%. I was third at the beginning and I would have liked to stay there but it was very fast. I'm really happy. The fans were great. It was really encouraging to hear them in the woods and on the downhill."
Chrissy Redden had yet another strong race, finishing in 7th. "It was really tough, really quick. Gunn-Rita's fast man! The technical sections were loose so you had to ride smart."
Alison Sydor was the next Canadian, one spot behind Redden. Sydor had a very strong race after a poor start that saw her in the high teens, and spent the entire race picking off riders as she worked her way up. Kiara Bisaro was next in 20th. "It was very hot. What amazing competition. It's so fun to race against a group like this.
The men's race had everyone marking Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen Racing Team). The rumour all weekend was that he was on mission. He came across as all business at this race and everyone was going to have to watch out. Green let Lado Fumic (Germany - Team-T-Mobile) lead a bit through the start loop, but then he put the big hurt on everyone. By the end of the first full lap he had already gained more than 30 seconds on the field. It looked like he was going to run away with the day.
Then the hand of mechanical fate reared it's ugly head. Just before the conclusion of the second lap, he had a rear flat on a rocky downhill. Despite fixing it in less than 2 minutes, seven riders had passed him. In particular, Abaslaon, Fumic and Christophe Sauser (Switzerland - Siemens Mobile Cannondale) took advantage of an opportunity that they thought they would never get - put the hammer down on the World Champion. They picked up their pace noticeably. Jose Antonio Hermida (Spain - Motorex Bianchi) was the only rider to stay near them.
Green started to reel them. When the lead three came through the long finish straight they kept looking back over their shoulders, expecting Green to be there sometime soon. However, with a minute deficit to make up, Green was just out of sight. At the end of Lap 4, Fumic had gone off on an attack, with Sauser and Absalon marking each other's moves in second. Green had moved up to 5th, now only 30 seconds back. Eventually Fumic was reeled back in by Sauser and Absalon. The three rode through the finish at the start of the bell lap all together. Then Absalon decided to launch an attack on the long climb. By the feed zone at the 3km to go mark he had gained 15 seconds and never looked back. Sauser came in for second 47 seconds back.
The huge excitement for the crowds lining the finish straight was the battle between Hermida and Green. Green poured on the jets to nip Hermida by a couple of bike lengths at the line. The crowd went nuts. It was great to see and absolutely wonderful racing.
Absalon, though only 23, has made a successful move from the Espoir level to the Seniors. "I was really pleased with my conditioning. It was essential here today because the pace was so fast right from the beginning. I had enough energy left at the end to launch my attack. It was enough for the win."
Sauser was pleased with his second place. "I was a little surprised at how hard Roland went out at the beginning. We let him go, and then he flatted. I thought it would be tough for him to come back because he would have to expend a lot of energy. When I saw him flat I tried to ride very lightly on the bike, because I didn't want the same thing to happen to me."
Green was pleased and somewhat philosophical. "If the race had have been one lap longer it could have been a bit better. But I'm really happy because I look at my last 4 races and it has been steady, steady improvement. Until my flat tire today, I thought I had a good chance to win. The flat happened on a fast downhill with some rock ledges. I hit one of the ledges too hard and at first I thought it was going to be okay, but then it started to sink. I was focused and got the rear fixed fast, but that was it. I was really happy with this race though. A couple of weeks from now is Grouse and the form keeps going up."
Other Canadians of note were Ryder Hesjedal in 10th and Seamus McGrath in 16th. McGrath had been as high as 7th at the end of lap 2, but faded back through the final laps.
Hardtails still rule. The Merida International team has made their bikes about as light as possible. Magnesium frame, lots of ti parts, V-brakes, and even a carbon seat post binder. Similar sorts of treatment for the men with Cannondale and Bianchi. Of course a lot depends upon the race terrain, but here at Mont Ste. Anne with all of the climbing, it was the way to go.
As predicted the dust was a major factor. Many racers dropped out after experiencing breathing problems. About the only clear air was at the front. Even the lead motorcycle had to pull way ahead in some sections just to let the dust settle a bit before the riders came through.
Nothing like good weather to bring out the crowds. If it had have been the heat of earlier in the week, people just wouldn't have been here.
Division in the sport - even though there were World Cup downhills and 4 Cross races taking place, their was a steady stream of free riders going up the lift to the top of the mountain. This sizeable group at Ste. Anne seem to have little or no interest in the competitive side of things. I wonder what we can do to bring them back?