July 13/03 10:31 am - Grouse Mountain World Cup: Men's and Women's XC Story
Posted by Editoress on 07/13/03
Grouse Mountain World Cup
This report made possible through the sponsorship of Rocky Mountain Bicycles
By Mike Badyk
Just like yesterdays downhill race, the weather played the major role in determining the outcome of the cross country for the men. The women's XC race was fortunate to go off without any rain, although the course conditions were still wet.
Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR - Merida International) once again proved to be too strong for the rest of the field. From the first of the two start loops, Dahle powered away from the field, building a 45 second lead by the end of the first full lap. Trailing in second was Marga Fullana (ESP - Club Deportivo Orbea) making a surprise appearance outside of Europe - due to her fear of flying. Just behind her was Marie-Helene Premont (CAN - Oryx), showing the same excellent form she displayed at Mt St. Anne. Alison Sydor (CAN - Trek-Volkswagen Racing Team) and Barb Blatter (Specialized Mountain Bike Team) trailed a few seconds back. Chrissy Redden (CAN - Subaru-Gary Fisher) had a mechanical that required her to get of the bike for a while.
Premont was showing great form, but unfortunately ran into tire trouble. She had to stop to put some flat fix in her front tire which dropped her back many spaces. This same problem was going to cause her difficulties again later in the race. Fullana continued to lose spaces and finally abandoned.
By lap 3, Dahle had extended her lead to over 2:30 over Sydor and Irina Kalentieva (RUS - Merida International). Sydor's team mate Susan Haywood was just behind, with Yvonne Kraft (GER) and Marie-Helene Premont not far behind.
At the bell lap, Dahle had extended her lead to over 3.5 minutes. Haywood and Sydor were riding together with Premont and Yvonne Kraft in a tight battle.
The difficult conditions cut a swath through the field. By the end of it all there were only 28 finishers out of the 78 starters. Dahle was once again unstoppable finishing in 2:09:30. She modestly said, "I wasn't too sure about this race, because I have cut back on my training. But I felt very good this morning. Just before the singletrack I took the lead and rode my own race." Her beautiful smile shone through the layer of mud on her face.
Sydor was very pleased with her second place, as she managed to take Haywood at the line by seven seconds. "I suffered out there. There is a powerful urge to win when you race at home. I was worried about people crashing so I wanted to get out front in the Start Loop. I made a lot of time on the descents, especially through Peak Plunge."
Haywood was very pleased with her highest finish ever at a World Cup. "There was a Canadian sandwich out there and I was the bacon!! It was tough out there because the crowd was so partisan. They were just screaming there heads off for Alison and Marie-Helene."
Premont was pleased with her result, but also disappointed with her mechanical problems. "I was feeling incredible today. I had two front flats and my rear tire was also a little low. I had to stop and lost some time. Even after the flat I still was able to go hard."
Canadian finishers included Karen De Wolfe in 13th, Kiara Bisaro (Gears) in 15th, Chrissy Redden in 17th and Trish Sinclair (Gears) in 19th.
If the racing was tough on the women it was hell on the men. Of the 112 starters, only 23 managed to finish. Rain, more rain, and mist made every little descent treacherous, and made several of the bigger descents a recipe for disaster. Most of the finishers reported at least one fall, with some saying that they had more. From the start Roel Paulissen (BEL -Siemens Mobile Cannondale) dropped the hammer. The only rider who could stay near him was his team mate Christophe Sauser (SUI). Following them about 30 seconds back was a peloton of Jose Antonio Hermida (ESP - Motorex Bianchi), Cedric Ravanel (FRA - Club Deportivo Orbea), Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru Gary Fisher), Julien Absalon (FRA - Motorex Bianchi), Lado Fumic (GER - Team-T-Mobile). World Champ Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen Racing Team) was at the back of this long line. He had crashed and three other riders had crashed on top of him. Green got a piece of wood lodged in his cleat, which necessitated a brief stop to get rid of it.
Through the second lap Ravanel had moved up into second with Sauser just behind him. Filip Meirhaeghe (BEL - Specialized Mountain Bike Team) had gained at least ten spots to sit in fourth, just ahead of Hesjedal who was showing evidence of a fall. By lap 3, Meirhaeghe had passed Ravenel to sit third. Green had managed to work his way up to 10th.
On lap 4 Sauser had caught up to his team mate. Paulissen, with Ravenel and Meirhaeghe 30 seconds back. Green had moved up to 8th. Hesjedal put on a burst through lap 5, carrying him up to third, but another crash cost him several spots. Ravenal fell apart and dropped out of the lead group. As Ravenal went backwards, Hermida moved rapidly up to claim second place at the end of lap 6. Absalon also moved up and at the bell lap was right with Hermida. Sauser lost a couple of places due to a crash.
Despite the high attrition rate, Canadian men were having some good rides. Geoff Kabush (Kona Clarks Factory Team) gained many spots, as did Chris Sheppard (Haro Lee Dungarees).
For the bell lap, on the last climb just before the feed zone Paulissen cruised through looking very comfortable. Hermida started to pull away from Absalon with Hesjedal and Meirhaeghe close together, often times trading places. Hesjedal was losing time on the climbs and gaining time on the descents. Little changed from this point.
At the finish, Paulissen was ecstatic with his win. This was his first World Cup win, and certainly one to remember. "I started hard and then eased off a little in the middle of the race. I was still feeling good and I saw that many of the others were going backwards so I decided to go harder. At the end I actually was feeling stronger than at the beginning. I'm from Belgium and I'm used to racing in these conditions. " Paulissen's manager reported that Roel said "You know, I'd really like to win this." The manager also sent out the warning to the others that they better watch out now that Roel has a taste of victory.
Hermida was equally happy, mugging for the photographers, hugging his managers and high fiving his team mates. "I had a very good day and I liked the course a lot. I'm a little disappointed too because I think I waited too much on the back and Roel was having a really good race. The problem was that the course was very slippery and many racers were losing their brakes. I was very fortunate that my Bianchi worked so well."
Hesjedal was visibly in pain and having great difficulty with dirt and grit in his eyes. "I spent a lot of time chasing by myself. The Motorex Bianchi guys were just sitting back and working together. I could see them, but they were able to conserve some energy. I had to spend a lot of energy. I also crashed on the first descent and hurt my leg. There's a lot of good bike handlers here today and I'm sure just about everybody went down a few times. The conditions were always changing and the length of the race (over 2.5 hours) was just killer. I'm still happy to be on the podium here in BC."
Hermida also expressed some concern with the length of the race. "One race is an hour and a half, another is two hours and another is 2 and a half. The UCI and organizers have got to work it out. It is very difficult for us when we aren't sure of the duration. The rules have to be more specific."
Green came through the line in 8th and departed immediately, looking disappointed. We caught up to him a little later. "I crashed once over the bars and three people landed on top of me. I had this piece of wood jammed in my left cleat and I had to stop and take the shoe off to get it out. After that I was making time back and I was right there, but I was chasing too much. Eight laps was just too much in this weather. It should have been one lap less."
Canada had more finishers than any other country. Kabush rode steadily to take 10th place, with Chris Sheppard in 16th, and Andreas Hestler in 21st, with Peter Wedge coming in as the last finisher in 23rd place. Congratulations to them all for surviving this epic battle.
Hesjedal is sporting some new facial growth. One comment was that he looked like "an Amish farmer."
Unlike yesterday when Grouse Mtn staff had to deal with numerous cases of hypothermia, most of the spectators came prepared. The crowds were close to yesterdays numbers, but as the rain really hit towards the end of the mens race, it thinned out noticeably. Few spectators were on hand for the awards.
Not only was the high attrition caused by crashes, mechanicals were frequent. Lado Fumic who was near the front of the race at the beginning of the race succumbed to 6 flats! Prior to this race he was third in the standings, but this misfortune has dropped him back to fifth. Broken rear derailleurs were also common. Anybody with disc brakes had a serious advantage today.
Thanks to the Grouse Mountain people for feeding us well and keep us supplied with warm drinks. Once again they are just wonderful to us media types.