July 20/03 9:43 am - 2003 Tim Horton's National MTB Championships: Men's XC Story
Posted by Editoress on 07/20/03
MTB Nationals Whistler BC
This report made possible through the sponsorship of Rocky Mountain Bicycles and Hamilton 2003
Canadian National XC Championships - Green Wins
By Mike Badyk
The strength of Canada's men in cross country was on vivid display today at the National Championships in Whistler. Not only do we have the two time World Champion, Roland Green (BC - Trek-VW), but we have a field that is capable of putting 6 men in the top 20 at any World Cup.
Green has had a difficult year. His early season shoulder injury at the Tour of Georgia road race cost him a lot of training time. His form has been getting better and better as the summer progresses. A victory for Green is never a foregone conclusion, though. His riding buddy Ryder Hesjedal (BC - Subaru/Gary Fisher) has been able to beat Green on several occasions, and Seamus McGrath (ON - Haro-Lee Dungarees) has been on great form recently. These would be the three that the rest of the field would mark.
Almost on cue, the Green/Hesjedal/McGrath train moved to the front. Then it turned into a waiting game. Who would launch the first attack? At the end of the first lap, Hesjedal led the trio with Green in second. Lap two had Green in front with McGrath in second. The decisive move came from Green on lap 3, on the climb above the start/finish. It starts with a small wall just above the village and then leads into a long, dusty grind on a ski access road. Green said it unfolded this way. "Two laps to go, heading into this climb I just went with the momentum and kept going. I got on top of the gear and started to give it. I looked back and they were trying to chase and I thought 'keep going' and see how the gap was going, and then I looked back again and they weren't catching me, and that was it."
From there, Green never looked back. Going into the bell lap, Green's advantage had grown to 50 seconds, with a 1:49 margin for the win. However, things changed very suddenly in the battle for second place. McGrath, who has a history of mechanical problems at the worst times (e.g., missing the Olympic team in 2000 due to a flat), had a mechanical on the last big climb. "My right cleat came out and got stuck in the pedal on the 5th lap. I had stop and dig it out of my pedal. I lost both bolts so I had to take the bolt out of the other shoe. It's too bad. I was riding good, right there. I was putting the hurt on the guys on the climbs. That's racing." Hesjedal pulled away to claim second, with Geoff Kabush (BC - Kona-Clarks) and Chris Sheppard (BC - Haro-Lee Dungarees) taking advantage of McGrath's misfortune to claim 3rd and 4th respectively, while McGrath managed to move back up to fifth from eighth.
Green was very relaxed and satisfied with his win. "There is a lot of motivation. I know that I'm riding well, but there have just been some problems (mechanicals at both Canadian World Cups). It's great to have the chance to put it together. Kamloops was the last time I won in '01. I am happy with the UCI points. Our top 3 guys got the maximum. We're 7th overall and this will help us to move up. Ryder and I were having a good ride out there on the dualies and poor Seamus on the hard tail - I felt sorry for him. The first time we got on the climb I could see how easy it was for Seamus on the light bike, but we knew with the hard stuff in the single track to come it would be hard to hold that gap on the hardtail."
Hesjedal was visibly tired, obviously still feeling his hard 4th place effort at the Grouse World Cup. "I had a pretty good crash yesterday and I'm still recovering from Grouse. You can only give so much and you have to pick and chose your events. I also have to think about defending my lead in the NORBA series next week."
Kabush was clearly pleased with 3rd place. The defending National Champion thought he ran a good race, and gave much credit to his Kona bike. "It was so good to be on a dualie today. Me and Shep had a good battle. I had a bit of an advantage over him in the single track on his hard tail. I could conserve energy for the end of the race. Even though you lose a little bit of time on the climbs it more than makes up for it on the descents and the rocky stuff."
Sheppard was climbing with authority. Both he and McGrath were on hard tails. The reason was that these were the only bikes that they had here, because they didn't have the team trailer on site. This gave them the advantage of light weight on the climbs, but hurt them in the single track. "I was feeling really good on the climbs. Unfortunately we were on stock bikes and were losing time to the suspension boys on the descent. That's what we had. We tried to get the trailer here but we couldn't." Sheppard then spoke about his battle with Kabush. "Geoff came up 3km from the finish and there were these couple of super steep, gravelly climbs where his suspension allowed him to dig in a bit better. He got a bit ahead on the first one and I started to come back and then we hit the second one and he was gone. These races are easily as competitive as the NORBA races."
This has been the first Nationals in a couple of years that a full contingent of Canadian pros have contested. The quality of the racing was exceptional. Last year Green, McGrath and Hesjedal pulled out early due to training and race conflicts. With the top quality field here at Whistler, spectators were numerous, and they really enjoyed the rare opportunity to see Canada's best cross country racers on their home turf.