Posted by Editoress on 06/27/04
Mont Ste Anne World Cup - Cross Country
by Mike Badyk
The weather ended up playing a role in today's WC XC. To say the least it was "entertaining". Everything from brilliant sun, to strong winds kicking up dust storms, to thunder and lightning and finally driving rain at the conclusion of the men's race.
At the start of the women's race, Rocky Mountain riders, Marie-Helene Premont and Alison Sydor set the pace through the 2 start loops and into the first climb. Just behind them was the World Cup leader Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR - Multivan Merida Biking Team). By the top of the major climb, Dahle had assumed the lead. Sydor started to fall back and only Premont could stick with Dahle. This set the story for the rest of the race. Premont would attempt to close on Dahle and then Dahle would be able to gain back a bit of time. During the 3rd lap a bit of rain made things very slippery in the technical single track. Dahle was one of many riders to crash. "This year's crash was a 9. Last year's was a 10! I even got a photo sent by mail with me in the air from last year. I felt that I haven't been in these conditions that much so I was a stressing a little bit in the first 2 laps and I was making a lot of mistakes."
The highly partisan crowd was noticeable to all. Premont was the home-town favourite and everywhere she was on the course was filled with yelling and cheering spectators. Even Dahle took note. "I could feel the crowd cheering for the second girl (Premont) for sure. It's her home place and I believe she could probably race this course without seeing it! She knows the course so well. That made me a little nervous. I kept losing time in the beginning. The gap would get big a little bit and then she closed up. This was definitely the hardest race so far this year."
Despite her status as the current World Cup leader, Dahle didn't take her victory for granted. "I didn't expect so much this race because it has been a training period for me (in Boulder, Colorado). I was thinking that I would have a hard time in the beginning because I've been training 5 or 6 hours more than usual. They (Sydor and Premont) went out very hard. I thought "settle down, don't stress". In the end I went the maximum for the whole way." Dahle's winning time was 1:41:07.
Premont was ecstatic with her placing, just 41 seconds behind Dahle, and clearly touched by the crowd. As well, the placing no doubt was important for her new team - Rocky Mountain/Business Objects. "Yes, a new team and I really enjoyed my bike today and I had an incredible crowd so thank you to everybody. It was incredible." The crush of Quebec media was something to behold. It must have put a lot of pressure on Premont. Despite the pressure she was focused on the task at hand. "The strategy was to go fast in the beginning and keep it up during the whole race. I think I'm good for one of the Olympic places now that I've had two 2nd place finishes at World Cups this year. It's an incredible crowd here. I saw people with a poster of me in the woods wishing me good luck for the Olympics. Everyone wants me to go." She also had praise for her new Rocky Mountain bike. "It's a good bike. The dual suspension was a good choice for today. The course suits me. There's a big hill and a big downhill. It's technical. Today was muddy and slippery. I like those conditions. The North Americans prefer that type of course."
In third place was Willow Koerber (USA - Polo RLX). She rode a strong race all day and was quite pleased with her result. "I had fun out there. I had a good race in Vermont last week, which gave me some confidence and took it easy this week. This was fun. You could hammer up the climbs and then you knew that you were going to get to some single track. I felt smooth and comfortable in the single track so I could take it easy in there. It's sort of a mental thing that if the people behind you see you going good on the climbs then they have to worry."
In 5th place was the perennial Canadian favourite Alison Sydor. Despite a good result, she wanted more. "It went by fast because the course is very 'entertaining'. It was rain in the middle of the week that made things wet and it never did completely dry out (in the single track). I'm not feeling 100%. I've just got to struggle through it. It's been a long spring and I haven't really had a break to recover and get back to training. I'll have time after Calgary to take a little break and get down to training for the games (Olympics)."
Canada has 3 spots available for XC women at the Olympics. Sydor has one spot locked up and it now would appear that Premont has acquired the second. The third spot is still to be determined. Kiara Bisaro (Gears Racing) finished a strong 6th, with Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher) not far behind in 8th. Bisaro would seem to be the odds on favourite with a sizeable WC points lead over Redden. Results at next week's WC in Calgary will likely seal that 3rd place for Athens.
The weather grew progressively worse. From the dry sunny start, with the blowing dust clouds, the sky darkened and rain fell several times during the afternoon. Since the pace was going to be very fast, many racers opted for a semi-slick tire. This was fine in the early parts of the race, but once the technical sections got wet these tires would prove to be a critical flaw.
The early pace was set by the top European riders Meirhaeghe (BEL-Specialized), Christophe Sauser (SUI - Siemens Mobile Cannondale), Roel Paulissen (BEL - Siemens Mobile Cannondale) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA-LaPierre Int.). Twenty seconds back was a large group including Canadians Seamus McGrath (Haro-adidas) and Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen). The back of the field was already shattered by the pace, with riders dropping out by lap 2.
Meirhaeghe was the one to catch. The only rider up to the task was Sauser. The gap back to the other riders continued to lengthen. Meirhaeghe was aware of the chase. "Sauser stayed close. Not far from the finish I thought I was in trouble because I was having a really tough time on the up hills. I just tried to stay focused on the technical parts because you can lose a lot of time if you make a mistake. My last lap was maybe my best lap in the technical parts. I knew I had to pay attention because I was getting tired. This was where I could lose the race, I think."
Meirhaeghe's winning move was actually early in the race. "I got away in the second lap in the technical part and then I thought I had to go. I was aware of Sauser chasing me. I had people telling me the splits. At one point he came back to 5 or 6 seconds and then I thought that I couldn't allow him to get back on my wheel! It's not happening! I tried to attack again on the uphill to kind of make him mentally break, but he didn't really. In the last lap he understood that it was over, but until then it was a very hard race."
Meirhaeghe had his hands in the air as he came across the line in the pouring rain, with the thunder of the crowd and the storm joining together. He was genuinely relieved that the race was over, because he could now concentrate on the Olympics. "After this I'm going to a training camp to start a new base. With all of the World Cups it is just a matter of keep the conditioning where it is and there is no way to improve. I think everyone is going to get tired now."
Tough battles were being fought behind, with Paulissen and Jose Antonio Hermida (ESP - Multivan Merida) duking it out. Hermida put the hammer down during the last lap to claim 3rd, with Peraud taking 4th and Paulissen 5th.
McGrath was the top Canadian man in 8th. He was especially pleased with his result considering the difficult beginning to his season in Europe. The main hindrance was a mugging he suffered in Spain that left him with a concussion. "It's good to be home. It was an awesome race. It felt great. This was the first race this year that I felt like that. It's been a hard go with my head injury. I knew that is going to be a long race and a tough one, so at the start I had to take it easier and put the limiter on and just chill, man. I just watched those guys and I knew that at the end I could be strong. I just went for it with a couple of laps to go."
Clearly a spot on the Canadian Olympic team was on McGrath's mind. "This is convincing. This was a real mountain bike race. All the top guys are here. This is one of the hardest races on World Cup circuit and people were going for it today. Ryder (Hesjedal - Subaru-Gary Fisher) had a second at the World Championships last year so he has great potential so I think he has definitely got a spot and I think I'll be in Athens too."
Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-MSC) ran a good race to finish 10th, but ran into some troubles in the last lap. "I had a small mechanical. I had to stop a couple of times and I lost a couple of minutes. Things can sometimes get a little frustrating at the World Cups. It's still a great result. I still think that things are wide open for the Canadian Olympic team. We'll have to see what happens next week." Kabush rode strongly, being in the top 10 for the whole race. "Right from the start I was feeling strong. I had some slick tires on which made me slide around a lot. I didn't expect it to rain that much. I'm happy the way that I'm feeling. Europe was terrible, but my bike was good and I've got some confidence for Calgary."
Green was in the top 10 for the first half of the race and then just vanished as a DNF. We were unable to determine what happened to him. Other Canadians in the top 20 were Ryder Hesjedal (11th) Max Plaxton (14th and 3rd Espoir) and Chris Sheppard (Haro-adidas) (17th). Sheppard was hoping for more but ran into some troubles. "I missed my feed for the last 2 laps. I'm kind of seeing things right now. It was a hard day at the office. I made it up the last climb and then it all fell apart."
We've heard that the final selection for the Olympics will be made on July 12, which is course after the Calgary World Cup, but before the Nationals on July 18th. Watch for our Live Coverage of the Calgary World Cup here at Canadian Cyclist.
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