Canada’s hockey teams may not have fared very well in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, but America’s neighbors to the north are having quite a spring when it comes to racing mountain bikes. Two weeks after Roland Green became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup cross-country race, countryman Ryder Hesjedal led a Maple-Leaf sweep of the short track cross country at NORBA national No. 1 at Snow Summit Resort in Big Bear Lake, California.
Hesjedal got his win by making a gutsy pass to overtake Seamus McGrath at the top of the climb on the race’s last lap. The 20-year-old Subaru-Gary Fisher then held off McGrath (Haro-Lee Dungarees) during the final downhill turns through the ski resort’s base area village, nipping him at the finish by less than a second. Green came across a half second later to complete Canada’s sweep of the top three. Russian Pavel Cherkasov (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Costa Rican Jose Adrian Bonilla (Café de Costa Rica) finished fourth and fifth, meaning that not a single American made it onto the podium.
There was no such shutout in the women’s race though. GT’s Alison Dunlap made sure of that by outsprinting Argentina’s Jimena Florit (RLX Polo Sport) at the finish line for the win. Australian Mary Grigson (Subaru-Gary Fisher), who won Friday’s cross-country race, was third, followed by Shonny Vanlandingham (SoBe-HeadShok) and Susan Haywood (Trek-Volkswagen/West Virginia Tourism).
The 25 men who finished the race turned 15 laps around the half-mile course, with Hesjedal leading the way with a time of 24:42.6. The rest of the field, which numbered 62 at the start, were pulled from the race after falling too far off the pace of the leader’s.
Hesjedal’s win was at least partially attributable to the team tactics he and Cherkasov plied on the rest of the front runners. After Frank Mapel (Yeti-Pearl Izumi) put in a short stint at the front, Hesjedal took the lead during the third lap and grew a gap that topped out at 14 seconds. Meanwhile, Cherkasov was back in third sitting on his breaks to keep the chase group from working together.
“We didn’t have any special plan,” Cherkasov said. “It was just when I attacked Ryder would control the group, and when he attacked I’d try to do the same thing.”
Finally on the eighth lap, Bonilla was able to get around Cherkasov, and by the ninth lap Hesjedal had been reeled in.
Next it was Cherkasov’s turn to attack, as he slipped away during the 11th lap, and held the lead all the way to the beginning of the final lap. But as the lead riders began the final climb of the last lap, McGrath came around Cherkasov, and appeared to have the win in hand. It was not to be, though. Hesjedal caught McGrath just before the final downhill, made a dicey pass at the crest of the hill, then held on for the victory.
“They were really duking it out,” said Green, who had the best view of the action. “I thought they were both going to crash.”
Added Hesjedal: “Seamus and I were pretty much together at the top, but I was just going a little bit faster.”
The women’s race matched the men’s step for step on the excitement meter. Two laps into the race Florit, Grigson, Haywood, and SunRace-Santa Cruz’s Rachel Lloyd pulled away from the field, with Dunlap and Vanlandingham just five seconds behind. By the fourth lap Dunlap, who was the 21st rider called up because she only did two short track races last year, had bridged across to the leaders.
Florit, the overall NORBA short track champion in 2000, was the first to attack, pushing away during the seventh lap. Dunlap joined Florit a lap later, and the pair built a lead of 11 seconds on the chasers. Grigson managed to trim that gap in the waning laps, but was never able to catch up.
That left the race to Dunlap and Florit, who crossed the line in a near dead heat at the beginning of the last lap. From there it was race to the top of the climb, because both riders knew whomever got there first would likely win the race. Dunlap won that battle, held off Florit on the final descent, and crossed the line two seconds in front.
All told the women did 13 laps, with Dunlap posting a time of 24:42.4.
“I spent the beginning of the race chasing because I started so far back,” said Dunlap. “After that all I could do is sit on. But when Jimena took off I knew I had to go get her. Then I won the sprint to the top and that was it. It’s just to fast going down to pass.”