Written by: Fred Dreier
Both Canada and the United States recorded their worst ever finishes in men’s mountain biking in Laoshan, as Geoff Kabush’s 20th place finish — 7:56 down on Absalon — marked the top North American result. Seamus McGrath and Todd Wells were pulled from the race with three laps remaining, and officials yanked Adam Craig off the course with one lap to go. McGrath and Wells finished in 44th and 43rd place, with Craig in 29th.
In 1996 Canadian Warren Sallenback was the top North American finisher in 13th place, and in 2000 and 2004 Kabush and McGrath both placed ninth, respectively.
“It’s unfortunate. We have some talented riders,” Kabush said. “I think it shows how difficult it is to have everything come together, be it your body or your bike.”
Indeed Kabush and McGrath both suffered from mechanical difficulties during the eight-lap course. McGrath blew out a tire midway through the race, and then flatted after a wheel change. On the second lap Kabush suffered a “mechanical problem” that he would not elaborate on.
The Americans also endured a less than perfect day. Craig couldn’t click into his pedal at the start, and was the second to last rider to hit the base of the first climb. Wells started strong near the front, but was quickly shot out the back.
“It was my worst race of the year, and compound that with the fact that it’s the Olympics and these are best riders in the world all trying to be their best — that explains my result,” Wells said. “The North Americans this year on the World Cup circuit did great. I guess they just prepared better than we did for the Olympics.”
Tinker Juarez and Don Myrah finished 19th and 20th when mountain biking made its Olympic debut in 1996. Juarez and Travis Brown finished 30th and 32nd, respectively, in 2000 and Wells and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski earned 19th- and 21st-place finishes in Athens in 2004.
Indeed both Wells and Craig recorded top-ten finishes at World Cup races this year — Craig finished inside the top-five twice. But the American simply did not have the legs to pull his way up to the front of the race.
“I was tired, I was just barely making it up the pitches,” Craig said.
Absalon acknowledged the toughness of the course and conditions, calling it a “true challenge” for both Europeans and North Americans alike. But the Frenchman hinted that perhaps the North American riders simply did not have what it took to challenge for the win at the Olympics.
“Now today the best riders are in Europe,” Absalon said. “France and Switzerland now are the dominant nations, as we see here, as we have both French and Swiss on the podium.”