by Wendy Booher
The World Cup cross-country course at Mont Saint-Anne is one of the few – if not the only – courses that gets racers truly fired up about racing cross-country. They say it possesses all the elements of a genuine mountain bike race course. But factor in wet weather and things start to get really exciting since the course turns into a rollercoaster with rocky teeth, and roots too, lots of slippery ones. The weather turned from tense to dicey to downright thrilling during the women’s race Sunday as the skies opened up just before the start and sent down a steady rain, which greased up an already slick track.
Catharine Pendrel (LUNA) targeted the win and knew that she had a formidable rival in local favorite Marie Helene Premont (Maxxis/Rocky Mountain), who brought a mighty fan base to the mountain to urge her to another Mont Saint-Anne victory. Then the rain came and muddied race predictions even further and fans lined the course’s pressure points to see who would crack on the steep, sharp, and rugged rocks.
“I didn’t start well, I was ninth or tenth into the woods so I thought I’d lost the front of the race,” Pendrel said, “but we didn’t separate too much going into the woods and I just rode as hard as I could on all the climbs and as hard as I could to open up a gap.”
Pendrel crashed during the second lap of the four-lap race and that left her a bit rattled with a wounded chin; this narrowed the gap between her and second place. The crash happened on the course’s most harrowing descent, which promoters deemed dangerous enough at the last minute to chart a less-technical alternate route. Few riders – both men and women – rode it as flawlessly as Katerina Nash (LUNA) and only one rode it as if it was any fun. Vermont native Lea Davison (Maxxis/Rocky Mountain) navigated each pass with a surgeon’s precision and then she threw in some speed to keep things lively. To top things off, Davison smiled for a rabidly cheering crowd each time she cleared the section.
“If you took the corner wide, you could get around it,” Davison said. “Then if you got behind the seat and rode slow, you could see the line at the bottom and let it go. And definitely stay off the front brakes.”
Pendrel, bloodied and muddied by the fall, charged full-throttle into prying open a narrow gap while a race for second formed behind her. Nash clung to second position by lap three on the 5-kilometer course while trying to rid herself of former world champion Irina Kalentieva (Topeak/Ergon).
“On that dangerous downhill, she was in second,” Kalentieva said. “In the steep climbing she was stronger than me.”
Kalentieva’s opportunity came in the fourth lap when Nash lost momentum in a crash and Kalentieva slipped by her to finish 1:31 behind Pendrel. Specialized’s Lene Byberg finished in fourth and Willow Koerber (Subaru/Gary Fisher) seized the podium’s last spot.
Naef, Kabush take aim at Absalon
Ralph Naef (Multivan Merida) took a place at the front of the men’s race for two laps of the six-lap race while further back, race favorite, two-time Olympic gold medalist Julien Absalon (Orbea), got shuffled into the crowd.
“I had bad start and wasn’t in a good position going into the first corner,” Absalon said. “I got caught in a traffic jam in fifteenth position and I wasn’t able to pass on the singletrack.”
The second lap sorted the racers out: Geoff Kabush (Maxxis/Rocky Mountain) and Jose Antonio Hermida Ramos trailed Absalon, who was closing in on Naef.
The rain was done for the day but the course still claimed its victims on the technical sections. More racers opted for the alternate route but Kabush, like his teammate, Davison, not only made it look easy, he added technique. Using trials skills, Kabush owned a tight, steep inside line that he created at the top of the descent, which dropped him cleanly on to the track below.
“The outside line was a little awkward and I had to slow down each time,” Kabush said. “Once it got a little drier and I got it lined up (on the inside), that worked.”
Kabush’s arrival caused an uproar each time he took his line without losing speed, which was every time, and the crowd went wild.
Lap 3 proved decisive with Absalon taking over the lead from Naef and Ramos and Kabush trying to make contact with Absalon.
“By the third lap, I had to push hard to keep in front of Naef but I had a really good race,” Absalon said. “It was really slippery, really technical but it was good for me because it was so technical.”
Naef slid back two more spots behind Ramos and Kabush and the podium was all but confirmed except for fifth place, which got lobbed between Specialized teammates, Burry Stander and Todd Wells. Wells opted for the alternate route while Stander plunged down the tricky descent to slip ahead of Wells at the end of the third lap.
Racers have a week to eat all the Tim Horton doughnuts they can handle until the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup series resume in Bromont, Quebec this weekend.