Canadians don’t often get a chance to race at Mt. Snow, since the venue is so often used for the U.S. national championships.
But when they get a chance they make the most of it, as they did Saturday when Canada’s men’s and women’s national champions came south of the border to score wins at the Kenda Cup East/PROXCT event.
Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), fresh off a stunning World Cup win in Quebec last week, scored his second career win at the Vermont ski resort. It was Kabush’s 15th cross-country win at a U.S. national series event, surpassing John Tomac’s record. His first U.S. national win was at Mount Snow in the early 2000s.
In the women’s race, Catharine Prendel (Luna) went almost wire to wire, taking off with Katerina Nash (Luna) on the first lap. When Nash flatted, Prendel went it alone, building a lead of over a minute before polishing off the victory with a conservative last lap to finish 30 seconds ahead.
Un-Vermont weather, uber-Vermont course
Mount Snow has hosted regional- or national-level races in July or August for at least 25 years on a similar course, known for its slippery roots and steep climbs.
This year designers shortened the course by almost a third, removing some double-track and gravel road sections (and bringing the race through the start finish area more often, to improve the spectator experience).
Vermont has received many inches of rain in recent weeks, making the woods a muddy, buggy mess. But race day dawned dry, sunny and pleasantly warm. The result was a perfect combination for fans (and photographers). The only downside was the occasional mosquito and black fly in the woods.
Prendel finds herself alone
Mary McConneloug, who has won on the Mount Snow course many times, got the holeshot and led the field into the first climb. However, the Kenda-Seven rider soon was passed by Prendel, Nash, Willow Koerber and Heather Irmiger (both Subaru-Gary Fisher). Nash and Prendel gapped the others on a tough mid-course climb and built up a 10- or 15-second gap.
The pair was working together and Nash was leading when she flatted her front tire. Since she was just yards past a technical support area (and rules forbid backtracking on the course) Nash tried unsuccessfully to fill the tire, lost time and fell to about 20th place before she got a new wheel.
Meanwhile, Prendel expanded her lead, looking comfortably in control as she expanded her gap over Koerber to over a minute by the third lap. On that lap, Prendel fell on a corner – “Just on a silly root, I hit a pedal,” she said. “There are just so many places to fall on this course.”
On the final lap Prendel rode more cautiously while Irmiger and Koerber worked together to chase. But Prendel cruised in with about a 30-second gap over Koerber, with Irmiger rolling in another 30 seconds back.
Nash managed to ride back into seventh place.
Tactical race for the men
The 85-man-strong men’s pack rumbled into the first climb led by the pre-race favorites: new national champ Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher), Todd Wells (Specialized), Kabush and Adam Craig (Giant).
An elite group of six spilled off the front early in the first lap. Craig, who was dangling just behind the lead group, flatted on a rock. “I wasn’t having a great day, anyway,” Craig said later.
While much of the Mount Snow course is difficult climbing and singletrack, the finish area is fast and smooth and, on Saturday, featured a noticeable head wind. So while in the woods the men rode alone, man v. course, they often regrouped coming through the base area, giving the appearance of a tactical race.
“We were playing some games through there,” Kabush said after the race.
The lead group dwindled steadily over the race’s five laps. On the first lap there were six men: Horgan-Kobelski, Sid Taberlay (Sho Air-Specialized), Wells, Kabush, Sam Schultz (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Max Plaxton (Sho Air-Specialized).
By the next lap Plaxton was dropped.
By the next lap Schultz was dropped and Horgan-Kobelski was dangling.
Next lap, it was just Kabush, Wells and Taberlay.
Wells and Kabush attacked on the climbs repeatedly in the last two laps, trying to drop Taberlay, who would fall behind slightly by the top of the hills, but catch on the descent.
With a lap and half to go, Kabush upped the pace again on the steepest climb, a gravel road ascent that continues to climb, a bit less steeply, on singletrack.
“I was on his wheel,” Taberlay said. “I guess Todd fell off and I was able to stay with Geoff for a while. When I couldn’t stay with Geoff I had a gap on Todd and I just held it.”
Kabush was on a tear. He blasted into the start-finish area to start the last lap in a tuck, then resumed pedaling with his hands near the stem, powering into the headwind. His lead expanded quickly to a minute ahead of Taberlay, who was 30 seconds ahead of Wells.
Kabush said later he felt Wells was the second strongest rider in the race.
“It was a bit frustrating, Sid really doesn’t like putting his nose in the wind … I really wanted to see Todd get up there, so I was trying to work with Todd but Sid would just get back on and he was obviously saving his energy better than Todd.”
Taberlay said if it looked like he was sitting in, it was only because he struggled to catch the pair on the descents, and often latched on just in time for the next climb.
Wells had no complaints about Taberlay, a five-time Australian national champion who shares a sponsor, Specialized, with Wells. “He was super fast on the descents. But then he would sit on on the flats and the climbs,” he said.
Wells said when it came to the last two laps, Taberlay had more in the tank. “I was feeling pretty good in the middle of the race. Geoff attacked a couple of times, I attacked a couple of times … then Geoff attacked and got a little gap and I had a little bobble in the woods. I tried to close it down and I’d make up a little ground (on Taberlay) on the climbs but then he’d open it up on the descents.”