By Fred Dreier
Sprint finishes decided both the men’s and women’s professional events at Sunday’s Bump N’ Grind cross-country race, held at Oak Mountain state park in Pelham, Alabama. The event was the third round of the 2009 USA Cycling Pro Cross-country tour (ProXCT), and the second round of the Kenda Cup East.
In the men’s race, Australian rider Sid Taberlay (Sho Air-Specialized) out kicked Coloradan Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher). Luna teammates Georgia Gould and Catherine Pendrel went toe-to-toe in the women’s event, with Pendrel coming out on top.
“It was a super hard race, definitely the most tactical (ProXCT) race I’ve done,” Pendrel said.
ProXCT leaders Gould and Max Plaxton (Sho Air-Specialized) retained their overall advantages in the seven-race series after three events.
The Bump N’ Grind celebrated its 15th running in 2009, and the event has long been regarded as Alabama’s premier cross-country race. The race’s entry into the Kenda Cup East and ProXCT at the onset of 2009 marked a major milestone for the race, which has never been part of the nation’s premier cross-country series.
Sweltering temperatures and muggy humidity greeted riders on Sunday morning, and the Bump N’ Grind course featured tight singletrack on a short circuit, a handful of fast paved sections and the 600-foot climb up Red Tail mountain.
The Luna duo of Pendrel and Gould came into the race as heavy favorites, and the two quickly sped to the front of the women’s race. Also present were two X-factor riders in Katerina Nash (Luna) and five-time U.S. cyclocross champ Katie Compton. Nash, the reigning Czech national champion, was competing in her first major race since missing most of the early season rehabbing a knee injury.
Compton, who suited up in the colors of Sho Air-Specialized, has a long history of racing mountain bikes, however her prowess is in shorter, 45-minute efforts.
The four rode together, with each rider taking turns attacking on the steeper road sections. Nash eventually suffered a crash and lost contact. Compton suffered a scary asthma attack and eventually dropped out and was rushed to a nearby hospital.
Pendrel, who came into the race ranked No. 1 in the UCI world rankings, tried to drop her Luna teammate on the final climb, but Gould would not let go. Gould led the duo toward the finish line. Pendrel scooted around her teammate in the final corner and held her advantage to the line.
“I pulled the whole way, I thought I might as well lead it out,” Gould said. “I probably should have taken the inside line, but live and learn.”
Tactical Men’s Race
The men’s race kicked off with a paved sprint into a section of trail, and a sizable group containing the who’s who of North American off-road racing quickly formed. Reigning National Mountain Bike Series champion Geoff Kabush led the group which contained Kona teammates Ryan Trebon and Barry Wicks, Horgan-Kobelski, the Sho Air-Specialized duo of Taberlay and Plaxton, as well as Todd and Troy Wells (Specialized, Clif Bar) and Jamis rider Seamus McGrath.
Kabush, the most successful North American cross-country racer of the current generation, looked visibly off his game. The Canadian was active at the front of the race early, but eventually faded to sixth.
“I didn’t have the gas. It’s been a busy spring and I need to go home and do some homework right now,” Kabush admitted. “It’s time to go home and recharge the batteries.”
Also fading were Trebon and Wicks, who both suffered mechanical issues.
The day’s primary aggressors were Horgan-Kobelski and Todd Wells, whose multiple surges eventually whittled the front group down to include McGrath, Taberlay and Plaxton.
“I felt really good on the climbs but there wasn’t anything quite long enough to get a gap on those guys,” Horgan-Kobelski said. “It played out like a road race, and I didn’t quite have the numbers to win. Those Sho-Air guys didn’t see the front of the race for the entire day. They had the number today.”
Taberlay, who was able to attack and gap Horgan-Kobelski just before the line, agreed that tactics played a major part in his victory. That’s part of bike racing, Taberlay said.
“Max is leading the series over (Horgan-Kobelski) so it was up to JHK to try and take points away from him, which means it was up to me to try and go for the win,” Taberlay said. “If you don’t like team tactics, maybe we should just go into the lab and test everyone’s VO2 max and power to weight ratio and declare a winner.”
With the victory, Taberlay is now tied for second place in the ProXCT standings with Horgan-Kobelski with 280 points, just five points down on series leader Plaxton.