By Rob Jones, VeloNews.com
Two first-time road champions were crowned Tuesday at the Canadian national road championships in St-Georges, Québec. Gina Grain (Expresscopy.com), a rider better known for her sprinting and track results than her road racing, took the elite women’s title, while Christian Meier gave Symmetrics its first title of the 2007 nationals when he took the espoir men’s national jersey.
An espoir women’s title was also awarded to Emilie Roy (Vinci Specialized Menikini), although the UCI does not officially recognize that category.
The heavy rain that plagued the time trials Monday disappeared overnight, with the riders waking to a bright and sunny day, which grew steadily hotter, topping 30 Celsius by midday. Both the women and the women faced a similar course, which took them out on a long loop through the rolling Beauce countryside (124km for the men, 113km for the women), followed by a difficult 7.3km loop through St-Georges, with a stiff 1.2km climb to the finish. The climb had to be faced three times and proved the final straw for a number of riders.
The espoir men saw a break of eight riders go clear after less than 15km, and the final remnants weren’t caught until 10km from the final circuit. In the break were Joel Dion-Poitras (Eva-Devinci), Jean-Michel Lachance (Garneau-Crocs), David Bergeron (Equipe Bluberi-Martin Swiss-Specialized), Sebastian Porten (Team Ontario), Erik Robertson (Team Race.com), Charly Vives (Calyon-Litespeed), Ryan Belliveau (Calyon-Litespeed) and Kevin Hazzard (Team Ontario).
This group would gain more than four minutes on the field, because an interesting dynamic was taking place back in the peloton. None of the strong favorites, such as Meier, defending champion David Veilleux (Jittery Joe’s) or Bradley Fairall (Supersport 35 ACNC), had much in the way of teams to support them, though Meier had Brandon Crichton. Meanwhile, the group up the road had members of most of the stronger Canadian squads. So, it was up to the favorites to work to keep things in check. But they couldn’t try to bridge across without the entire peloton latching onto their wheels.
“It was good that all the favorites were riding at the front, so it tired everyone about the same,” said Meier. “I rode the hills hard to soften the field up a bit — we had to make it hard, because it would have been harder to go into the finishing circuit with 30 or 40 guys.
“I think some of us had a bit of an advantage because we knew what to expect after having ridden (the Tour de) Beauce. Also today I had a little bit of anger, because a lot of the group was riding so negative. Brandon and I were chased down every time we went off the front, and so was Veilleux. My hat’s off to him, because he rode strong today.”
Finally, after fits and starts of chasing by the top riders, the gap dropped to below a minute with 20km to go before the finishing circuit. The remaining three members of the group were caught with just over 10km to the finishing circuit.
The peloton was down to fewer than 30 riders at this point, and Meier launched a well-timed counterattack to a strong effort by Veilleux, taking Ryan Anderson (Trek Red Truck Racing) with him. The pair quickly went 17 seconds clear, and were 30 seconds ahead by the top of the climb the first time through the finish line.
Only mountain biker Max Plaxton (La-Z-Boy), Veilleux and Fairall were really pushing the pace in the chase group, which was down to nine riders — Plaxton, Fairall, Veilleux, Crichton, Jamie Lamb (Garneau-Crocs), Eric Boily (EVA-Devinci), Matt Guse (Calyon-Litespeed) and Gavriel Epstein (CRCA-Sakonnet). This allowed the leaders to extend their lead even further, and Meier easily took the title ahead of Anderson, with Boily outkicking Plaxton for the bronze medal, 1:20 down on the lead pair.
“It was hard being on my own, with no team,” said Veilleux. “Christian, and Brandon, Brad Fairall, they all worked, but a lot wouldn’t. When Christian went I tried to chase, but no one would work. But he (Meier) was very strong today, and I think he made a better recovery than me from the time trial yesterday. I think it is good that the strongest rider won today.”
The women’s race took a little longer to develop, starting at a 30km pace for the first 25km. Finally, Roy decided to stir things up, mainly because of her wrist. The young Québec rider had broken it in training four weeks earlier, and the constant pounding of hitting cracks and bumps on the road, which she could not react to in the peloton, pushed her to get out in front.
“It was easier out there,” she explained. “Plus, I was thinking, ‘I am at the national championships, and I need to ride it more like a championship race.’”
Roy went more than three minutes clear before the only sizable team in the race, Expresscopy.com, went to the front to bring it back to less than a minute. When it dropped to 30 seconds the peloton eased off, and Roy started to creep away again. But she was close enough to encourage other riders to jump across — first Krystal Jeffs (Team Ontario), then Grain, and finally Moriah MacGregor (AE Sport Development) and Marni Hambleton (Symmetrics).
“I was expecting, wishing, that more would join me, but I had hoped that they would come up earlier!” said Roy.
Grain explained: “I attacked when I did, but I felt that the race was here, it was happening now.. I wasn’t going to wait for the hill, because that wouldn’t work for me. The other teams were watching (her teammates) Erinne (Willock) and Alison (Testroete), so it worked to my advantage because they let me go. I told the others, ‘Let’s ride together, my team won’t chase.”
This group began to pull away, and was a minute clear by the finishing circuit. Each time the gap to a chase group of nine would drop to less than 30 seconds by the top of the climb, but then the leaders would open it up on the descent and flat section at the base, while the chasers all looked at each other.
Coming into the final 500 meters, Roy attacked first, but Grain easily came back to her and powered away in the last 300 meters to take the title.
“It’s not quite the same as winning a medal at world’s (Grain took silver in the scratch race), but for me to win a national title on the road is unexpected and awesome. There is nothing like winning a national title.”
This was supposed to be Roy’s last race, so she “could start a different life.” However, her strong ride and espoir title has her reconsidering. “A lot of people are congratulating me, and it was a good day, so maybe I will have to think about it a bit,” she said.
Ryan Anderson has a verbal agreement to join Symmetrics for next season. The team also said that it has re-signed all team members for next year and has a new title sponsor, to be announced later in the week. The new title sponsor is an existing sponsor that is upping its involvement.
Canadian Road National Championships
U23 Men, 137km
1. Christian Meier (BC), Symmetrics, 3:33:51
2. Ryan Anderson (BC), Trek Red Truck Racing, s.t.
3. Éric Boily (QC), EVA-Devinci, 1:20
4. Max Plaxton (BC), La-Z-Boy Cycling, 1:30
5. Jamie Lamb (QC), Garneau-Crocs, 1:32
6. David Veilleux (QC), The Jittery Joe’s Pro Cycling Team, 1:39
7. Keven Lacombe (QC), Équipe du Québec, 1:42
8. Gavriel Epstein (ON), CRCA-Sakonnet Technology U25, 1:45
9. Matthew Guse (ON), Calyon-Litespeed, 2:03
10. Brandon Crichton (ON), Symmetrics, 2:52
1. Gina Grain (BC), Team Expresscopy.com, 3:42:24
2. Marni Hambleton (BC), Symmetrics, at 0:03
3. Moriah MacGregor (BC), AE Sport Development, 0:09
4. Émilie Roy* (QC), Vinci Specialized Menikini, 0:17
5. Alison Testroete (BC), Team Expresscopy.com, 0:39
6. Alex Wrubleski (SK) Colvaita Sutter Home, 0:47
7. Leigh Hobson (ON), Cheerwine, 0:49
8. Erinne Willock (BC), Team Expresscopy.com, 0:51
9. Felicia Gomez (NS), Aarons-L5Flyers, 0:55
10. Julie Beveridge* (AB), Team Alberta, 0:55