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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
The gang from Canada wouldn’t say it, but you know they were thinking it. Thursday probably won’t be the last time O Canada gets cued up at an awards ceremony here at the UCI mountain bike world championships in Vail, Colorado. The first rendition came courtesy of the country’s team relay squad, which had little trouble taking the four-rider race where each member (junior man, under-23 man, elite man and woman) does a single shortened lap of the cross country course.
With Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher) riding the anchor leg, the Canadians finished the 30.16km race in 1:35:13, 26 seconds in front of Australia. Spain was third at :50, followed by France, then Switzerland. The United States had a lackluster showing on home soil, finishing ninth out of 13 teams, 4:55 behind their neighbors to the north.
For the Canadian team the strategy was simple. Throw out the big guns first, then hold on. They did this courtesy of Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen). Hesjedal led off the race against the likes of Switzerland’s Thomas Frischknecht and America’s Todd Wells, and was able to put 31 seconds on Wells and 37 on Frischy during his 7.5km lap.
“We wanted to have open track the whole race,” explained Hesjedal of his team’s strategy to not save its fastest riders for the end. “Mission accomplished.”
Indeed, Green took Hesjedal’s half-minute lead and stretched it to two minutes during his trip around the technical Vail course. Germany jumped to second during that lap, with Spain moving up to third. Meanwhile, the U.S. fell from second to fifth as junior Nick Waite had a run he was less than thrilled with.
“When I first got out there (the gap to Green) actually looked like it was getting smaller, but then it hit,” Waite lamented. “It definitely wasn’t a stellar ride.”
Canada’s lead would grow even further during Adam Coates’ turn. The junior rider doubled his country’s advantage over Germany, coming into the transition area 4:03 in front.
“Adam was awesome,” said Canadian national team coach Yurri Kashirin. “We were playing the game a little bit, putting pressure on the other teams with our leading guys. They’re riding so well, so why not.”
This was no knock on Redden though. The Toronto resident was coming off the highlight of her career, a World Cup win in the cross country at Mont-Ste-Anne in August, and she wasn’t about to surrender her team’s advantage.
“When we had our team meeting in Monday I tried to talk them out of having me ride the anchor because it was making me scared,” she said. “But the more we talked about it the more I realized it was the right thing to do. I just had to get it in my head that I was riding a time trial not racing against the guys.”
Good thing. Had Redden spent much time looking over her shoulder she would have seen a rapidly closing Cadel Evans. The Aussie Volvo-Cannondale rider mounted his bike 6:24 seconds after Redden had taken off, but quickly started picking off riders. First the Swiss, then Germany, then finally Spain’s Jose Hermida who had left the transition area with what looked to be a fist-tight lock on the silver medal, 41 seconds ahead of Evans.
“He was like a plane,” said Hermida of when Evans passed him. “His speed was incredible. It was impossible to stay on his wheel.”
Despite his rapid rate, though, Evans couldn’t overcome the advantage the Canadians had built in the early going, settling for second and a silver medal.
“I saw how much time Roland put on (teammate) Mary (Grigson), so I knew I had a chance,” Evans said. “I just needed a little more time.”
Green was 6:19 faster than Grigson, while Evans was 5:58 quicker than Redden. Head to head Evans was one second faster than Green, 21:25 to 21:26, while Hesjedal went around in 21:27. Redden was 22 seconds faster than Grigson, 27:23 to 27:45.
Thursday’s race was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but was pushed back following the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. Besides shifting the schedule, organizers in Vail have also cancelled all of the weekend’s festival activities, and held a very short and subdued opening ceremony Wednesday night.
Later in the day all racing Friday was postponed until Sunday in lieu of the national day of prayer called for by President Bush.
With the team relay done, attention now turns to the individual cross-country races where all of Canada’s top riders have gold-medal potential.
“This was just a tune-up,” Hesjedal said. “Everybody knows what we’re really here for.”
Check back to VeloNews.com all weekend for full reports, photos and results.
— The French, who finished fourth, had less than their best on Thursday. Reigning world champion Miguel Martinez has yet to arrive in the U.S. because of the terrorist-attack-caused limits on air travel in and into America. Meanwhile, this year’s under-23 World Cup champion, Julien Absalon, took a pass on the team relay, opting to save strength for Friday’s race. Absalon will be Hesjedal’s chief rival for the U-23 rainbow stripes.
— The team from Great Britain was sitting second in Thursday’s race before being disqualified for an illegal wheel change. One British rider said he knew the team would be DQ’d but they all wanted the training so they kept riding.
— When asked why he had chosen Todd Wells over current U.S. national champion Kirk Molday for his squad, U.S. team coach Doug Martin said, “We felt Todd gave us our best chance in a 20-minute race.” It didn’t hurt that Molday was one of the many victims of the airport shutdown either. The SunRace-Santa Cruz rider was driving out from California. Other Americas forced to hit the road were Brain Lopes, Mike King and Melissa Buhl. All are expected to arrive today.
— When asked about the absence of countrywoman Marga Fullana, Spain’s Jose Hermida seemed as confused as the rest of us. “It’s difficult to explain,” said Hermida about the reigning women’s world cross-country champion. “She had a press conference and said she’s tired, but she only did four (World Cup) races so how can she be tired. It was the same at the European Championships. She was there and then one day before the race she got sick and went home. She does some strange things.”
UCI MOUNTAIN BIKE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, Vail, Colorado. September 6-16; Team relay; 1. Canada (Ryder Hesjedal, Roland Green, Adam Coates, Chrissy Redden), 30.16km in 1:35:13; 2. Australia (Sid Taberlay, Mary Grigson, Trent Lowe, Cadel Evans), at :26; 3. Spain (Carlos Coloma, Inaki LeJarreta, Janet Puiggros, Jose Antonio Hermida), at :50; 4. France (Yohann Vachet, Loic Guerin, Laurence Leboucher, Ludovic Dubau), at :1:41; 5. Switzerland (Thomas Frischknecht, Juerg Graf, Petra Henzi, Florien Vogel), at 2:14; 6. Germany (Carsten Bresser, Jochen Kaess, Markus Koffmann, Sabine Spitz), at 3:26; 7. Poland (Piotr Formicki, Anna Szafraniec, Krzysztof Kuzniak, Mariusz Kowal), at 4:35; 8. Italy (Manfred Steiner, Adam Quadroni, Camilla Bertossi, Marco Bui), at 4:36; 9. United States (Todd Wells, Nick Waite, Susan Haywood, Walker Ferguson), at 4:55; 10. Austria (Markus Weber, Birgit Braumann, Hannes Wenzl, Peter Presslauer), at 5:53; 11. New Zealand, at 12:36; 12. Slovenia, at 13:01; — Great Britain, DSQ