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By Rob Jones
Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain) and Julien Absalon (Orbea) virtually assured themselves of overall victories in the season-long cross-country World Cup series by turning in strong rides at the seventh round in Bromont, Quebec, on Sunday.
Absalon took his second consecutive win in the series, while Premont finished second to Canadian Olympic team mate Catharine Pendrel (Luna), who won her first ever World Cup.
The good weather from the Downhill on Saturday disappeared overnight, wit the riders waking up to grey, overcast conditions and light rain. By the time the women’s four lap race started, the rain had gotten heavier, turning already muddy sections into liquid, and coating the roots and rocks with a slick layer.
Pendrel attacked hard on the first climb, with only Premont able to match her pace. Missing from the start was Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida), who suffered stomach problems. Pendrel’s Luna team mate, Georgia Gould, took up the chase first, with U.S. national champion Mary McConneloug (Kenda Seven), however, they both struggled in the technical sections, and were overtaken by Katarine Nash (Luna) and Lene Byberg (Specialized). Nash and Byberg settled into third and fourth for the remainder of the race, while Gould hung on for the final podium spot.
Up front, Pendrel was still setting the pace on lap two, with Premont hanging back a few seconds to start, but then inexplicably fading part way through the lap. As it turned out, the Rocky rider was having mechanical problems in the mud; her front derailleur would not shift to the granny ring for the long steep climbs. This allowed Nash to briefly join Premont, who had to stop twice at Tech Zones to get her front derailleur ‘ungummed’. However, Nash ran into her own problems on lap three, necessitating a stop for brakes pads.
Without the problems could Premont have stayed with Pendrel? It is difficult to say, the BC rider was clearly in her element in the conditions, riding sections that almost everyone else had to run and, by the finish, opening a gap of nearly two minutes on Premont.
“If you had asked me at the beginning of the year about my chances of winning a World Cup, I would have said ‘no way’. This is definitely the biggest result of my career,” exclaimed an exuberant Pendrel after the race.
“But the muddy conditions here suited me, and I was riding all the technical portions really well. I was able to gap Marie-Helene on the climb and then increase my lead through the tricky stuff.”
Pendrel moved into second in the overall standings, and is now the only rider with a mathematical chance of passing Premont for World Cup title.
“My front gears would not work starting in lap two,” explained Premont “and I had to stop twice in the technical zone to get it fixed. The mud was hard, and I wanted to be careful, because a crash would be very bad this close to the Olympics. But it was still a very good race for me, and I know that I am ready for Beijing now.”
In the men’s six lap race, Absalon decided to take no chances, going to the front on the opening long climb and then riding away from the rest of the field.
“It was very extreme conditions, ” said Absalon. “I decided it was best to be out front where I could follow my own line through the muddy bits. In the second part of the race the mud started to get thicker, which made the riding even harder. But I am happy to win and increase my lead for the world Cup.”
Behind Absalon, Lukas Fluckiger (Athleticum MTB Team) was the only rider to consistently remain in the chase, as others fell back or moved up. Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), sporting a Mexican bandito ‘stache and hoping for a better ride after his crash last weekend at Mont Ste Anne, started out strong, but struggled in the mud, slipping, and crashing, and running portions that the North Americans were riding. Hermida eventually finished fifth.
Burry Stander (GT), Todd Wells (GT), Seamus McGrath (Fuji-Canadian National), Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Martin Gujan (Athleticum MTB Team) were some of the riders to start out strong, only fade as the race went on.
Meanwhile, Adam Craig (Giant) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis), were almost reveling in the conditions, riding all the sections that others had trouble with, and working their way up steadily. Craig started his move up earlier than Kabush, moving into fifth on lap three behind Absalon, Fluckiger, Hermida and Stander, and then passing the latter two into third a lap later.
Kabush did the same on lap five to take command of fourth place. He was actually closing in on Craig for the last lap and a half, but the U.S. champion found extra reserves to pull back time in the final half lap to record his highest ever World Cup result in third.
“I kept closing on Jose (Hermida) in the technical sections and finally caught him on the 4th lap.”, said Craig. ” My suspension bike was a real benefit in the extreme conditions and kept me from getting really beat up. I was feeling fine out there; this is the type of riding that I do all the time, so it was all good. But Geoff behind me was a real concern for sure, he is such a strong finisher, and I know these conditions suit him as well. Finishing third really fits in with my preparations for Beijing; I am coming out of this really tired after a solid block of training and racing, and now I will rest before final prep for Beijing.”
“It was a solid race for me,” said Kabush. “I was able to ride within myself all day, despite the hard conditions in the rain and the mud. I thought that I might be able to catch Adam [Craig] in the last lap, but he was also having a strong race. I’m fine with fourth, it is another podium finish, and moves me up one spot in the overall standings [to third].”
Absalon, with 1340 points, can now only by Christoph Sauser (Specialized), with two races remaining in the World Cup.
World Cup MTB
Bromont, Québec, Canada. August 3
1. Catharine Pendrel (Can), Luna, 1:37:43
2. Marie-Helene Premont (Can), Rocky Mountain, at 1:53
3. Katerina Nash (Cze), Luna, at 2:39
4. Lene Byberg (Nor), Specialized Factory Racing, at 3:56
5. Georgia Gould (USA), Luna, at 7:06
6. Willow Koerber (USA), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 8:47
7. Tereza Hurikova (Cze), Ceska Sporitelna, a 9:49
8. Katrin Leumann (Swi), at 9:53
9. Cécile Rode Ravanel (F), Team Lapierre International, at 10:31
10. Lea Davison (USA), Trek-VW, at 10:36
11. Elisabeth Osl (A), Team Ghost International, at 10:36
12. Mary McConneloug (USA), Kenda Seven, at 11:50
13. Rosara Joseph (NZ), Team Ghost International, at 12:34
14. Sabrina Enaux (F), Team Lapierre International, at 13:53
15. Amanda Sin (Can), 3Rox Racing, at 15:09
16. Laura Metzler (F), BH-SR. Suntour, at 15:43
17. Jean Ann Mckirdy (Can), Rocky Mountain, at 15:59
18. Emiliy Batty (Can), Trek, at 16:06
19. Helene Marcouyre (F), BH-SR. Suntour, at 17:03
20. Wendy Simms (Can), Kona, at 17:37
21. Rie Katayama (Jpn), at 17:39
22. Mical Dyck (Can), Trek, at 18:21
23. Marie-Claude Surprenant (Can), Canadian National Team, at 18:36
24. Laura Turpijn (Ned), at 20:21
25. Kelli Emmett (USA), Giant, at 21:27
26. Sandra Walter (Can), XO Felt, at 23:18
27. Julie Krasniak (F), Team Lapierre International, at 24:51
28. Caroline Villeneuve (Can), at 24:53
29. Laura Lorenza Morfin Macouzet (Mex), Mexican National Team, at 25:35
30. Marie Allaire (Can), at 26:06
31. Kathleen Villeneuve (Can), -1Lap
32. Heather Irmiger (USA), Subaru-Gary Fisher, -1Lap
33. Carla Salgado Gonzalez (Mex), Mexican National Team, -1Lap
34. Catherine Vipond (Can), Norco, -1Lap
35. Véronique Fournier (Can), -1Lap
36. Mikaela Kofman (Can), Canadian National Team, -1Lap
37. Marie Kunst (Den), Danish National Team, -1Lap
38. Kyia Anderson (USA), -1Lap
39. Jamie Dinkins (USA), US National Team, -2 laps
40. Lisa Morgan (NZ), -2 laps
DNS Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Nor), Multivan Merida
DNF Karine Travaillaud (Can)