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After losing out to Mike Garrigan (Van Dessel-POC) in Saturday’s national championship race, Geoff Kabush (SCOTT 3Rox) came to the line hungry for a win at the Manitoba Grand Prix on Sunday.
“Coming up just short yesterday is frustrating and I wanted to be a bit more aggressive [today],” Kabush said after the race. “It’s a tough course to get too aggressive on because it’s so fast and tactical you can waste some energy, so I certainly wanted to be at the front and kind of dictate the pace and split it up a bit more.”
True to plan, he sat third wheel as Jeremy Durrin (Neon Velo) took the holeshot. Durrin dabbed in the same place as Rochette in the women’s race earlier that day, but quickly recovered to join the fastest men. A group of six leaders soon formed with Durrin, Kabush, Michael van den Ham (Trek Red Truck p/b Mosaic Homes), Garrigan, Aaron Schooler (Focus CX Team), and Andrew L’Esperance (Norco Factory Team) from Halifax.
Durrin took charge at the front with Kabush. Midway into the race, a front flat left Durrin with a long trip to the pit. Vancouver’s Craig Richey (Trek Red Truck p/b Mosaic Homes) chased. Garrigan, tired from the previous day’s solo ride, got shed by the leaders with L’Esperance.
The second half of the eight-lap event was all about the fight for first between van den Ham and Kabush which ensued as gray clouds rolled in, bringing cold gusty winds. The large raucous crowd chanted “Michael, Michael” when the two reached the sand pits together.
Kabush put in some digs but couldn’t shake van den Ham. The pair built a gap of almost 10 seconds to Schooler, who chased alone ahead of Garrigan and Richey.
Halfway into the final lap Schooler came within a few bike lengths of the two leaders. He caught them a couple of times and then tailed off.
Coming into the finish, Kabush tapped his 22 years of racing experience to beat van den Ham in a sprint. Garrigan got fourth after Schooler who rounded out the podium.
“I caught them and then they cranked it up for the sprint, and then I just got a little bit gapped,” Schooler said. “I was basically sprinting with them; I’m just not a good sprinter.”
In the end, tactics won the race as Kabush had predicted. “It just came down to positioning the last couple of laps and saving a little bit of energy for the sprint,” Kabush said. “I’m happy. It’s been really exciting racing here and a great weekend, and it’s certainly nice to get a win under my belt for this ‘cross season. Michael [van den Ham] was really strong. I’m probably not going to be popular in Manitoba now, beating the hometown hero. But I want to win as much as Michael does.”
Van den Ham’s result came on top of third place in Saturday’s nationals. “One of my goals for this season was to get a top five at nationals and get a podium at a UCI race. So to get both of those and more in the same weekend, it’s fantastic,” the 23-year-old said.
“I’m very happy that I managed to be battling with Geoff for the win. … With his race experience he might have outsmarted me a little bit, but I have a few years to get that tactical sense.”