By Matt Pacocha
Georgia Gould (Luna) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) each won their respective NOVA National cross-country races in Fountain Hills, Arizona, on Sunday, scoring 30 UCI points as pro riders begin to rack up valuable points in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.
For Gould the win completed a sweep of the weekend events, where the Luna rider was the golden girl of the three days of racing at and near McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills.
Sunday proved the hottest day of the weekend with temperatures rising into the 90s by the time women started racing at 1:00 p.m. The men’s event started in heat at 3:30 p.m., but cooled considerably by the time Kabush crossed the line with a winning time of 2:28:40.
It was a long race for both, with men covering four and women covering three trips around the nearly 10-mile race course. The distance, combined with the heat, took its toll on both fields, with many in the 103-man field crossing the line more than half-an-hour behind the day’s top finishers and that’s assuming they managed to finish. Crashes, mechanicals and flats further reduced the list of top contenders in the men’s race.
Sam Schultz (Subaru-Gary Fisher) flatted himself out of a strong top-10 position and then suffered three more before abandoning the race in frustration. Jeremiah Bishop (Trek-Volkswagen) was barely able to preserve a top-10 finish after dealing with two of his own.
“I was with Wells and Kabush when I flatted [on the second lap], right before we came up to red dot hill out on the far side of the course,” said Bishop, who was able to just add air to the tire and let his sealant repair the hole. That worked for a lap. “Not too far from where I first flatted, I flatted again coming down through one of those washes at high speed.”
There were also several decisive crashes. Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher) crashed 10 minutes into her first lap and was forced to retire on the second lap. Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven Cycles) found herself caught in a rut that took her down, while fighting for the race lead with Gould. McConneloug was able to preserve second place, but the bobble kept her out of contention for the win.
The Men’s Race
Through all of the heat and carnage, Kabush showed his strength for the second day in a row. The Canadian national champion slid off the front with Todd Wells (GT) and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher at the end of the first lap. Horgan-Kobelski would lose touch with his breakaway partners due to a leak in his front tire, which he stopped for assistance with in the course’s tech zone.
“I got a flat on the first lap,” said Horgan-Kobelski. “I knicked the sidewall of the front tire. I was able to ride it, it just kept getting slower and slower and then it was just about completely flat by the time I got to the tech zone, but I made it. It was a good change, but I couldn’t quite get back on the group. I almost did it, but I’m actually really happy to get fourth with a flat on that kind of course. It’s just so much harder to be by yourself.”
While Horgan-Kobelski was trying to recover from his flat tire, Wells and Kabush were matching each other’s efforts at the front. Behind them Ryan Trebon (Kona) was driving the chase group, which would soon break apart.
As the race heated up Wells and Kabush threw in bids for the win, but in the end Kabush, wearing his national champion’s jersey, was able to take the win with a very comfortable gap over Wells.
“I started to come undone a little on the last lap and Kabush kept the same pace, he even upped it a little,” said Wells. “The heat had something to do with it, but I just fatigued a little faster than Kabush did.”
Kabush was quick to give credit to his new bike. Sunday’s race was only his second time riding it.
“I think riding the full-suspension paid off,” said Kabush. “On the rough climbs I could just put the power down and that’s where I eventually gapped Todd on the back side of the course. Shooting through the rough stuff the suspension and, I guess, the titanium really deadens everything, it’s just point and shoot [with the bike.]”
Cyclo-cross star Ryan Trebon was able to solidify his third-place position on the last lap, which was fine with him after just getting back into the swing of things after a long cyclo-cross season.
“I don’t have a lot of fitness right now,” said Trebon. “I’m happy to get third. I’ve only been training for three weeks and this is the first race I’ve done.”
Horgan-Kobelski took fourth, followed by Adam Craig (Giant Bicycle), but it was Craig’s teammate Carl Decker who pulled off the surprise ride of the day. He was able to ride himself from just outside the top 10 to very respectable sixth place in the final lap. He has been admittedly slow with ramping up his training for this season.
“Holy crap, I can’t believe I just got sixth place,” said Decker. “Training, maybe it’s not good for me? I felt terrible [before the race] so I didn’t warm up really. A couple hours in I started to realize that I could do something. Now what do I do? I guess I rest.”
The Women’s Race
Call it what you want, a hat trick, a sweep, a closeout. No matter what the label, Gould’s performance was the story of the weekend. This is only her second year on the Luna Women’s squad, but during that short time this racer has truly taken the women’s field by storm.
After Saturday’s short track Alison Sydor [Rocky Mountain-Business Objects], an icon of the sport, described Gould as being on another level. The comment caught Gould off guard.
“Wow, I don’t know what to say to that,” said Gould. “I don’t know about that, I mean that’s very nice of her, but I don’t think I’m on a different level. There are a lot of strong women and it’s still early in the season. I’m definitely not counting anybody else out this early.”
Mary McConneloug, arguably the strongest American women currently on he international circuit, immediately took the race into her own hands leading the entire first lap. Gould came through the start/finish the first time trailing by five seconds, but she didn’t look under any sort of duress.
“Going out onto the second lap she [Gould] caught back up to me and came around on the flats,” said McConneloug. “I thought, ‘sweet, I’ll just hang out in her draft,’ it felt good, it felt great actually. I was just riding comfortably in her draft and we went down this little hill and this rut came right out in front of me. I just skidded out and totally crashed.”
Gould capitalized on McConneloug’s bobble taking the lead and never looking back. For McConneloug the momentary slip proved to be the sole mistake of the race, but it was a costly one. She was able to keep the reigns on Gould, but just didn’t have enough to close the gap the crash had opened.
Sue Haywood (Trek-Volkswagen) stayed steady and rode past Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna) for third. Vanlandingham was happy with her finish; she had been battling a nasty cold for a couple of weeks, the same one that kept her out of the Continental Championships last month in Nequen, Argentina.
“I went from Hawaii down to Argentina, it took two red eye flights,” said Vanlandingham. “And I got sick, so I’ve been down for a few weeks. I’ve just been back on the bike for one [week], so I’m pretty happy with my ride today. I figured if I could get a top-five this weekend I’d be on a pretty good track.”
Kelli Emmett (Giant) slowly worked herself out of a bad start and onto the podium, her second appearance of the weekend. The NOVA turned out to be a great season kick-off for Emmett and her sponsor, Giant. The company has not seen too many women’s cross-country podiums in the recent years.
Race NotesAlison Sydor had a rough race that started with a flat tire. The puncture put her back around 30th place. She ended up chalking the day up to training, but not before she worked herself back into the top 10. The former world champion just started training again after breaking a bone in her wrist playing hockey this winter.“I knew it was going to be a problem after last night’s effort,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be so great. It was good to get a full length cross-country in. Since I was out of the mix at the front I was able to use it for training, all things considered last night was good and the weekend has been better than I expected.”Katerina Nash (Luna) twisted her rear derailleur beyond repair on a rock while racing in the top five. She was forced to abandon.Wendy Sims (Kona) just missed the podium because of a flat tire. She was calm as could be in the tech zone while she waited for a new front wheel to be installed by her mechanic.
1) Geoff Kabush (Maxxis), 2:28:40
2) Todd Wells (GT), 2:29:38
3) Ryan Trebon (Kona), 2:31:16
4) Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher), 2:32:01
5) Adam Craig (Giant), 2:33:21Pro Women
1) Georgia Gould (Luna), 2:06:20
2) Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven Cycles), 2:07:12
3) Sue Haywood (Trek-Volkswagen), 2:08:52
4) Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna), 2:08:19
5) Kelli Emmett (Giant), 2:10:00