By Dave McElwaine in Santa Ynez, California
With 103 degree temperatures at the Chamberlain Ranch in the California's Santa Ynez Valley, the heat was a bigger obstacle for racers to overcome than the course itself at round three of the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS).
Kelli Emmett (Giant MTB) rode a smart elite women's cross country, picking off riders one at a time, and notched her first cross country win in an NMBS race. Australian Sid Taberlay (Avanti SRA) succeeded in the elite men's cross country, a race of attrition, ahead of Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) and Barry Wicks (Kona).
In the women's race, Georgia Gould (Luna MTB) led for three quarters of the race but succumbed to heat exhaustion and had to be taken to the hospital. While Gould is leading the competition to qualify for one of the two United States Olympic Team women's positions, the heat exhaustion brought an end to her streak of NMBS wins that dates back to 2006.
Catherine Pendrel (Luna MTB) battled Emmett for the lead but could only manage second place while the Trek/VW women rounded out the podium with Lea Davison, Jenny Smith, and Mical Dyck filling the remaining sports.
The race started like so many other NMBS races, with Gould quickly going to the front, followed by team-mate Katerina Nash. Nash seemed to falter uncharacteristically and fell back a few positions, leaving fellow Luna MTB rider Catherine Pendrel to chase Gould.
"I definitely was feeling the heat out there," said Prendrel. "Then Kelli caught me at the beginning of the second lap and that actually saved my race, because before that all I could focus on was suffering, and after she passed me I had a rabbit."
Emmett slowly but surely pulled herself up from eighth position towards the leading riders. She could be seen high above the race venue descending like the Super D star that she is, but it was her climbing ability that finally allowed her to pass Pendrel.
"I knew it was a matter of survival out there today," said Emmett. "Heat generally doesn't bother me too much so I knew that if I rode steady I would work my way up. I've been riding a dirt bike so it has been helping me with the descending skills." Emmett was not the only one having a good day; in total, four of the women on the podium, (all but Smith), enjoyed their best ever NMBS finish today.
As the elite men's competitors lined up for their event all were aware of the carnage that had taken place in the women's race earlier due to the heat. Many of the men had ice packs on their backs trying to keep their core temperatures down. Expecting it to be a hot day, the race organizers and UCI officials had shortened the race to two and a quarter laps. With lap times of approximately 48 minutes, it was still to be a two hour suffer-fest.
As he often does Todd Wells (GT Bikes) won the start and single-handedly created the separation that would become key to the race. Within minutes Wells was towing Wicks, Taberlay, and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru / Gary Fisher). Kabush was dangling off the back, between 50-100 metres behind the bunch.
The racers completed a quarter of a lap before coming through the start/finish to begin the first full lap. By this point Kabush seemed to surge and almost made contact with the leaders. Halfway through the lap Horgan-Kobelski was gapped off the back of the lead group, which seemed to temporarily stall Kabush's forward progress.
"I was pacing myself but it (the heat) hit me all of a sudden then I just didn't have it," admitted Horgan-Kobelski.
Kabush echoed Horgan-Kobelski's comments, describing the conditions in California as intense "It was pretty intense out there with the heat and I was just cooking early on," he said. "I didn't want to make those efforts to get on the lead group, then I caught the group going into the last lap.
"On the last significant climb I was just about to make contact [with Wicks and Taberlay] when Sid attacked," he added. "I thought I might have a chance coming into the end but I kind of blew a corner on the descent."
"I was just trying to be smart out there and keep the fluids going," said winner Taberlay. "I got put in the front and when I saw Geoff coming [and said to myself] 'if he gets back on he has a pretty good kick'. Barry then dropped off the back and I had to ride the last couple miles by myself."
Wells and Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru/Gary Fisher) would finish fourth and fifth. The top five racers came into the finish with at least a 30 second gap between each of them. Most went straight to sit in the shade near the finish line while replenishing their fluids after crossing the line and nobody moved for about 20 minutes.
Short track action
The short track course at the Chamberlain Ranch in Los Olivos was one of the flattest that the racers will face all year. The only hill was the scene of virtually every attack in the race, but significant headwinds forced the racers to ride in packs, making any solo breakaway very difficult. Unlike the cross country, the short track podium saw familiar faces atop the podium.
In dusty 100 degree heat Katerina Nash (Luna MTB) again proved she is the queen of elite women's short track by winning. Without team-mate Georgia Gould in the race, due to the effects of the heat exhaustion she suffered in Saturday's race, Nash was challenged by a host of other competitors. Emmett continued to have a fantastic weekend by taking second in an exciting sprint with Heather Irmiger (Subaru/Gary Fisher). Dyck was fourth, followed by Pendrel.
Kabush rode a very tactical elite men's short track and beat Wicks in a sprint to the line. At least five racers had a shot at victory with only a lap to go, with Horgan-Kobelski finishing a strong third followed by Wells and Taberlay.
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of all events from the NMBS #3 in Santa Ynez, California.