U-23 champion Evan Guthrie (Rocky Mountain Factory) said it best: "You have to stay upright to win."
Guthrie and fellow Rocky Mountain riders on Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Geoff Kabush and Alison Sydor all rode away from their rivals, who were slipping, crashing and running on sections the winners were able to ride.
Conditions could not have been more different from last year, when competitors were treated to sun and temperatures approaching 10 degrees Celcius. This year, by contrast, saw temperatures in the -4 to -6 C range, gusty winds that knocked off at least another 3 to 4 degrees and a snow covered track that turned icy in spots as more and more riders rode over it. Oh, and intermittent snow squalls just to added to the fun.
Kabush said just after finishing: "I think my eyeballs are frozen."
All of the races followed a similar format: a small group broke clear in the first lap, with the winner launching a solo attack before the halfway mark while the chase splintered behind them.
Guthrie's early partners were David Larson (Pedalhead) and Simon Lambert-Lemay (Ride with Rendall). Lambert-Lemay inspired awe among spectators by riding in shorts, and became "the bare leg guy" to announcer Matt Decore.
Both Lambert-Lemay and Larson were crashing or having to run the numerous steep, switchbacks, while Guthrie was able to keep riding. Roadie Lambert-Lemay, who Guthrie considered his greatest threat, clearly had the power, and kept riding back up after each gap, but considered inexperience his greatest weakness.
"This is only my fourth 'cross race, so I'm still learning a lot," he explained. "I crashed early in the first lap and then I was more nervous and crashed more."
Lambert-Lemay did manage an impressive second, ahead of Brian Robinson (CMC/Bow Cycle), who overtook a fading Larson by the halfway point in the race.
Guthrie, for one, enjoyed the conditions. "It was great! This was a fun course, and the snow made it way better. If you are going to race 'cross then it should be real cyclo-cross conditions, with some snow. I was definitely worried about Simon, because I know how strong he is. But I could see that he was struggling, so I took advantage of a gap and just kept going."
Guthrie is still a Junior until next year under the mountain bike calendar, and started his U23 career in fine style with his win.
On paper, the women's race looked to be the most interesting of the day, and it did not disappoint. Sydor, relatively new to cyclo-cross but with years of experience and strong bike handling skills, was up against 'cross specialists Pepper Harlton (Team Alberta/Juventus) and Natasha Elliott (Garneau/Chaussure/Ogilvy), who was coming off back-to-back wins the previous weekend at the GP Gloucester.
The three quickly dropped the remainder of the field, but Elliott was already in trouble by the first half lap. "I crashed, and then after that I started worrying about crashing which made it worse."
By the three-quarters mark of the first lap Elliott had been dropped for good, and was riding to hang on for third against Mical Dyck (Trek Store/Terrascape), which she did for her first national championships podium.
Sydor and Harlton were riding together, but while Sydor was handling the technical sections with relative easy, Harlton was struggling, frequently off her bike and chasing to get back on Sydor's wheel. By the midpoint of the third lap, Sydor had attacked, and within a lap had a 20 second lead on Harlton, with Elliott at 40 seconds and Dyck over a minute back. The Vancouver rider extended her lead through the final lap to roll in for her first 'cross title.
Sydor is now the only Canadian to have won national titles in Road, Mountain Bike and Cyclo-cross disciplines (Note: Luc Arseneau was quick to point out that Christian Meier had previously won in three disciplines (two as a U23): Cyclo-cross, Track and Road).
"I knew that both Pepper and Natasha would be my biggest rivals," explained Sydor. "On one of the steep climbs I got a small gap on Pepper so I just kept it going, widening it on the technical parts where I seemed to be stronger. It's a real honour to have won now in three separate disciplines, especially when there is almost two decades between my first [national title] and this one."
In the Junior men's race, which was running concurrently with the women, three riders broke away early in the second lap - Mackenzie Carson (Juventus), Kris Dahl (CMC / Bow Cycle) and Conor O'Brien (Specialized-EMD Serono). Carson was dropped by the other two on the fourth lap, and was being chased by Kiernan Orange (Ride with Rendall), who eventually caught him for the final podium spot. At the front, Dahl attacked in the final lap to solo in for the national title.
In the men's 60 minute race, Kabush was the clear favourite to take his second consecutive title. However, Derrick St John (Garneau/Chaussure/Ogilvy) and last year's runner up Mike Garrigan (La Bicicletta) were expected to make him work for it.
Garrigan led out the field on the first lap, and was still at the front until just before the first pit, when he had to pull in for a bike change. The change cost him at least ten spots, and he was only able to work his way back to seventh by the end of the race.
For the first half of the lap, before entering the 'Bowl', with a series of switchbacks and short, sharp climbs, the field was one long line, led by Kabush. However, as they exited the section for a long flat run to the end of the lap Kabush was ten metres in front and pulling away.
Aaron Schooler (Team H&R Block - Kona) and Tyler Trace (Red Truck Racing) - an alumni of the popular 'Cross on the Rock series on Vancouver Island - led the chase, pulling away from the field. St John, who had been caught up in traffic on the first lap, was working his way up, and would bridge across to the two leaders.
"It was so cold out there," commented Kabush, "that it felt like my eyeballs froze a bit in the wind. I was a little nervous with the snow and the slippery track, so I decided to get out in front fairly early and ride my own pace, and avoid any crashes. With the end of a long mountain bike season, I was a little nervous about how my form would hold, but I had a good week of rest after the Wisconsin [U.S. series] race, and I could tell that I was coming around for this weekend."
As Kabush steadily pulled away, St John took over the chasing duties, followed by Schooler and Trace. Schooler came off the train on lap four, and looked to be in danger of being caught by a charging Shawn Bunnin (Team Alberta). However, Trace faltered late in lap five, and Schooler was able to rejoin him for a battle for third as St John pulled away to lock up the silver medal spot. Schooler pulled away from Trace with a lap and a half to go to take the bronze, while Trace managed to hold off Bunnin for fourth.
|1||Geoff Kabush (BC) Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain||0:55:21|
|2||Derrick St John (ON) Garneau Club Chaussure Oglivy||0:00:29|
|3||Aaron Schooler (AB) Team H&R Block - Kona||0:00:36|
|4||Tyler Trace (BC) Trek Red Truck||0:01:07|
|5||Shawn Bunnin (AB) Team Alberta||0:01:33|
|6||Craig Richey (BC) Blue Competition Cycles p/b Neverblue||0:01:51|
|7||Mike Garrigan (ON) La Bicicletta Pro Shop||0:02:04|
|8||Mathew Hewitt (BC)|
|9||Shaun Adamson (AB) Juventus||0:02:52|
|10||Kevin Calhoun (BC) Rocky Mountain - Different Bikes||0:02:59|
|11||Paul Tichelear (AB) ERTC||0:03:10|
|12||Nick Berry (BC) Mighty Riders||0:03:27|
|13||Drew Mackenzie (BC) Island Racing Club||0:03:37|
|14||Roddi Lega (AB) Pedalhead||0:04:03|
|15||Andre Sutton (AB) Hardcore Cycling Club||0:04:12|
|16||Chris Mcneil (AB) Team H&R Block-Kona||0:04:22|
|17||Aaron Fillion (ON) Ride With Rendall||0:04:41|
|18||Ryan Hopping (AB) United Cycle||0:04:59|
|19||Russell Anderson (BC) Oak Bay||0:05:36|
|20||Mark Batty (ON) Planet Energy||0:06:20|
|21||Glen Rendall (ON) Ride with Rendall||0:06:30|
|22||Kyle Douglas (ON) 3 Rox Racing||0:06:57|
|23||Kyle Anderson (AB) ERTC/Revolution Cycle||0:07:28|
|24||Nick Jendzjowsky (AB) pedalhead roadwroks||0:08:02|
|25||Mike Berkenpas (BC) LOCAL RIDE RACING||0:08:28|
|26||Brian Bain (AB) CMC/Bow Cycle||0:08:54|
|27||Dallas Morris (AB)|
|28||Marc Lapointe (QC) EMD Serono Specialized|
|29||Nathan Sedgewick (SK) BCW|
|30||Joshua Krabbe (AB) Hardcore Racing|
|31||Nick Friesen (AB) Pedalhead Road Works|
|DNF||Kevin Noiles (BC) La Bicicletta pro shop|
|DNF||David Munden (ON) lightweight by CarbonSports|
|DNF||Jonathan Benskin (AB) Hardcore Cycling|
|DNF||Stephen Ferris (BC) calgary cycle/topgear|
|DNS||Cameron Mcknight (AB) ERTC - Revolution|
|DNS||Duncan Cameron (AB)|
|DNS||Robin Baillie (AB)|