There is something special about racing the world championships in your home nation. Canadian Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) knows this and is looking forward to doing so in early September at the Mountain Bike World Championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec. Add the home country advantage to a history of strong performances at Mont-Sainte-Anne, and the 33-year-old Kabush has a good chance of bringing home a medal in the elite men's cross country race.
"It's a big opportunity in my career to have the Worlds on a course in Canada that I've done well on before," said Kabush to Cyclingnews. "I've been keeping it in the back of my mind the whole season. It's a chance to do something special." Last year in the World Cup at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Kabush was third to Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida). In 2008, he was second to Absalon, and he also finished third in 2007.
"It's always been a bit surprising how well I do there," said Kabush. "In the last five years at Mont-Sainte-Anne, I've been top three four times. I never expect it, but it seems to happen. It's a combo of the course and racing in North America. Last year, I came in having a rough season, and I still finished top three."
2010 hasn't exactly been an easy time for Kabush. "It's been a rollercoaster season. It's been up and down. I'm not too stressed though."
"I'm not too worried about my results in Europe this year. I feel solid in training and with the Worlds in North America, the variable of travelling across the ocean is taken out."
In this year's World Cup, which has only been held at European venues thus far, Kabush finished 28th at Dalby, 34th at Houffalize, 15th in Offenburg, 21st in Champery and did not finish in Val di Sole. He is ranked 27th in the World Cup, the top-ranked Canadian male with one round remaining in Windham, New York, this weekend.
"I'm an outside favorite and that's nice. I'll have some attention being one of the top Canadians, but I won't have a lot of spotlight on me. Maybe I can come in under the radar a little bit."
That's just what Kabush did last year, when he had a breakout, top-five performance at the Worlds in Canberra, Australia.
"For me, last year was my first top 10 at worlds which gave me a lot of confidence," said Kabush. "I had a small mechanical, and it was frustrating. I lost the lead group on a windy course."
Kabush will be up against most of the same favourites as last year. "Absalon and Hermida will always be top riders. Nino (Schurter) and Florian (Vogel) are also guys to watch. They have technical ability and strength. (European Champion Jaroslav) Kulhavy is another rider coming on strong. I don't know his technical strength though."
Kabush, like many of the favourites, will face the always strong Swiss team including Vogel and defending World Champion Schurter, but he does not think team tactics will play too much of a role this year.
"Last year was very significant with Florian and Nino having a tactical advantage. I could see being on my own time trialling (after he had a soft tire that required a wheel change) that it would have helped to have teammates. Having teammates will be less significant at Mont-Sainte-Anne. The course is up and down and in the woods. Wind won't be as much of factor and I don't think we'll see that much subtle blocking tactics. The race should should sort itself out much easier."
The course at Mont-Sainte-Anne is a favourite of many riders and Kabush is no exception. "The course is more consistently technical. It's got steep and hard climbs, but you are rewarded with fast, technical descents. It's relentless and you don't have much time to recover. It should be a good challenge for lots of kinds of riders. They've been tweaking it over the past few years. It's not overly challenging in the dry, but in the wet, it brings out the slipperiness."
"The one rock garden in the middle scared a few people last year in the wet," said Kabush, who is not hoping for dry conditions. "I'm hoping it's a little wet this year. I like it slightly damp. Enough so you can ride everything, but so that it enhances the technical quality of the course a bit."
In North American racing this year, Kabush has consistently placed near the top though wins seem to be eluding him.
"I had a lot of seconds this year. The focus is on the World Cups and we do the US races that fit in and make sense," said Kabush. "I'm not sure where the US series is going in the next few years, but it feels like it's getting better direction and building up." He finished second in Fontana, Sea Otter, Mellow Johnny's and Colorado Springs. Kabush sat out the Wisconsin Subaru Cup round to race the BC Bike Race, which he won with Catharine Pendrel.
"BC Bike was a great experience. I was going to do it with (teammate) Lea Davison and she got injured," said Kabush. "I talked to Catharine and she was excited to do it. It was a great mid-season break. I don't get to ride a lot of local trails where I grew up. It was great to go back and get in a solid week of training. It's right in Rocky Mountain's backyard and they debuted the new Shimano XTR there. It also let me do Test of Metal, another big classic. It was a great mid-season break." Kabush said, World Cup schedule-permitting, he'd do the race again.
Kabush also won his eighth national Canadian cross country title (seventh as a senior) in mid-July.
As he prepares for the Worlds, Kabush is in the midst of a block of training that will extend through the final World Cup at Windham.
"I'm trying to regroup and get rested. My last trip to Europe produced an average World Cup in Champery, and I had a pretty terrible race in Val di Sole. I'm putting that behind me. I'm feeling good to be back home and getting rested," said Kabush, who is from Courtney, British Columbia, but resides primarily in Albequerque, New Mexico.
"Val di Sole was probably my first DNF in four years. It was just one of those days I had nothing. Some of the team staff was sick, so maybe I had some kind of an infection."
It will be Kabush's second time racing the Worlds at Mont-Sainte-Anne though he has competed there many times. In 1998, the only other time the Worlds were there, Kabush was not yet an elite racer. "I was under 23, and I think I finished something like 28th. I've probably raced at Mont-Sainte-Anne at least 20 times."
Speaking of last year, this year and next year's Worlds, Kabush said, "I feel lucky to have gotten to race Worlds in Australia, Canada, and Champery. All three courses favor my strengths and I'm lucky to have that at the peak of my career."
Follow Kabush's performance at Mont-Sainte-Anne by staying tuned to Cyclingnews for complete coverage of the Mountain Bike World Championships. Cyclingnews will be bringing you live coverage of the elite men's and women's world championship cross country races.