Premont solos to win at home

Canadians excel at Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup

By Sue George in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec

Racing near her home, Canadian Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain) rode away from her competition on the first lap and never looked back on her way to victory in the cross country at the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup. She was followed by Catherine Pendrel (Luna Women's MTB Team), another Canadian riding solo to a second place. Norwegian Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory Racing) rode steadily to a strong third place finish.

"It was really crazy to win here at home," said Premont. "The crowd was here for me and it really helped." Premont's popularity drew many spectators – it appeared there were more out to watch the women's race than the men's race. Cheers followed her around the course; it was easy to tell when Premont was coming by the reactions of her fans, many of whom were carrying and waving signs with Premont's photo.

The local heroine got a good start, but she also looked strong throughout the race. "My strategy was to be fast at the beginning and try to get that gap and to be careful after that," she said. In a clean ride finished up in 2:06:30, she had no mechanicals or crashes and her solid technical skills enabled her to ride everything.

Going into the first technical section on the initial lap, Premont led, followed by Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) and Pendrel. The latter eventually passed the Norwegian Dahle Flesjaa who dropped back to finish fifth. American Georgia Gould (Luna MTB Women's Team) finished fourth.

"I had the best World Cup start I've ever had in my life," said fellow Canadian Pendrel. "We were all close at the top of the first climb, but I wasn't aggressive enough and I went into the woods third wheel instead of on Marie's. That allowed a gap to form between us, and Marie started to pull away in the first woods section."

Pendrel said it was helpful for the two Canadians to have raced the same course one week ago for their national championships. "Both of us love this course and we were out there having fun. Mentally, we know we can do well here and that works to our advantage."

In the men's race Julien Absalon (Orbea) displayed fine form and well-honed technical skills as he dominated the elite men's cross country at the World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne. On the very first lap, he attacked his competition and left them behind to race for second.

Absalon wasn't originally planning on racing at Mont-Sainte-Anne. "After my bad race at worlds [where he DNF'ed - ed.], I changed my mind. I decided that it'd be better to do the World Cup here to keep racing on an international level and boost my confidence."

"I'm happy to win here - it's good for the mind with the Olympics in four weeks," said Absalon, who was wearing the French National Champion's jersey after winning the title again last weekend.

Some surged early and some took the long, steady approach on six laps of a demandingly technical course with plenty of steep climbing, but in the end it was Canadian Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) taking a solid second place after a largely solo ride throughout the race. U23 Racer Burry Stander (GT Bicycles) raced to a third place finish, picking off riders on his way.

Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida) went from being in second to third to wondering whether he would finish the race after he crashed on the third lap. "It was the crash of my life. I went flying and my bike landed far away. It had no seat afterward - it broke in the crash. My helmet was lost, too. I just sat for a few minutes or more, and they gave me water."

"I really thought I would have to quit the race. I've crashed in my life many times, but that was definitely one of the scariest ones - I just started flying and hit my head," said Hermida, still shaken after the finish. Following his crash, during which he lost more than a dozen spots, he worked his way back up to 11th.

World Champion Christoph Sauser (Swisspower) did not start the race after being injured in a crash the day before the race. A trip to the hospital afterward got him five stitches in his leg.

"It would have been interesting to have Sauser in the race," said Absalon, "but it was a bad crash for him yesterday. I hope we will race in Bromont next weekend." That's where the next round of the World Cup will head August 1-3.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite men's and elite women's cross country World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne.

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