While great things were always expected from Marie-Helene Premont at last weekend’s World Cup cross-country race, what with her tour leading performance so far this season and the fact she was racing at home at Mont Sainte Anne, the rest of the Canadian mountain bike team was an unexpected surprise.
While Premont lost the rest of the field on the first climb, Kamloops’s Catherine Pendrel battled Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesiaa — the most dominant woman ever to race the World Cup — to the finish to take second place.
“This was my first time in the top here, and I’m really excited,” Pendrel told Canadian Cyclist Magazine. “My race was great. My laps were really consistent. I had the best World Cup start of my life.”
Pendrel will join Premont in Beijing in two weeks, where Premont is favoured to be on the podium. Although a more technical course would suit the Canadians, Premont came through in Athens in 2004 with a silver medal, and Pendrel has been improving almost with every race.
Whistler’s Joanna Harrington was in the field for the race, placing 33 rd .
The men’s race was wide open with some of the top European riders opting to miss Quebec, but most of the bigger names in contention for the overall World Cup title made the trip to battle for points. Julian Absalon of France, having his best season in years to lead the World Cup standings, took the gold medal. Victoria’s Geoff Kabush picked up the silver medal — tying his best performance ever in a World Cup race. Seamus McGrath, his fellow Olympian, placed eighth.
The cross-country field is expected to be even smaller next week at the World Cup stop in Bromont, Quebec.
As well as a cross-country race, there was also a downhill event with a full field of international racers. Whistler’s Claire Buchar finished sixth in the race, her best finish this season, on one of the longest and toughest courses on the circuit.
“It is a really, really physical, long track,” she told Canadian Cyclist. “You have to try to relax and hang on. There are some harder ruts now that it has dried out but most of them are avoidable.
“It’s just so physically demanding. It’s hard to ride your best when you’re so tired. It makes you want to stop and take a nap.”
Rachel Atheron, the reigning world champion, took the win and leads in the World Cup standings, while Sabrina Jonnier of France placed second and Tracey Mosely of the U.K. took third.
Canada’s top prospect on the men’s side, the North Shore’s Steve Smith, qualified 11 th but finished at the back of the pack with a flat.
“I’ve never had a flat in a race before,” he said. “Why now? There isn’t much more to say. This sucks.”
The top Canadian was Justin Brown, in 55 th place.
The win went to Greg Minnaar of South Africa, followed by World Cup leader Gee Atherton — Rachel Atherton’s brother — and British legend Steve Peat.
Most of the top athletes will be heading to Bromont this weekend before making the trip to Whistler to take part in Crankworx.