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Sydor, Hesjedal silver in world championships

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Local 23 th in downhill, 15 th in 4X

The Canadians came away from the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Lugano, Switzerland last week with a pair of silver medals, and bronze medals for members of the cross-country team.

It was a strong showing for the team in cross-country, but also showed just how far the European riders have progressed in recent years, and how competitive the sport has become.

In the women’s elite race, North Vancouver’s Alison Sydor returned to the podium, finishing just 16 seconds back of Germany’s Sabine Spitz, and almost two minutes ahead of Irini Kalentieva of Russia.

The favourite heading into the race on Sunday was Gunn-Rita Dahle of Norway, who has won every World Cup race this season. She was taken out of the picture early after flatting on her first lap, then flatting again on her third. Amazingly, she worked her way back to 23 rd overall after dropping to 60 th after her second flat.

Sydor was in the lead pack after the first lap, chasing down Marga Fullana of Spain.

Fullana’s race came to an end on her third lap when her chain skipped into her spokes. She was disqualified for accepting assistance from someone on the side of the course who helped her to free her chain.

That put Sydor in the lead until lap five of the six-lap race.

"I was letting Marga take the lead, but she kept making mistakes in the technical parts," Sydor told Canadian Cyclist magazine (www.canadian-cyclist.com). "Having her to pace was good, but I was left in the lead earlier than I wanted. I didn’t want to be at the front that early, but it feels good to be in the lead and I was going well."

Spitz passed Sydor on the paved climbing section, and Sydor, exhausted after leading the pack, found herself too tired to focus on the technical sections. She decided to go her own pace rather than risk a fall.

"On this course you couldn’t go beyond 100 per cent, or you would make mistakes. But it was fantastic that the race came down to this at the end."

Sydor is no stranger to the World Championships, with three titles under her belt. She is consistently among the top in the world in the women’s World Cup standings, and came to Switzerland ranked sixth. In the past 13 years she has never finished outside the top-five in the mountain bike worlds.

Also for Canada, national champion Marie-Helene Premont of Quebec finished in fifth place. Premont rode with the lead pack for most of the race, but fell back slightly on her last lap to finish just over four minutes back of Spitz.

Kiara Bisaro of Courtenay finished in 19 th place, Karen De Wolfe of New Brunswick was 33 rd , and Trish Sinclair of Victoria was 38 th .

Chrissy Redden of Ontario got off to a poor start and was in 17 th place when she crashed hard on her fourth lap. She continued one more lap to make UCI points for Canada, which were important for determining how many berths Canada will have in the 2004 Olympic Games.

She pulled out before the sixth lap, and was taken to a hospital for surgery on a badly broken wrist. Three pins were inserted.

The men’s elite race was another close contest, with Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria leading for the first five laps.

He couldn’t fend off the constant attacks of Filip Meirhaeghe of Belgium, who made his move with less than three laps to go and never looked back.

Hesjedal chased, keeping Meirhaeghe in his sights the whole way. The rest of the field never gained, with Roel Paulissen of Belgium finishing third by a gap of over a minute.

Just 23, this was Hesjedal’s first year racing in the elite division, although he has been to the world championships three times as an espoir (under 23). He claimed the overall NORBA title this season, and came into the world championships ranked 14 th overall.

"This is what I’ve worked towards and it was pretty exciting that it happened," Hesjedal told reporters. "I did the best race I could have done today and I lost to a guy that’s been one of the world’s best riders for a long time."

The next Canadian in the standings was Chris Sheppard of Kamloops in 16 th position.

Victoria’s Roland Green, the defending World Champion for two years running, finished his day in 19 th place.

The 27-year-old Green came into the event after battling a series of illnesses, rounding off his worst World Cup season in many years. His list of recent illnesses includes chicken pox, shingles and a prostate infection.

Geoff Kabush of Vancouver was 28 th , followed by Peter Wedge of New Brunswick in 31 st . Andreas Hestler was 57 th and Mathieu Toulouse 68 th .

In the men’s espoir category the title went to Balz Weber of Switzerland, followed by Manuel Fumic of Germany and Ivan Alvarez of Spain.

The top Canadian was Ricky Federau of Abbotsford, who finished 12 th . Kris Sneddon of Sechelt was 27 th , Andrew Watson was 30 th , James Van Toever was 38 th , and Whistler’s own Will Routley was 47 th .

In the junior men’s race, Max Plaxton of Tofino finished fifth, less than eight minutes back of the lead rider.

Plaxton was the fastest junior in the relay contest, and had hoped to finish in the top three. "I didn’t play my cards right," said Plaxton. "I went pretty hard from the start and kind of realized people were going to pass me and let up a bit. I gave it all I had at the end and came pretty close to a bronze."

The race went to Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic, followed by Nino Schurter of Switzerland and Oleksandr Yakymenko of the Ukraine.

The other cross-country races were the relay – in which Canada finished third with the team of Roland Green, Ricky Federau, Chrissy Redden and Max Plaxton – and the junior women’s event, in which Whistler’s Brook Baker finished 24 th overall.

Canada is not as well-established in downhill and 4X, but still succeeded in landing some good results.

In the women’s downhill, France led the way by claiming all three podium positions. Anne-Caroline Chausson, the world champion for three years running, once again dominated with a time of five minutes, 10.23 seconds. Sabrina Jonnier was second in 5:22.64, and Nolvenn Le Caer was third in 5:27.69.

Vancouver’s Danika Schroeter was the top Canadian in 14 th place with a time of 6:04.27.

Michelle Dumaresq, the Canadian champion, was 17 th in 6:11:78, followed by Debra MacKillop in 18 th . Both hail from Vancouver.

Whistler’s Claire Buchar, who was recovering from a broken hand, finished 23 rd overall with a time of 6:23.90.

Caroline Milot of Quebec was 29 th .

In the men’s downhill, Greg Minnaar of Russia took the top spot in 4:27.78. A pair of French riders, Mickael Pascal and Fabien Barel finished second and third with times of 4:38.70 and 4:39.11 respectively, giving France five out of six downhill podium spots.

Cedric Gracia of France, the top World Cup rider and a reigning world champion for several years running was eighth.

The top Canadian was Mathieu Laurin of Quebec in 37 th .

In the women’s Four-Cross, Anne-Caroline Chausson and Sabrina Jonnier were once again first and second overall. Jill Kinter of the U.S. was third.

Michelle Dumaresq was the top Canadian in 10 th place, and Claire Buchar was 15 th .

Michal Prokop of Czech Republic won the men’s 4X, followed by Eir Carter and Brian Lopes of the U.S. Jordie Lunn of Vancouver was the top Canadian in 33 rd .

For complete official results, visit www.uci.ch. For more news on how the Canadian team did, visit www.canadiancyclist.com.