Friday and Saturday have been all about cross-country competition at the Mont Sainte Anne World Championships in Quebec, with a stunning Friday evening of Four Cross racing thrown in to mix things up a little.
The Junior (Under 19) Men's race took place on Thursday morning, and three New Zealand riders were amongst a fiercely competitive pack charging away from the start line. Absolute disaster struck Palmerston North’s Oceania Champion Mathew Waghorn within seconds of the gun. On the first turn, he was blocked into a barrier and left with nowhere to go. A heavy impact with the ground left Waghorn stunned and in real distress, and his race was over before it had even begun. Bradley Hudson (Christchurch) got away cleanly, and worked his way into the 30s, consolidating his position to a consistent 32nd place finish in the 5 ½ lap race. Locky McArthur (Auckland) battled during this race, with an irreparable broken shoe binding on the 2nd lap limiting any power he could generate and affecting control on the highly technical course. McArthur was rewarded for his refusal to quit with a finish on the lead lap in 54th.
The peripheral effects of Atlantic northbound Hurricane Earl ramped the heat and humidity up during the afternoon for the Under 23 Men's race. Dirk Peters and Carl Jones (both Rotorua) reflected the scale of this highly competitive category; Peters as a first year, and Jones in his final Under 23 season before stepping through to Elite. Like Hudson earlier in the day, Peters worked his way quickly into the 30s and then maintained that position through to his 36th place finish. Peters had a rough patch in the middle of the race: “The pace in the early laps was being dictated by the speed off the front, and it took me a lap in the middle before I could find my own rhythm and get comfortable with riding my own race. But I’m really happy with this result given the level of competition in this class.” Jones raced a different approach, steadily working his way through the field from the mid 50s through to 39th at the finish.
Friday evening was a long build-up to the 9pm elimination format Four Cross event, and the crowds pouring into the Mont Sainte Anne venue provided the atmosphere this exciting form of mountain bike racing is renowned for. Daniel Franks (Christchurch) had qualified 11th, and was up against a strong heat eight. Franks jumped strongly from the gate and exited the first turn in third place, but couldn’t put together any effective passing opportunities on the difficult race course. He could take some consolation however from knowing he had been eliminated by eventual winner Thomas Slavik. Slavik (CZE) made a pass that will go down as one of the defining moments of these World Championships, passing 2009 World Champion Jared Graves on the second to last corner during the Four Cross final. Slavik almost couldn’t believe he had pulled this off, and the rainbow stripes of the Four Cross World Championship jersey will be a well earned reminder for the rest of his career.
The Elite Cross Country World Championship titles were up for grabs on Saturday. The morning’s race was the Women's, with Rosara Joseph (UK), Nicola Leary (Rotorua), Fiona MacDemid (Palmerston North) and Jenny Hopkinson-Smith (Gunnison) competing. The women lined up for a start after about eight hours of steady rain, and raced in conditions that were near perfect, with the high humidity of previous days finally backing off. Joseph got away cleanly, but the terrible luck Waghorn suffered yesterday morning was about to repeat itself, this time with Leary who lost complete pressure in her front tyre in a high speed maneuver through the first corner. Leary had inadvertently clipped another rider's rear wheel disc, which slashed right through the sidewall of her front tyre. Realising the tyre was completely irreparable, Leary ran her bike around the nine minute start loop through to the technical zone where she replaced the wheel, but although fighting as hard as she could to recover the significant lost ground from the very back of the field, was destined to not make the finish. MacDermid and Hopkinson-Smith battled all day, and also couldn’t make an impact. However, Beijing Olympian Joseph got away to her characteristic aggressive start and protected her position with typical Kiwi style, finishing 17th. Joseph took great confidence from this result, after having a frustrating World Cup season this year on the comeback trail after illness in 2009.
Mike Northcott (Tokoroa) and Stu Houltham (Wellington) competed in the Elite Men's race in the afternoon. Both were looking to work their way from poor grid positions to fight for position on the lead lap. However, first Houltham and then Northcott fell to the 80% lap out rule, and couldn’t complete the full seven lap race. Both athletes were all praise for their European competitors who demonstrated the ability to drive hard and at a level that devastated all comers today.
Tomorrow (Sunday Canada time) is Downhill race day. New Zealand has competitors in all fields other than Elite Women, and has real potential to podium in the Junior Women, Junior Men and Elite Men categories. New Zealand’s leading qualifiers in the three categories are Sarah Atkin (Wellington) in 4th, George Brannigan (Hawkes Bay) also in 4th and Sam Blenkinsop (Wanganui) in 5th.