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2015 Canadian MTB XCO National Championships Report and PHOTOS

by Sandra Walter

July 23, 2015 (St-Félicien, QC) – The 2015 Canadian XCO MTB Championships were held in St-Felicien, Quebec, July 16-19. The venue, a Nordic skiing area just outside of town, regularly hosts provincial events and last held the Canadian Championships in 2012. The 4.2km course is always a crowd-pleaser, with a great central spectating area and fun features for fans to watch as the country’s top riders chased the red-and-white jersey.

Catharine Pendrel  ©  Gimmy Desbiens
Elite Women
Catharine Pendrel (BC) Luna Pro Team secured yet another Canadian Championship victory in difficult riding conditions, defending her title in the elite women’s category. She won her first maple leaf jersey here in 2009 and went on to win her sixth on Saturday in a heated battle with Emily Batty (ON) Trek Factory Racing. Batty and Pendrel rode together for the first part of the race until Pendrel created a gap on the climbs, which she extended to 37 seconds by the finish. Pendrel was expecting a challenging, as Batty bested her a week before at the prestigious Pan American Games in Toronto. “I knew it would be a real fight. Emily was in my wheel a good part of the course. On the second lap [of five], I accelerated on a climb and continued pushing, which eventually paid off,” she said after the race.

“I was disappointed because I wanted to win. It did not work. I was able to rival but I felt Catharine had more strength than me in the climbs. I tried but was not successful in closing the gap,” analyzed Batty. She mentioned media frenzy surrounding her gold medal at the Pan Am Games coupled with the choice of riding a dual suspension bike rather than a hardtail like Pendrel could have played against her.

Sandra Walter finished in third place, five minutes behind the top two.

Raphael Gagne  ©  Gimmy Desbiens
Elite Men
Raphael Gagne (QC) Rocky Mountain is the new Canadian elite men’s champion. He took command of the six-lap race from the start and never looked back. Leandre Bouchard (QC) Cyclone d’Alma took a gratifying second place. The 28-year-old Gagne’s strategy was to play it safe. “I wanted to be prudent in these conditions and see how the race would unfold. I had a good start and decided to keep the momentum. Being in front, I reduced the risk of doing manoeuvring mistakes because it was very slippery,” Gagne said. The win is a nice addition to the success he’s enjoyed so far this season, including his recent gold medal at the Pan Am Games.

Bouchard from nearby Alma, who finished 1 minute 43 seconds behind Gagne, was pleased with his ride. “It is the best scenario I could have imagined. I knew Raphael was very strong and that he would be difficult to beat. There were other very good racers too. I did not make any mistakes and rode well in the muddy conditions. I am very happy to finish in this position,” said the 23-year-old. In his first year in the elite category, Bouchard is showing promise.

Elite Men's podium (l-r) Bouchard 2nd, Gagne 1st, McNeely 3rd  ©  Gimmy Desbiens
Gagne was confident during the race. “I knew Leandre was pretty far. I built the gap and was able to maintain it. In the last two laps, I slowed down on the pedals to not make any mistakes or have mechanical problems. In these conditions, you never know what can happen,” he said.

Many riders found themselves with shifting problems because of the accumulated mud. A slow leak put Bouchard’s silver medal in jeopardy. “In the last lap at less than one kilometer from the finish line, I felt the tire deflating. I almost stopped to put more air, which I should have done, because I lost a lot of speed,” he said.

The 23-year-old Evan McNeely (ON, Norco Factory Team) got dangerously close to Bouchard, finishing 25 seconds behind. McNeely was not expecting a podium performance, believing strong riders like Derek Zandstra (ON, Scott-3Rox Racing) or teammate Geoff Kabush (BC, Scott-3Rox Racing) – both former Canadian champions, would do well. However, Zandstra and Kabush were both riding off-target due to illness, with the former abandoning and the latter finishing ninth.

U23 Women
Haley Smith (ON) Norco Factory Team won her first Canadian Championship in the U23 women’s category in St-Felicien after a close four-lap race with defending champ Frederique Trudel (QC) Specialized Canada. Smith used her technical skills to distance herself from her rival to finish 28 seconds ahead, while Trudel had to settle for silver.

Frederique Trudel  ©  Gimmy Desbiens
Trudel was pragmatic about losing her title: “I won it several years in a row. We had a good race. We pushed ourselves, Haley and I; it’s good for our results on the World Cup,” she said.

Catherine Fleury  ©  Gimmy Desbiens
Catherine Fleury (QC) Cyclone d’Alma finished third, a result that will boost her confidence for the rest of the season. Fleury was thoughtful about her race strategy. “It was very slippery. You had to remain very prudent so as to not slide in some descents and especially not lose adherence on the climbs,” she said. She finished one minute behind Smith, and 36 seconds from Trudel.

“I pushed really hard at the start and into my first lap to position myself right. This strategy worked well, but I had to recover in the second lap,” she added.

Alexandre Vialle  ©  Gimmy Desbiens
U23 Men
Alexandre Vialle (QC) was thrilled to win the U23 men’s title. “I knew it would be tight and was not sure I would win this, because Peter [Disera] is very strong this year. I was patient at the beginning and seized the opportunity when Peter committed a mistake. He was unable to catch up to me,” said the 21-year-old Vialle. Peter Disera (ON) Norco Factory Team finished second, completing the five laps 30 seconds behind the winner, while Marc-Antoine Nadon (ON) Scott-3Rox Racing took the third podium spot.

Junior Expert Women's podium (l-r) Handford 2nd, Arseneault 1st, Myatt 3rd  ©  Gimmy Desbiens
Junior Expert Women
The three-lap Junior expert women’s competition saw a huge upset, as the race favourite, defending champion and Canada Cup series leader Soren Meeuwisse (ON) Trek Canada, crashed out and abandoned after taking an early lead. The shuffle allowed Laurie Arsenault (QC) La Cordee the opportunity to shine as she rode into first place, followed by Emily Handford (BC) Cycling BC/Different Bikes at her first Canadian Championship in second place, and Mackenzie Myatt (NS) Cyclesmith in third.

Junior Expert Men's podium (l-r) Verner 2nd, Auclair 1st, Disera 3rd  ©  Gimmy Desbiens
Junior Expert Men
It was a heated battle in the four-lap Junior expert men’s contest, with Quinton Disera (ON) Team Ontario/Cycle Solutions Angry Johnny’s taking the lead early. Eventual winner Raphael Auclair (QC) Pivot Cycles-OTE rode aggressively and the two riders’ handlebars connected while he was passing Disera. The contact led to a crash by Disera. A similar event occurred when Rhys Verner (BC) Team BC was battling with Auclair for the lead. The incident led Verner to lodge a protest against Auclair, but the protest failed, as no commissaires witnessed the events, and Verner had to settle for second place.

“I am really happy of my race,” said Auclair. “I had a nice challenge with Quinton Disera.” Disera picked up the bronze medal.

Cadet Women's podium (l-r) Gilligan 2nd, McGill 1st, Vermette 3rd  ©  Gimmy Desbiens
Cadet Expert Women
Sidney McGill (AB) Team Alberta won the two-lap Cadet expert women’s race in a time of 41 minutes and three seconds, finishing 42 seconds ahead of second place, Dana Gilligan (ON) Team Ontario/Cycle Solutions Angry Johnny’s, and one minute, 15 seconds faster than bronze medalist Roxanne Vermette (QC) CC Mont-Sainte-Anne.

Cadet Expert Men's podium (l-r) Sanderson 2nd, Verreault 1st, Holmgren 3rd  ©  Gimmy Desbiens
Cadet Expert Men
To the delight of fans, it was local rider Victor Verreault (QC) Velo2max Cycling Club who won the Canadian title in the Cadet expert men’s category. The 16-year-old bested Ontario teammates Brody Sanderson (ON) Team Ontario/Centurion Next Wave and Gunnar Holmgrem (ON) Team Ontario/Centurion Next Wave/Velocity Cycle and Ski, who finished second and third, respectively.

After a mediocre start, Verreault found his pace and moved into the lead. “For sure knowing the course helped me. I also like riding in the mud. I am very proud of myself, I did not think I would win this morning,” said Verreault.

Team Relay
The Canadian Championship team relay took place on Sunday, with two Quebec teams scoring one-two in the Provincial Team/Cycling Canada Trade Team Relay, with Quebec #1 – “Air Force 1” (Raphael Auclair, Marc-Andre Fortier, Cindy Montambault, and Raphael Gagne) winning in a time of 1:00:12, one minute ahead of Quebec #2 – “Determinator” (Alexandre Vialle, Felix Burke, Florence Dostie-Menard, Felix Longpre). The Norco Factory Team squad of Peter Disera, Malcolm Burton, Haley Smith, and Evan McNeely finished third.

The 2015 Eliminator event was a fantastic spectacle, with the entire course visible from the chalet, so onlookers could watch the entire race unfold. In the women’s competition, Montambault, who finished second in 2014, finally earned the maple leaf jersey when she bested last year’s champion Eloise Bernier (QC) Equipe du Quebec in the final. Anne-Julie Tremblay (QC) Cyclone d’Alma made it a Quebec sweep, when she sprinted into the bronze medal spot.

The men’s race was equally exciting with fierce racing and close heats. In the final, it appeared that youngster Quinton Disera had the victory sewn up as he exited the final descent with a solid lead, but a mistake in the final gravel corner and a devastating crash saw the title slip from his grasp, to be captured by a hard-charging Samuel Tremblay (QC) Cyclone d’Alma. Defending champion, Bouchard finished second in a close sprint, while BC’s Verner took third.

Full results here
Interviews Part 1 here and Part 2 here

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