July 16, 2016 (Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec) – Eight National titles were awarded on Saturday at the 2016 Canadian MTB XCO Championships, in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec. The marquee Elite titles were won by Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) of Brooklin, Ontario, for the women, and Derek Zandstra (Scott-3Rox), of Trenton, Ontario, for the men.
The 5.9-kilometre circuit challenged both the technical skills and endurance of the riders, in hot and humid conditions. Riders had little chance to recover from the climbs before having to focus on the technical descents, covered in roots and rocks.
Batty, who will represent Canada at the Rio Olympic Games, came into the 23.6km Elite women’s race as the favourite, after her bronze medal performance at the MTB World championships two weeks earlier. Defending 6x champ, Catharine Pendrel, elected not attend to minimize travel vs training time prior to Rio, as the next World Cup is at Mont-Saint-Anne in three weeks. “I am the only Olympic team member based on the west coast so it was a bit of a unique situation,” said Pendrel – read our interview with her here.
As the race got underway Batty and Sandra Walter (Liv Giant), of Coquitlam, BC, dropped the rest of the field on the first lap, and then Batty attacked Walter and never looked back as she soloed in to record her second national title. Claiming third was Cindy Montambault (Equipe du Quebec), of Val-David, Quebec, who battled behind to take home the bronze medal.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve been here in Baie-Saint-Paul, so it was fun to be back,” said Batty post race. “It’s a unique course and you always have to be focused. I was able to pull off a good result, but unfortunately [defending champion] Catharine [Pendrel] decided not to race, and I was looking forward to that battle. Still, I had a great race, so I’m happy.”
Walter took home the silver with a strong race. “I always love racing in Baie-St-Paul. There’s something about the technical rooty rocky sections and punchy climbs that seem to suit me. The organizers do a great job of putting on really good events. This year was no exception. The new course format and features were nice additions and it was a national championship worthy track.
I’m really pleased with my silver medal. Having a strong ride at the Canadian Championships is always a goal for me and I was very happy with my result. There were lots of people all over the course cheering me on and I had an awesome support crew in the feed zone.
Three riders put the hammer down early in the Elite men’s 29.5 km race – Zandstra, defending champion Raphael Gagne (Cannondale 360Fly p/b Sugoi) of Quebec City, and Leandre Bouchard (Cyclone d’Alma-Devinci) of Alma, Quebec. Behind veteran Geoff Kabush (Scott-3Rox) of Courtney, BC was rallying a chase group with David Ross (AWI Racing) and Jeremy Martin (Focus Bikes – Iwill Cycling Team).
By the halfway mark, Gagne was suffering and falling back as he is still recovering form illness. Up ahead Zandstra and Bouchard knew they were destined to battle it out for gold.
“Today was a great day to show off some of my abilities and prove myself. I didn’t have a lot of preparation for this technical course, so was learning some new lines every lap. Good thing I have some skills in that,” said Zandstra.
Zandstra, with an Elite men’s title under his belt, seemed to have the upper hand and was riding aggressively at the front on all the climbs. Bouchard, who has been landing career-bests on the World Cup, was eager to perform well. “The race was fun and hard. It went pretty similar as I planed but at the end, Derek was strong,” he commented.
With a lap and a half to go, Zandstra opened a gap on Bouchard and extended his lead through the final lap to finish 42 seconds in front. Kabush overtook Gagne on the final lap for the bronze medal.
“I had some good feelings going into the this,” stated Zandstra. “Training has been going really well, and the whole race, right from the go, the pace felt light to me. I just used some good old tactics to pull off the win. I was glad there was no mechanicals for the top riders today, really showing who’s strong. I want to say thanks to all my supporters out there and especially to all the staff from Scott 3 Rox team and CRCS DKI. Without them I wouldn’t be here.”
Bouchard was satisfied with silver again. “I was hoping to be a bit stronger and attack at the end but It was Derek who did that finally. I really enjoy riding at the front for a long part of the race. There was no mechanical at the end – the commentator did not see me with half lap to go.
We asked about his plans leading up to Rio. “The game plan is to get a bit of rest before entering the last block of training prior to the Games. The last race is the MSA WC which is two weeks before Rio.”
For veteran Kabush a podium always feels good and seeing his teammate take gold was icing on the cake. “It has definitely been an incredible weekend for Scott-3Rox Racing with Erin Huck winning the US jersey yesterday and Derek winning Canadian jersey today. Most of all I am really happy for both of these guys as they have been battling all year and this is a really nice reward for all the hard work. They both had a point to prove and it is awesome to see there success.
“The Canadian Championship course was a great test of skill and tactics and Derek played it perfectly. Today I got caught up a bit in traffic at the beginning but I was really happy with my fight and ability to move through for the bronze medal at the finish. I might be getting a bit older but I’m not planning on growing up yet as I’m still really enjoying racing and riding. Thanks to my team, sponsors, and all the fans today for making it a fun event.”
In other championship races, Peter Disera (Team Ontario) of Barrie, Ontario, took the men’s Under-23 title in 4-rider battle that came down to Disera vs Marc-Andre Fortier. The former Junior worlds silver medalist could not be contained and dropped Fortier for the gold.
“Nationals at BSP is awesome! The course is technical, rough and hard mountain biking. I was patient throughout the race letting others set pace and sitting on. It was a solid battle as a few unsuccessful attacks were thrown by all. In the end, Marc-Andre Fortier threw down one massive attack that I was able to follow.
“I countered him when the pace settled and didn’t look back. It feels great to put that jersey back on – it has been a while. Thanks to the whole Norco Factory Team – staff and athletes – we all have each others back! On to St. Felicien next weekend,” shared Disera.
For Catharine Fleury (Cyclone d’Alma) of Alma, Quebec winning the Under-23 women’s title was a special goal as she tweeted, “A lot of emotions today at #CanMTBChamps. Finally get to wear THE jersey!”
In the Junior category (17-18 years), Sean Fincham (Cycling BC) of Squamish, BC, was the men’s champion and Emily Handford (Rocky Mountain Factory) of West Vancouver, BC, won the women’s title.
Roxane Vermette (Equipe du Quebec) of Mont-Ste-Anne, Quebec, won the Cadet women’s title and Tyler Clark (Team Ontario) of Orillia, Ontario, was the Cadet men’s champion.
With files from Cycling Canada
Full results here.