June 25, 2012 (Mont-Ste-Anne, QC) – The sun came out for the Elite Men’s race with 98 starters lined up as more European-based pros made the trip to North America than for the women’s race. The men effectively completed 6 laps as there was one long start loop plus 5 laps for 30.75km.
From the gun it was a Swiss train as Ralph Naef (Sui) Multivan Merida Biking Team took the holeshot with Scott-Swisspower teammates Florian Vogel and Nino Schurter right on Naef’s wheel. Schurter wasted no time getting to the front, as he quickly took over the lead and upped the pace.
Schurter, one of the strongest technical riders in the field, moved well down MSA’s tricky switchback decents and opened a 20-second advantage over his rivals.
On lap two, it became a two-rider race as Schurter had a 17-second gap on former world champion José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Esp) Multivan Merida Biking Team with Marco Fontana (Ita) Cannondale Factory Racing at 52 seconds back in 3rd position.
Behind Canada’s Max Plaxton (Specialized) was in the top 20 sitting around 15th following the start loop with Geoff Kabush (Scott-3Roxracing) just behind as they began picking off riders and slowly moving up.
Starting Lap 4, the penultimate lap, Schurter remained in control, but that situation quickly changed as an untimely flat forced him to stop – luckily just before the tech zone – allowing him the opportunity for a relativley quick change of his rear flat tire. Hermida was able to catch and pass Schurter opening up a 14-second advantage of his own.
But Schurter was determined to not loose the victory as he has never won at MSA, and with an impressive effort, closed back the gap Hermida had gained in only half a lap setting up a dramatic drag race to the finish between the two. Canadian fans were on the edge of their seats as Plaxton was in the top ten and closing fast on a possible podium spot.
In the closing moments, it was Schurter who led into home, and once on the final pavement section, Hermida was unable to come around the sprinting Swiss racer. Jaroslav Kulhavy (Cze) Specialized Racing finished 3rd with Carlos Coloma Nicolas (Esp) Wildwolf-Trek Pro Racing in 4th.
Rounding out the podium as he celebrated with fans heading to the finish line was Canada’s Plaxton scoring his career-best finish in 5th. Going into MSA, Plaxton had high expectations as he has been riding with excellent form. “Game plan [for today] was top-5. Pretty simple,” said Plaxton who had to move up a number of spots from his #23 starting position. “I didn’t have the best start as I wanted to be already in the top-10 after the first lap, so I had to pick my battles and be smart.”
MSA is one of the most technically demanding courses on the circuit with challenging descents like the Beatrice rock garden but Plaxton felt right at home. “I think as a Canadian that lives on the west coast in Victoria, I have some descent bike handling skills and on a course like MSA it helped out a lot.”
Plaxton has the engine to back up those technical skills as his fitness is right up there with the top riders as he demonstrated earlier this season in La Bresse, France, arguably a ‘less’ technical world cup course where he was 9th.
He realized he had a shot at a podium finish with two laps to go. “I could see the group of 4-5-6,” Plaxton told Pedal. “The last lap was a battle with Vogel but I dug super deep and really wanted that top-5 finish.”
Going into next week, the stakes continued to be raised for Plaxton. “Goal now is to get on the proper podium, top-3. I am definitely looking forward to Windham [New York] next weekend.”
Plaxton’s London 2012 teammate, Kabush, had an average day on the race course. With the start being extremely critical to success, a bit of luck is needed with a 3rd row call up. “The first five minutes of the race definitely didn’t go very smoothly and I had to really fight hard to move into a competitive position in the top twenty,” explains Kabush. “I was able to push up a bit further during the first half but wasn’t really satisfied with my end result.”
Kabush’s training has been going really well and he feels he is close to getting the result he expects, just needing things to click a little better on race day.
In Kabush’s eyes, his SCOTT Spark 29 was just the bike for the MSA course. “I rode my Spark 29 which was awesome on the challenging course in MSA and I’m looking forward to racing it again next week in Windham.”
Other Canadian results included Raphael Gagne (Rocky Mountain) in 21st, Andrew Watson (Norco) in 35th, Derek Zandstra (Scott-3Rox Racing) in 36th, Neal Kindree (Specialized Canada) in 42nd, Cameron Jette (Scott-3Rox Racing) in 45th, Adam Morka (Trek Canada) in 46th, Matthew Hadley (Xprezo-Borsao) in 53rd, Peter Glassford (Trek Canada) in 54th, Craig Richey (Canadian National Team) in 58th, and Kris Sneddon (Kona) in 61st place.
Racing continues this coming weekend with round 6 of the 2012 RockyRoads UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Windham, NY.
Full results HERE.