March 23, 2006 (Melbourne, Australia) — Canada continued its successful cycling campaign at the Commonwealth Games, picking up a gold and two bronze medals at today’s mountain bike races under a sweltering heat at Lysterfield Park in Melbourne.
Canada’s Marie-HÃ©lÃ¨ne PrÃ©mont won gold in the women’s race, with teammate Kiara Bisaro claiming bronze, while Seamus McGrath placed third later in the men’s race behind gold medal winner Liam Killeen (England).
PrÃ©mont took the lead in the women’s 40K event near the end of the first lap and steadily pulled away from the field. She cruised down the finishing straight waving a Canadian flag in a time of 1:55.4, a comfortable 1:27 ahead of New Zealand’s Rosara Joseph with Bisaro a further 1:28 seconds back.
“I’m delighted to win this gold,” said the 28 year-old Canadian star. “It was a team effort.”
Bisaro was in the silver medal position for most of the race but Joseph caught her on lap four of the six-lap race. Joseph was charging over the second half of the competition and nearly ruined her chances by falling on one of the many technical sections. However, she quickly remounted and chased back up to Bisaro. The two became embroiled in a tussle for second place, but it was Joseph who eventually pulled away at the end on the tough Switchback Climb.
“The Canadians are so strong,” a stoked Joseph said afterwards. “If you have a look at the world rankings they’re both ahead of me so I’m very happy today.”
“It was so hot,” Bisaro said. “I found it hard going in the heat.”
The men’s 53K race started at 2pm when temperatures at the dusty Lysterfield Park were at their fiercest. Early leader was Australia’s Chris Jongewaard who sprinted out of the blocks, opening a two-minute lead by lap three.
A chase group of five formed including McGrath, English duo Oli Beckingsale and Liam Killeen, Kaschi Leuchs (New Zealand) and Sid Taberlay (Australia). With Taberlay covering any moves amongst the chasers, and Jongewaard tearing up the course out front, everything looked rosy for the Australians.
With two laps to go, however, Jongewaard showed signs of tiring, eating everything he had in his pockets and constantly looking over his shoulder. Killeen, Beckingsale and McGrath began to turn on the gas as Jongewaard’s slowing lap times were reported to them.
Taberlay and Leuchs were soon blown out the back of the chasers and with one and a half laps remaining Jongewaard was caught by the flying trio.
McGrath, sandwiched between the two Englishmen, looked to be in control taking pace behind the wheel of Killeen, but the Englishmen were far from done and on the final lap Killeen’s pace on the Switchback Climb was too quick for the others to follow.
More flag-waving celebrations ensued as the under-23 world champion took gold 15 seconds ahead of Beckingsale and 32 seconds ahead of McGrath
“I haven’t raced since October,” the 23 year-old Killeen said, “so I was nervous going in. There were half a dozen threats in the field, but I had a lot of confidence in my ability to win.”
“Jongewaard was awesome on the first few laps but I knew he would slow down,” he continued, “I knew it would come down to the last couple of laps.”
McGrath was philosophical about his bronze medal ride. “I have to hand it to England — they had two to one against us. I gave it 110% but I just didn’t have enough on the last hill.”
Geoff Kabush, McGrath’s teammate and Canada’s reigning National MTB cross-country champ, finished 11th.