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PacificSport Cyclists Perform Strongly in Men's XC World Cup

June 25, 2004

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Seamus McGrath



Courtesy Canadian Cyclist www.canadiancylist.com

The weather grew progressively worse. From the dry sunny start, with the blowing dust clouds, the sky darkened and rain fell several times during the afternoon. Since the pace was going to be very fast, many racers opted for a semi-slick tire. This was fine in the early parts of the race, but once the technical sections got wet these tires would prove to be a critical flaw.

The early pace was set by the top European riders Meirhaeghe (BEL-Specialized), Christophe Sauser (SUI - Siemens Mobile Cannondale), Roel Paulissen (BEL - Siemens Mobile Cannondale) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA-LaPierre Int.). Twenty seconds back was a large group including Canadians Seamus McGrath (Haro-adidas) and Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen). The back of the field was already shattered by the pace, with riders dropping out by lap 2.

Meirhaeghe was the one to catch. The only rider up to the task was Sauser. The gap back to the other riders continued to lengthen. Meirhaeghe was aware of the chase. "Sauser stayed close. Not far from the finish I thought I was in trouble because I was having a really tough time on the up hills. I just tried to stay focused on the technical parts because you can lose a lot of time if you make a mistake. My last lap was maybe my best lap in the technical parts. I knew I had to pay attention because I was getting tired. This was where I could lose the race, I think."

Meirhaeghe's winning move was actually early in the race. "I got away in the second lap in the technical part and then I thought I had to go. I was aware of Sauser chasing me. I had people telling me the splits. At one point he came back to 5 or 6 seconds and then I thought that I couldn't allow him to get back on my wheel! It's not happening! I tried to attack again on the uphill to kind of make him mentally break, but he didn't really. In the last lap he understood that it was over, but until then it was a very hard race."

Meirhaeghe had his hands in the air as he came across the line in the pouring rain, with the thunder of the crowd and the storm joining together. He was genuinely relieved that the race was over, because he could now concentrate on the Olympics. "After this I'm going to a training camp to start a new base. With all of the World Cups it is just a matter of keep the conditioning where it is and there is no way to improve. I think everyone is going to get tired now."

Tough battles were being fought behind, with Paulissen and Jose Antonio Hermida (ESP - Multivan Merida) duking it out. Hermida put the hammer down during the last lap to claim 3rd, with Peraud taking 4th and Paulissen 5th.

McGrath was the top Canadian man in 8th. He was especially pleased with his result considering the difficult beginning to his season in Europe. The main hindrance was a mugging he suffered in Spain that left him with a concussion. "It's good to be home. It was an awesome race. It felt great. This was the first race this year that I felt like that. It's been a hard go with my head injury. I knew that is going to be a long race and a tough one, so at the start I had to take it easier and put the limiter on and just chill, man. I just watched those guys and I knew that at the end I could be strong. I just went for it with a couple of laps to go."

Clearly a spot on the Canadian Olympic team was on McGrath's mind. "This is convincing. This was a real mountain bike race. All the top guys are here. This is one of the hardest races on World Cup circuit and people were going for it today. Ryder (Hesjedal - Subaru-Gary Fisher) had a second at the World Championships last year so he has great potential so I think he has definitely got a spot and I think I'll be in Athens too."

Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-MSC) ran a good race to finish 10th, but ran into some troubles in the last lap. "I had a small mechanical. I had to stop a couple of times and I lost a couple of minutes. Things can sometimes get a little frustrating at the World Cups. It's still a great result. I still think that things are wide open for the Canadian Olympic team. We'll have to see what happens next week." Kabush rode strongly, being in the top 10 for the whole race. "Right from the start I was feeling strong. I had some slick tires on which made me slide around a lot. I didn't expect it to rain that much. I'm happy the way that I'm feeling. Europe was terrible, but my bike was good and I've got some confidence for Calgary."

Green was in the top 10 for the first half of the race and then just vanished as a DNF. We were unable to determine what happened to him. Other Canadians in the top 20 were Ryder Hesjedal (11th) Max Plaxton (14th and 3rd Espoir) and Chris Sheppard (Haro-adidas) (17th). Sheppard was hoping for more but ran into some troubles. "I missed my feed for the last 2 laps. I'm kind of seeing things right now. It was a hard day at the office. I made it up the last climb and then it all fell apart."


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