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Men Battle Hail Storm at Calgary World Cup

July 05, 2004

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A muddy Max Plaxton



The men's race started under perfect conditions, with the trail dried out from the sun and the women's race. For the first four laps (of seven) conditions were good, and the Siemens Mobile Cannondale duo of Christoph Sauser and Roel Paulissen rode away from the field, and looked to be in line for a repeat of the 1-2 finishes they had in Houffalize and Fort William. Meirhaeghe was at the front of the chase, with Jose Antonio Hermida (Merida), Jean-Christophe Peraud (Lapierre), Ludovic Dubau (Devinci) and Seamus McGrath.

The chasers weren't gaining any time, but then the temperature dipped markedly, the wind picked up, thunder started booming and, from the west, a huge black wall could be seen rolling in. It began to rain; rain so hard that riders couldn't be seen from 10 metres away. Then the hail started, pea-sized chuncks of ice in a deluge. Portions of the course flooded, and at one point discarded water bottles could be seen floating down a stream that ran down the course.

This changed the race totally, and Meirhaeghe made up an incredible two minutes in one lap, taking the lead late in the sixth lap. The world champion turned the fastest lap times on each of the three final laps, to win by three and a half minutes over Sauser. Paulissen ran into braking problems, as the mud destroyed his disc pads, and dropped to sixth at the end. Geoff Kabush also had brake problems, crashing into a tree on the last lap, and at the finish line had his feet sliding along the ground trying to slow down - eventually the marshals had to catch him to stop his forward momentum.

"It was an advantage for me when the weather changed" agreed Meirhaeghe. "I knew once the rain started I had a chance. I ride well in the mud, and it was getting really slippery. But when it started to hail, we were going against the wind, into the finish. It was so painful, I had a headache. It was so cold that I thought about just going back to the truck, but I decided to try one more lap. Then we turned after the finish and the wind was at our back, and it was not so bad. It doesn't happen often that you feel the cold when you are racing, but here it was bad."

Meirhaeghe usually finishes races in fine form, but after this race he was staggering, and had to be wrapped in a blanket and supported by first aid personnel while he recovered.

One rider who benefited from the weather was Canadian Espoir Max Plaxton, who went from 26th at the end of lap four, to 14th by the finish, and even had the energy left at the finish to execute a controlled slide at the line.

"I was worried about tires - mine didn't shed too well. Usually I go hard right from the gun, but there was no passing and I had a poor start position, so I waited until there was space opening up. When it started to hail my bike went sideways - it hurt out there! But I like the rain and cold, I'm used to it. This wasn't really my kind of course - not a lot of climbing, more of a power course. But, I felt strong , so I guess every course is your type then."

But the Canadian focus was the Olympic race. Hesjedal, who pretty well has a lock on the number one Olympic slot pulled out after the first lap. McGrath made the front group, and then backed off slightly frrom the speed to ride his own pace.

"Today was hard, in the rain and the hail, but I was super confident after racing so well at Mont Ste Anne World Cup last weekend and finishing eighth. There was no doubt in my mind that my legs had come back. I was lucky to get a good start, but those guys at the front were so fast that I couldn't hang on, and had to ride my own pace."

Green, starting well back, with only one finish in four previous World Cup starts, managed to move up to the top-30, before sliding back and eventually pulling out as the bad weather started. Kabush moved up to the mid-teens, but then ran into brake problems, and slid back to 21st.

Courtesy Canadian Cyclist www.canadiancyclist.com (mountain bike program)


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