Catharine Pendrel and Mike Garrigan win 2014 elite Canadian cyclocross championships

Winnipeg’s Danick Vandale and Oliver Evans take the men’s U23 and junior titles; Anna Gabrielle Traxler wins the junior women’s championship.

Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team) and Mike Garrigan (Van Dessel-POC) won maple leaf jerseys on a blue sky, cool and windy afternoon in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Photo by David Lipnowski
Photo by David Lipnowski

In both elite races the strongest riders established front groups early. Pendrel gained the lead in lap two and maintained it, holding off teammate Maghalie Rochette and British Columbia’s Sandra Walter (LIV Canada) after Stan’s NoTubes Mical Dyck washed out on a grassy off-camber corner that challenged the men’s elite field as well. The men’s race came down to a nail-biting finish as hard-chasing Geoff Kabush (SCOTT 3Rox) and Winnipeg’s Michael van den Ham (Trek Red Truck p/b Mosaic Homes) nearly caught Garrigan who led from early in the first lap.

Multiple types of surfaces linked together on the 3.2 kilometre course. Predominantly grass and gravel on a hard-packed dirt surface, sections included loose soil, cobblestones, and pavement. Back-to-back 46 metre sand pits, descents to the Red River, a set of double barriers, a long, steep run-up, and off-camber turns were connected by flowing stretches of track.

Pendrel gets second cyclocross title

Photo by David Lipnowski
Photo by David Lipnowski

After Rochette nailed the holeshot, she, mountain bike world champion Pendrel, Dyck, and Walter sped away from an initial lead set of eight women.

An inefficient line through the sand pit in lap one ripped Rochette out of the driver’s seat.

“All the girls passed me. They came by twice as fast as I was going,” Rochette later said. “They got a five second gap and I just couldn’t bridge the gap. I think that’s where I lost Catharine.”

Dyck and then Pendrel now raced first on course, followed by Walter. Ontario’s Ashley Barson ( held on with the fastest four in the first lap, but lost position in a U-turn on the grass.

Dyck looked very strong right behind Pendrel in lap two until a mistake on an off-camber turf turn sent her into the pit for a bike change and toward the back of the field.

By the third lap Rochette moved up to second position, but by then Pendrel had accumulated a twenty second advantage. Walter rode steady about ten seconds behind. Natasha Elliott (Cycle-Smart Elite Team) raced in fourth. Next on course was a group of three consisting of Jamie Gilgen (Real Deal Gears p/b WASPcam), Barson, and local Anna Schappert (Dark Red Racing).

In the next to last lap Pendrel’s gap shrunk a bit. But she kept a firm grip at the head of the race and rebuilt her lead in the final lap, winning with a margin of twenty-one seconds over Rochette, the best U23 rider in the race. Walter placed third, forty-seven seconds back. Dyck, the 2012 champion, finished ninth.

“I was pretty confident I had good form here but I know the other girls have been really doing well in cyclocross,” Pendrel said after the win, “so I wasn’t sure how it would pan out, but I’m definitely happy with how I rode.” She called the venue spectacular, with a lot of variety in the course and great energy from the crowds.

Rochette’s second place is her best cyclocross nationals showing. “I’m super happy about how I raced. Of course it’s nationals, so everyone is riding for the jersey, but it’s cool,” she said. “I’m super happy for Catharine. She is my teammate and she is the friggin’ world champion. She is strong. I knew she was strong, but today she showed it again. I have a lot to learn still.”

Walter, who is 34, is a multiple time Canada Cup winner and mountain bike worlds competitor. Third place represents her best result to-date at ‘cross nationals. “I was definitely hoping for a medal and was just off the podium last year, so I’m really pleased,” she said.

After claiming her second cyclocross maple leaf jersey, thirty-four year-old Pendrel circled back to the finish arch to greet Rochette, who is 21.

Pendrel sounded energized by the one-two performance from the Luna Pro Team. “It was motivating knowing Maghalie was out there and having a great ride. I’m sure she wanted to win because she knows she has the form and she just had a couple of mistakes out there, but she had a phenomenal ride. In ways I was hoping she might catch me and we could come in together, but at the same time I know it’s my job to go out there and do my best.”

Garrigan solos off the front the entire race

Andrew L’Esperance nabbed the holeshot with the men’s elite field right on his wheel. The riders swung onto a grassy knoll packed with turns where Aaron Schooler (Focus CX Team) went down in a corner. The incident held up riders, including Kabush who had to work his way up to the chase group.

Kabush, van den Ham, and Evan McNeely (Norco Factory Team) hunted Garrigan together for five laps while the Van Dessel rider’s gap grew to as much as twenty seconds. A second chase group formed that consisted of Schooler, Craig Richey (Trek Red Truck p/b Mosaic Homes), and L’Esperance who would fall off the pace.

In the second half of the eight-lap race McNeely dropped away leaving van den Ham and last year’s champion to pursue Garrigan who steadily gave up bits of his lead with each lap. Van den Ham appeared to push the pace much of the time, with Kabush taking turns ahead of him. Schooler and Richey continued to ride as a pair.

Early in the final lap Garrigan’s lead shrank to just five seconds. “I was almost going to give up,” he later said, “and then I was like, ‘I want this too bad.’ 

Kabush took up the charge in front of van den Ham. The Trek Red Truck rider, who won last year’s U23 title, lost some time in a turn half way into the lap. “I washed on my back tire and put a foot down,” van den Ham said, “and Geoff [Kabush] got five bike lengths there and that’s what he needed to secure second.”

Kabush stepped on it and shed the young man but couldn’t steal the glory from Garrigan, who won his second elite title with a margin of two seconds. Kabush claimed second and van den Ham got third five seconds later. Schooler bested McNeely for fourth.

The win confirmed Garrigan’s recent decision to re-focus on racing.

“This means the world to me. I made a bit more of a sacrifice this summer. My wife and I were quite busy and she let me get out for rides pretty much every day,” Garrigan said. “I was coaching pretty much full time and wanted to take off a year to just race. And so for me to win solidifies that decision. Obviously Geoff [Kabush] isn’t at full speed, but frig, I’ll take it.”

Kabush acknowledged a bit of disappointment after the finish, saying that while he felt solid, he wished he’d arrived with a bit more fitness. “We were keeping the rhythm high, but being in the chase with a couple of guys swapping around,” he said, “it was hard to lay down a good hard rhythm that we needed to bring back Garrigan.”

At 23 years-old and a full-time student, van den Ham hadn’t expected his result. The hometown favorite, he only felt pressure when the crowd’s excitement urged him to go on. “I couldn’t be more happy. To be battling with someone like Geoff who I think has been racing bikes longer than I’ve been alive, I’m thrilled with it.”

Winnipeg doubles up in men’s U23 and junior divisions

In the U23 men’s contest Team Manitoba’s Danick Vandale won his first national cyclocross championship in a two-up sprint to the line after a close battle with William Elliott (Team NCCH p/b DEC Express). Christopher Prendergast, also from Winnipeg and riding on the Team H&R Block squad, finished third.

The junior men’s race was equally close, with a four-way fight including Team Manitoba’s Oliver Evans, last year’s winner Willem Boersma, and teammates Quinton Disera and Liam Mulcahy on the CSAJCC p/b Norco & LG team. In the end Winnipeg’s Evans won by fourteen seconds over Disera. Boersma nipped Mulcahy on the line for third.

Vandale said he and sixteen year-old Evans are close friends and train together. “It’s great to see both of us on the top step and promote the cycling scene in Manitoba,” the U23 winner said.

Two riders started the women’s junior competition. Anna Gabrielle Traxler (Team Alberta) outdistanced Natalie Young (Devo Manitoba) early on and finished with a lead of five minutes.

The country’s championships are held prior to the sport’s traditional January date due to Canada’s early winter; this year’s winners will own their titles for 2015.

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