After seven years as the best mountain biker in the country, Geoff Kabush has relinquished his title.
Max Plaxton played the role of spoiler, winning the Canadian national mountain bike title Saturday (July 16) at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
“I’ve wanted this for a long time,” Plaxton said.
He finished second three times at the Nationals and was sidelined by a tumble last year, but was well prepared to achieve his goal in 2011.
“I was super confident going in. I’ve beat Geoff all year and skipped some races beforehand,” he said.
While his competitors squared off against the best in the world, Plaxton took a pass on two North American world cup races leading up to the nationals so he was well rested coming in, although he didn’t have a support crew helping him on the day.
He said the course was favourable to his skills this year and helped him clinch the title.
“Technical climbing is my forte,” Plaxton said.
The top riders set a blistering pace from the gun, with Plaxton, Kabush, Derek Zandstra, Neal Kindree and Matthew Hadley leading the way. The top group finished the first seven-kilometre lap in 21:35, and was already 30 seconds ahead of the pack early on.
But Plaxton and Kabush blew the race open on the second lap. Plaxton opened up a 20 second lead on Kabush with a furious attack, making the champ chase him. Halfway through the second lap, it was a two-horse race as both riders pushed their upper limits.
The lead remained the same on the third as both cyclists recovered, but Plaxton made his move on the fourth lap. Kabush lost sight of Plaxton and the Tofino rider suspected his win was nigh.
“I attacked on the second lap, but by the third I was feeling the altitude,” said Plaxton, who is used to cycling in his sea level hometown of Tofino. “But on the fourth I just wanted to go hard. I know it’s demoralizing when you lose sight of the rider you’re chasing.”
Kabush was upset with the result, having missed a chance to be the first Canadian cyclist to win eight national titles in a row. He’s tied with Alison Sydor, who also won seven national championships.
“First would be the only thing I would have been happy with,” Kabush said. “He was well prepared. I thought I had him pinned but he had something more in the tank.
“He had great legs and that’s what won it.”
He noted the course was less demanding than last year’s, stating it offered a well rounded set of trails.
“It was equally technical as last year,” he said.
The Canadian Nationals is one selection criteria for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England and both Kabush and Plaxton have the games on their radar.
“My focus will shift to the world cup. This year I’ve been riding on the U.S. circuit a lot,” Plaxton said.
“My focus right now is the world cup, but I’ll get training and keep doing what I’m doing,” Kabush said.
Zandstra grabbed the bronze medal, noting it was very difficult to keep up with the top riders after the second lap. He finished 3:23 behind Plaxton.
In the U23 race, Leandre Bouchard won the race in his first ever trip to nationals. He finished 38 seconds ahead of Mitch Bailey.
“This is a dream come true,” Bouchard said. “I’m really happy with the result.”
The local riders struggled against the strong field. Gord Jewett was the top Bow Valley rider, finishing 20th. Jewett got a flat on the first lap, which set him back, but he was taken off the course on the final lap after it was ruled he was too far back of the leaders.
“I was picking off riders once I got going, but got pulled off,” said Jewett, who usually rides road bikes. “I’m more keen on road bikes, but I like both of them.
“In Alberta if you do just one or the other, there can be a gap in the schedule.”
The other Bow Valley racers had their days cut short. Brian Cooke’s day was ended after one lap and Jonathon Firth was forced to pull out after three laps.