Team Canada has just won the silver medal in the team relay at the 2009 World Championships in Canberra, Australia. Three of the four team riders (Evan Guthrie, Raphael Gagne, and Geoff Kabush) were on Rocky Mountain's Vertex RSL Team bike.
The Team Relay consists of national teams of four riders each contesting one lap of the cross-country course. Each team has one rider from four different categories - Elite Men, Elite Women, U23 Men and Junior Men. The order in each rider races is up to the teams, which leads to two strategies: send your Elite and U23 men to build up a lead, or save them to last and hope that they can catch the early leaders.
All three of the top teams adapted a form of the first strategy, but Italy was able to pull out the win by virtue of the blazing fast ride of their Junior - European champion Gerhard Kerschbaumer, who rode second after Marco Fontana finished third on the first lap, right behind Florian Vogel (Switzerland) and Emil Lindgren (Sweden). After Kerschbaumer's ride the Italians had moved into first.
They dropped to third on the third lap, 1:30 behind France and Canada, when their woman - Eva Lechner - rode, but then the U23 rider Cristian Cominelli brought them back to the front after chasing down the women from France (Cecile Rode Ravanel) and Canada (Catharine Pendrel). Pendrel overtook Ravanel in the final kilometre and a half to sprint in two seconds ahead for the silver medal.
"We knew we were strong," commented Fontana "but France, Canada and Switzerland were also strong."
"Yes," agreed Lechner "we were confident of being in the medals, but we didn't expect it to be gold, so that makes us very happy."
Canadian riders, like many teams, expressed some frustration about the lack of passing.
"I had an okay start," said lead rider Raphael Gagne "but I didn't clip into my pedal properly so I went into the single track before the climb at about 12th, and then it became impossible to do anything but hold your position."
Gagne handed off to Geoff Kabush, who started the lap 59 seconds down on the Swiss, Italian and Swedish leaders. He put in the fastest lap of the day at 17:22, moving the Canadians up to third, but could have moved up further.
"There were sections on the first climb where I was just soft pedalling, because it was impossible to get by riders, so I figure I could have been 30 or 40 seconds faster. This just shows how important the start is going to be later in the week."
Canada's Junior - Evan Guthrie - took over from Kabush, with the gap down to under 30 seconds and moved up to within seven seconds of leading French as he handed off to Pendrel.
"It was a very good ride for me; this course definitely suits me. My goal was to get as much time as I could for Catharine."
Pendrel began the final lap just seven seconds down on Ravanel, and was closing, but the French rider surprised with her strength.
"I wasn't sure if it was a guy or a woman out there for a while," commented Pendrel, "she was very strong. The the Italian U23 came up and I was able to ride his wheel up to the front. He finally got by us, and then I was able to get by Cecile with a little sprint in the final feed zone and hold it to the finish. It was a really exciting last lap."