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National Mountain Bike Series #3 (NMBS) - 2
Santa Ynez (Los Olivos), California USA, May 16-18, 2008
Race 5 - May 17: Elite Women Cross Country
Emmett claims first cross country win
By Dave McElwaine in Santa Ynez, California
With 103 degree temperatures at the Chamberlain Ranch in the California's Santa Ynez Valley, the heat was a bigger obstacle for the women to overcome than the race course itself. Kelli Emmett (Giant MTB) rode a smart race, picking off riders one at a time, and notched her first cross country win in a national race.
Georgia Gould (Luna MTB) led for three quarters of the race but succumbed to heat exhaustion and had to be taken to the hospital. Catherine Pendrel (Luna MTB) battled Emmett for the lead but could only manage second place while the Trek/VW women rounded out the podium with Lea Davison, Jenny Smith, and Mical Dyck filling the remaining sports.
The race started like so many other NMBS races, with Gould quickly going to the front, followed by team-mate Katerina Nash. Nash seemed to uncharacteristically falter and fell back a few positions, leaving fellow Luna MTB rider Catherine Pendrel to chase Gould.
"I definitely was feeling the heat out there," said Catherine. "Then Kelli caught me at the beginning of the second lap and that actually saved my race, because before that all I could focus on was suffering, and after she passed me I had a rabbit."
Emmett slowly but surely pulled herself up from eighth position towards the leading riders. She could be seen high above the race venue descending like the Super D star that she is, but it was her climbing ability that finally allowed her to pass Pendrel.
"I knew is was a matter of survival out there today," said Emmett. "Heat generally doesn't bother me too much so I knew that if I rode steady I would work my way up. I've been riding a dirt bike so it has been helping me with the descending skills."
"I've been riding with Katie Compton [US National Cyclo-cross Champion] back home and she has been putting the screws to me every day so it's paid off nicely," explained Emmett of the improvement in her skills.
For most of the race Gould seemed to be riding another solo time trial. She had put a two minute gap on the other racers when she was forced off her bike on the last lap due to nausea and heat exhaustion. While Gould is leading the competition to qualify for one of two United States Olympic Team positions, the heat exhaustion brought an end to her streak of NMBS wins that dates back to 2006.
Trek/VW's women had their best day in recent history with the trio of Smith, Davison, and Dyck holding fourth through sixth up until Gould's retirement, when they all moved up a spot. The trio were never really able to work together as a team as each had different strengths on the hot, hilly course.
Smith compared the heat during the race to her experience in Africa's Cape Epic mountain bike event which she race earlier this season. "Honestly it was hotter today and faster," she said. "I started at the back and I tried to be really patient. Once I got to fourth or fifth position around the first feed zone I tried to ride conservatively."
"It was like riding in a frying pan," added Davison. "I know heat is not my strength but then my legs came around and I started picking them off."
Four of the women on the podium, with the exception of Smith, enjoyed their best ever NMBS finish today. Absent from the competition today was United States National Champion Mary McConneloug, Wendy Simms (Kona), Willow Koerber (Subaru/Gary Fisher), and Shonny Vanlandingha (Luna MTB).
The elite women will compete on Sunday in short track cross country event. With Gould unlikely to start, Nash will be difficult to beat. In Sunday's Super D race, United States National Champion Rachael Lloyd will be on hand to give Emmett a serious challenge.