The third edition of the Chrono Gatineau time trial on Saturday was all about Canada’s Clara Hughes.
The Olympic superstar came to the event as defending champion, and she was all the crowd — and the media — wanted to see.
A year ago, Hughes had just returned to the top level of cycling and came to Gatineau as a member of the Canadian team.
This year, she was back at the head of the powerhouse Specialized-lululemon team, and if anyone was going to beat Hughes it would likely be one of her teammates.
Not that there was a shortage of firepower on other teams. Canadian multiple track world champion Tara Whitten of TIBCO-To the Top was there, though her focus is on preparing for the Olympics so she wasn’t on top form.
And fellow Canadian Rhae Shaw, riding for the national team, was an unknown factor. Shaw is a recent convert to cycling from triathlon and finished seventh at the 2011 time trial worlds.
But it would be Specialized-lululemon who would set the tone throughout the warm, sunny day.
Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, riding in the second wave of starters, set the first really fast time of the day with 24:38.43 for the two-lap, 18.4-km course. The German benefited from calm, slightly cooler conditions earlier in the day and her time stood for about a half hour, until fellow Specialized-lululemon rider Evelyn Stevens lopped off 34 seconds to post a blistering 24:04.56.
“I gave it my best shot and we’ll see how it turns out at the end,” she said after her ride. “It’s a beautiful course and we’re really lucky to have this UCI race here.”
Stevens’ time started to look even better about an hour later when another teammate, 2008 world champion Amber Neben, could only manage to get within 12 seconds of it.
“I think it was a bit warmer, maybe a bit more windy, but I did the best I could out there,” she said.
As defending champion, Hughes was the final starter in the last wave, leaving the start ramp one minute behind 2008 Olympic road champion Nicole Cooke.
Hughes was the last one to predict a repeat victory this year. After a heavy block of racing in Europe in the spring, she has taken some time off and done some altitude training as well. The Chrono Gatineau was her first race since April.
“I started out this season a little bit slower, intentionally, and I just want to build towards my best for London and it’s just starting.”
Any doubts about Hughes’ form were quickly silenced when she posted the fastest time by four seconds at the half-way point – at the same time as catching Cooke. Hughes also avoided a repeat of last year’s crash at the turnaround.
“I was just thinking OK, if you stay up and you go slow, you lose a second. If you go down you lose at least 10 seconds,” she said. “And I still went fast – I love going fast through turns, and I did clip my pedal a little bit and I was like, ‘woah, Clara.’”
Hughes didn’t fade over the second lap, either, extending her margin to eight seconds at the finish and becoming the only rider to crack 24 minutes with a 23:56.76.
“I felt really good on the course,” she said. “I knew it well from last year and the last couple days I rode it and really worked on just carrying my speed through the turns and really working parts of the course where I could get a little bit of recovery and then attacking other parts of the course. It was kind of more of a tactical approach to a time trial which I don’t normally do – I usually just go all out. It worked out really good, I felt awesome. It was hard, it was hot, it was beautiful, I knew I was going to have a good ride. I was totally inspired today and I think the start of my season was today.”
The only non-Specialized-lululemon rider to come close to the podium was Whitten, who ended up fourth with a 24:27.24, 11 seconds faster than Teutenberg. Shaw was sixth, a further 13 seconds back.
After enduring a swarm of media after the finish, Hughes spent a few minutes with Luke and Stephanie Richardson. The Richardsons’ daughter Daron committed suicide in 2012, and Hughes has embraced the Do It For Daron foundation, which sells purple D.I.F.D. bracelets to raise funds for youth mental health initiatives.
“I looked at my bracelet during the race and I thought about Daron, I thought about young people who have mental health problems and I though if I can be strong today I can be strong for the Games.”
On paper, Specialized-lululemon is the team to beat in Monday’s Grand Prix Cycliste de Gatineau.
The first two editions of the race finished in a bunch sprint, and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg is one of the best sprinters in the business. But the team has plenty of other cards to play with Hughes, Stevens, Neben and Ally Stacher.
“It’s 130 k, so I will be tired at the end,” said Teutenberg. “But we have a good team here so I think we are good for every situation of the race.”
Canadian Cycling Magazine article http://cyclingmagazine.ca/2012/05/sections/news/clara-hughes-wins-chrono-gatineau/