Mauricio Garcia and Julien Levrard sprint for the line. (photo: Nathalie Larouche)
2:50 | Women's Race: It was kind of a do-over for Speed Skate World's Morgane Echardour. Last week, she faced the same two talented Colombians — Isabel Bernier and Daniela Sandoval Vega — in the NorthShore Inline Marathon in Duluth.
Bernier won that race; Daniela Sandoval was second; and Echardour, 21, of Toronto, had to settle for 11th place after she got stuck behind a men's pack.
Today, Echardour wouldn't let the Colombians get away.
In the early goings, the Akana girls, Stephanie, 17, and Xion, 19, provided some hard pulls, and all the women, with the exception of the Colombians, worked together, taking turns at the head of the small lead pack.
"The Colombians didn't want to pull," Echardour said. "They were going for points."
There were points to be earned for crossing the line first at the end of several of the 19 laps, and the Colombian women won most of them.
With about six laps to go, Echardour and the two Colombians broke away from the pack. For the rest of the race, they stayed together.
About two kilometers from the finish, the three women stalled. "We just stood up and didn't do anything," Echardour said.
Finally, with about 300 meters to go, Sandoval started sprinting and gave a lead out to Bernier, who won last week's NorthShore.
The Canadians fought back and passed Bernier. But Bernier produced one more burst of speed and reclaimed the lead.
"The last 10 meters were pretty hard," Echardour said. "My legs felt like lead, and that's when she passed me."
Bernier stumbled near the finish line, but recovered her balance and skated across the finish line two-tenths of a second in front of Echardour.
2:00 | Men's Race Redux: Things get interesting out on the racecourse. Today the understory was Colombia vs. France.
Powerslide's Jorge Botero and Mauricio Garcia Sierra were working together; as were the three members of the French Levellois team of Philippe Boulard, Julien Levrard and Matthieu Barrault.
"Those Frenchmen, they were very strong," said Garcia, 19, of Medellin. "They attacked on every hill."
But the Colombians (along with Twincam's Eddy Matzger) wouldn't let them get away.
Toward the end of the race, Botero took the lead and provided some long, hard pulls. "I was leading, leading, leading and then I hit the wall," he said.
He dropped back with a little more than one lap to go.
Because of some miscommunication with another Colombian, Garcia sprinted to the line on the second to last lap. Everyone expected him to fade after this effort. But he kept going.
"But I was alone," he said. "So I say to the French guys, 'Let's make it a sprint; your best sprinter against me.' But they said, no."
A few kilometers from the finish line, one of the Frenchman, Julien Levrard, took off and took a sizeable lead. "But then I saw him put his hands on his knees, and I said, I can catch him."
He did, followed by the small lead pack of seven men.
Approaching the finish line, the French skaters formed a line and launched a lead out for Levrard. Levrard took the lead. But Garcia passed him on the outside and won by eight hundreths of a second.
12:50 | Women 100K - Top Finishers:
12:40 | Men's Race: Here at the finish line, we were only getting a part of the story. We saw the men's pack slowly shrink in size but stick together. In fact, going up the hill past the finish line, the pack regularly fell apart. The French or Eddy Matzger would try breakaways, and by the top of the hill, the pack would be spread out.
Only on the backside would the pack rejoin, although often with one or two fewer skaters.
"This was a lot different than Duluth," said Twincam's Eddy Matzger. "That was floorboarding from the start to the finish. This was cat and mouse."
One time going up the hill, one of the Colombians picked back and caught Cado Motus' James Springer's skate. Springer went down. So did last year's winner, Philippe Boulard and K2's Francisco Ramirez.
In the end, it came down to a sprint between Mauricio Sierra, 19, Julien Levrard, 25, and Eddy Matzger, 42.
Sierra and Levrard pulled away and the Colombian won by less than a meter.
"I have to practice my sprints more," Matzger said after the race. "That's the only thing I don't practice."
12:00 | Mauricio Sierra Wins (after finishing another lap)
11:50 | Some weirdness: Mauricio Sierra sprints to the line, apparently thinking the race is over. He even raises his arms in the air. But he's got another lap to go!
Five seconds later, the pack arrives, led by the Frenchman Matthieu Barrault. Then it's Julien Levrard, Luis Carlos Mejia. Eddy Matzger is still part of the shrinking lead pack.
Jorge Botero has fallen off the back of the pack and is now a minute back. Peter Doucet has also fallen off the pace.
11:45 | Five laps to go for the women: Daniela Sandoval Vega of Colombia is in the front of the women's pack. Morgane Echardour is right behind her.
11:40 | Two laps to go: Julien Levrard starts the 18th lap with a six second lead. Then comes Eddy Matzger and a few yards back, Jorge Botero pulling the lead pack of six skaters.
11:30 | Five laps to go: Twincam's Eddy Matzger is skating about five meters off the front — and to the side — of the pack. The pace is slowing. Ten men left in the lead pack. They look tired.
11:25 | Men's marathon winner: Wesley Gandy, 18, Virginia Beach, VA, was tucked away in the men's 100K lead pack. "The pace was mildly fast. They picked up the pace going up the hill, and I'm not a very good hill climber so I found that difficult."
At the end of the marathon, "(Johan Molina) tried to make me lead, but I didn't want to. So I just waited for him to go, and then I went with him and beat him to the line."
11:12 | Six laps to go: Eddy Matzger is in the lead as the men cross the finish line with six laps to go. The pack, led by Jorge Botero, is less than 10 meters behind. The pack is down to 13.
11:01 | Eddy's Back: As the pro pack climbs toward the line to finish their 12th lap, Twincam's Eddy Matzger comes around the side to take the lead. Jorge Botero is still leading the peleton.
Seven laps to go.
Sumiko Akana leads the women's pack, which is two laps back.
10:54 | Reeling in Levrard: The lead pack catches Julian Levrard just after the start of the 12th lap. Powerslide's Jorge Botero is at the head of the pack.
10:44 | Women's marathon winner: Cado Motus' Nikki Mejia, 15, of Bowie, Maryland, won the women's marathon. "We stayed tucked in to the 100K women's pack. We led for them for the first half. We were trying to help them out. ... At the very end, me and Marsha Woodfield broke away about a half a lap in and then we just kept going. ... It was hard because I was tired and my feet hurt a lot," says Mejia. "My boots are too small for my feet. I'm getting new boots within the week."
10:40 | 10th lap: Julian Levrard is off on a flyer. He's 25 seconds ahead of the men's lead pack, which now includes about 20 skaters. Powerslide's Jorge Botero is pulling the lead pack.
10:28 | 8th lap: It's the end of the full marathon. Two young guys tucked away in the lead men's pack sprint for the line. Cado Motus' Welsey Gandy, 18, wins. Johan Molina, 15, of Colombia finishes second. Molina is skating with a cast on his left arm. He broke it three weeks ago at NIRA Nationals.
10:18 | 7th lap: Julian Levrard leads with Peter Doucet (in a Bont suit) right behind him. The pack, still about 30 men, is about 20 meters back. Levard finished second last year, behind teammate Philippe Boulard.
10:10 | Video of Pro Men's start:
9:53 | 5th lap: Julian Levrard outsprints one of the Colombians to win the sprint points again. The pack of about 30 men is a long line right behind them. Time: 10:05.
9:43 | 4th lap: Julian Levrard wins the sprint with the two Colombians right behind him. This time they don't let off at the line and take off on a flyer. They get ahead by about 20 meters. But the pack doesn't want to let them go and flies by in pursuit. Apparently there was some hurry-up, slow-down on the back side. The lap time is slower: 9:51.
Again Isabel Bernier wins the women's sprint.
9:31| 3rd lap: It's another sprint lap and this time it's Levallois' Julien Levrard, 25, who gets it. Time: 9:25.
Isabel Bernier wins the women's sprint with a hawk that edges out Morgane Echardour. Bernier won last week's NorthShore Inline Marathon.
9:20 | Second lap: Approaching the end of the second lap, Mauricio Sierra and Juan Alfonso attack and take the lead. They get points for the sprint championships. It's a faster lap: 9:28.
Morgane Echardour wins the women's sprint about a minute later.
9:12 | First Lap: Twincam's Eddy Matzger leads the big men's pack. The time for the first lap is 9:58. They're moving. Each lap is 5.3 kilometers (about 3.3 miles.)
9:00 | Start: And they're off. ... The pro men start at an easy pace. No hard sprint off the line. Just smooth striding. Cado Motus' James Springer at the head of the field. A long way to go.
The women start a couple minutes later. Same thing. No mad dash for the lead.
8:30 | Scene: Another perfect day for skating: Sunny and about 65 degrees. We are here at Prospect Park, spread out on a lawn adjacent the starting line. About 300 skaters, I'm told.
Il Peleton's Morgan Williams is expecting a tough race. "I'm just going to try to survive," he said. "Julian's here (Julian Boullard, last year's winner). The other French guys are here. Jorge's here (Jorge Botero). ... It's going to be tough."
Eddy Matzger: "It's gonna be a hurt-fest because there's so much international competition. The Colombians are going to be hurting the French. The French are going to be hurting the Colombians. ... We're all going to be hurting each other."
But he welcomed the strong field: "The more competition, the less pressure on me to cover all the breaks. So it's good for me."
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