By Kip Mikler , VeloNews Editor
With the sun setting on the Vail Valley and the 2001 UCI World Mountain Bike Championships in Colorado on Sunday, Canadian Roland Green put the finishing touches on an historic season that saw many firsts for him and for Canada. First Canadian male to win a World Cup, first Canadian male to win the overall World Cup, and now, first to win the world championship.
Green, who made it clear all year long that the world championship was the main focus of his season, started the day as one of a handful of favorites. In the end, the man who put up the toughest battle against the Canadian was Dane Michael Rasmussen, the beanpole climber who always comes knocking at world championships time.
“I’m a little stunned right now,” Green said moments after crossing the finish with a time of 1:58:52. “I’ve been dreaming about this all year and now that it’s happened it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Rasmussen and Green escaped on a climb about 11 miles into the 25.8-mile race and quickly built a lead of just over a minute on Swiss riders Christoph Sauser and Thomas Frischknecht. With the black-white-and-red Swiss colors were Australian Cadel Evans, Frenchman Ludovic Dubau and Dutch rider Bart Brentjens.
One more time around the loop and it seemed clear that the only thing that would keep this from being a two-man race was a flat tire — something Green became all too familiar with this season.
Green, who felt comfortable with Rasmussen’s rapid climbing pace, chose his moment to attack on a short descent and quickly got a slice of daylight on the Dane. Rasmussen dangled 10 to 20 seconds for a couple of miles, but the string snapped as they entered the Village Loop — and its 700-foot ascent over 3.5 miles — for the last time.
Or so it appeared. Rasmussen fell back to 35 seconds, but he kept clawing his way back until, on the last descent off the Vail Village Loop, his tire went flat. For once, the inner tube gods were with Green instead of against him, and Rasmussen’s hopes were over.
“I hoped I could roll it home, but it went down to fast,” Rasmussen said. “I was gaining on him on the last lap. I think I had it down to 15 seconds. I thought I still had a chance to catch him.” Meanwhile, the Swiss duo was detonating the chase group. By the time they hit the base of the last climb, Frischnkecht, who harbors no fond memories of the last time world’s were held here in 1994 — when he crashed and broke his collarbone on the eve of the race — was closing in on yet another silver medal.
Frischknecht’s teammate Sauser did everything possible to go with him, and those two left Evans behind and flew past the deflated Rasmussen, who wouldn’t repeat his world title of 1999.
Rasmussen would end up 11th, while Frischknecht, who had to come back from an early mishap after a stick lodged in his derailleur, got his fifth silver medal.
(Technically it’s four: Frischknecht was granted the gold medal for the 1996 world championship four years after the race because Jerome Chiotti admitted to winning while using performance-enhancing drugs).
Sauser scored the bronze medal to match his Olympic bronze from Sydney 2000.
While the Americans struggled (Todd Wells was tops at 26th), Mexico could join Canada in celebrating after an impressive showing. Ziranda Madrigal and Salvador Barriga Vidales finishing 15th and 16th respectively.
ELITE MEN CROSS-COUNTRY;;
1. Roland Green , Canada, 27.06 miles in 1:58:52; 2. Thomas Frischknecht, Switzerland, at :44; 3. Christof Sauser, Switzerland, at :50; 4. Cadel Evans, Australia, at 1:01; 5. Ludovic Dubau, France, at 1:16; 6. Bart Brentjens, Netherlands, at 1:27; 7. Cedric Ravanel, France, at 1:28; 8. Filip Meirhaeghe, Belgium, at 2:12; 9. Martino Fruet, Italy, at 2:27; 10. Jose Antonio Hermida, Spain, at 2:48; 11. Michael Rasmussen, Denmark, at 2:57; 12. Kashi Leuchs, New Zealand, at 3:36; 13. Pavel Tcherkassov, Russia, at 4:04; 14. Christophe Dupoey, France, at 4:26; 15. Ziranda Madrigal Alvarez, Mexico, at 4:29; 16. Salvador Barriga Vidales, Mexico, at 4:47; 17. Hubert Pallhuber, Italy, at 5:07; 18. Jose Adrian Bonilla, Costa Rica, at 5:15; 19. Seamus McGrath, Canada, at 5:20; 20. Marco Bul, Italy, at 5:45; 21. Jose Marquez Granados, Spain, at 6:04; 22. Roberto Lezuan Zubiria, Spain, at 6:06; 23. Marek Galinski, Poland, at 6:24; 24. Thomas Kalberer, Switzerland, at 6:29; 25. Massimo DeBertolis, Italy, at 6:49; 26. Todd Wells, United States, at 7:04; 27. Nick Craig, Great Britain, at 7:14; 28. Geoff Kabush, Canada, at 7:54; 29. Filip Paulissen, Belgium, at 7:59; 30. Thomas Hochstrasser, Switzerland, at 8:02; 31. Dario Acquaroli, Italy, at 8:07; 32. Oliver Beckingsale, Great Britain, at 8:23; 33. Stefan Sahm, Germany, at 8:42; 34. Andreas Hestler, Canada, at 9:19; 35. Craig Gordon, Australia, at 9:21; 36. Rune Hoydahl, Norway, at 9:30; 37. David Juarez, United States, at 9:40; 38. Lado Fumic, Germany, at 10:13; 39. Bas Van Dooren, Netherlands, at 10:28; 40. Thomas Bonne, Denmark, at 10:50; 41. Peter Presslauer, Austria, at 10:52; 42. Carsten Bresser, Germany, at 10:55; 43. Bas Peters, Netherlands, at 11:12; 44. Radim Korinek, Czech Republic, at 11:51; 45. Miguel Martinez, France, at 12:10; 46. Josh Fleming, Australia, at 12:28; 47. Diego Garavito, Colombia, at 12:58; 48. Mathieu Toulouse, Canada, at 13:18; 49. Jean Christophe Peraud, France, at 13:21; 50. Paul Redenbach, Australia, at 13:23; 51. Robert Kircher, Austria, at 13:43; 52. Carl Swenson, United States, at 14:18; 53. Beat Wabel, Switzerland, at 14:54; 54. Antonio Oritz Barranco, Spain, at 15:00; 55. Milan Spesny, Czech Republic, 15:32; 56. Travis Brown, United States, at 16:09; 57. Chris Sheppard, Canada, at 16:21; 58. Mirko Pirazzoli, italy, at 16:44; 59. Paul Rowney, Australia, at 17:13; 60. Robin Seymour, Ireland, at 17:26; 61. Perren Delacour, Australia, at 17:58; 62. James Killen, United States, at 18:26; 63. Tim Vincent, New Zealand, at 19:18; 64. Marcin Karczynski, Poland, at 19:24; 65. Sigvard Kukk, Estonia, at 19:34; 66. Mannie Heymans, Namibia, 19:50; 67. Barrie Clarke, Great Britain, at 20:05; 68. Takanori Yamaguchi, Japan, at 22:35; 69. Ales Habe, Slovenia, at 23:10; 70. Gregor Miklic, Slovenia, at 25:36; 71. Melt Swanepoel, South Africa, at 26:16; 72. Raita Suzuki, Japan, at 26:30; 73. Fritz Pienaar, South Africa, at 38:07; 74. Jeroen Swart, South Africa, at 39:42; 75. Geddan Ruddock, South Africa, at 42:18; Jure Golcer, Slovenia, DNF; Marti Gispert Labartha, Spain, DNF; Marc Hanisch, Germany, DNF; David Galle, Belgium, at DNF; Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, United States, DNF; Kirk Molday, United States, DNF; Mariusz Kowal, Poland DNF; Armando Zacarias, Mexico, DNF; Jason Gasperoni, San Marino, DNF;