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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
Used to be the Sea Otter Classic served as the final tune-up for the mountain-bike World Cup season, and that meant the stage race in Monterey, California was a prime indicator of who had gone hard and who had gone soft during the off-season. But this year, without the Napa Valley cross-country looming a week away, there was talk that some of the top riders might not be in top form when they arrived at the Laguna Seca Raceway for the Sea Otter’s four-stage affair, March 21-24.
But following the second day of racing here, all but a few of the big names were right were you expected them to be. Leading the way were reigning world cross-country champion Alison Dunlap (Luna Chix), and last year’s overall Sea Otter winner Bart Brentjens (Giant), who each held the top spot in the overall standings following the 5-mile, stage 2 time trial on Friday.
Dunlap finished second on the day, 2 seconds back of 2001 overall Sea Otter winner Caroline Alexander (British National), who circled the tough, rolling circuit in 21:28. But bolstered by her 20-second time bonus for winning the previous day’s criterium, Dunlap held her grasp on the leader’s jersey, owning an 18-second advantage with two stages remaining.
Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher), at 0:24, Jimena Florit (RLX-Polo Sport), at 0:27, and Alison Sydor (Trek-Volkswagen), at 0:36, accounted for the rest of the top five in GC. This mirrored the order of the time trial finish except for Sydor’s placing, which jumped up from seventh in the TT after earning a 10-second time bonus in the criterium on the previous day.
Barbara Blatter (Specialized), Susan Haywood (Trek-Volkswagen) and Mary Grigson (Subaru-Gary Fisher) were also all within a minute of Dunlap.
“Some people are still in base-building mode,” said Grigson, who is in eighth and 47 seconds back at the halfway point. “Your still going to see natural talent come through.”
Brentjens’ lead was more tenuous despite his second-straight Sea Otter time trial win. The 1996 Olympic gold medalist owns a scant 2-second advantage over Aussie Paul Rowney (Yeti-Pearl Izumi), who took second and a 10-second bonus in Thursday’s criterium and was sixth at 0:33 on Friday. Last year’s Sea Otter runner up and reigning world champion Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen) is third overall, at 0:12, followed by Norwegian Rune Hoydahl (Giant) and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher), both at 0:28.
Thursday’s criterium winner Steve Tilford finished 40th, 1:43 off the pace. Reigning national champion Kirk Molday (SunRace-Santa Cruz) was the top placed American, finishing 14th in the TT, at 1:10.
“Because there is no World Cup next week there are not as many good riders here,” admitted Brentjens. “But I think the ones that are here are in good condition. It certainly will not be easy to win again.”
Racing in Monterey continues Saturday with the short track. The course is 3/4-mile loop with 100 feet of climbing per lap. Both men and women are slated to do seven laps.
— For the second day in a row there were tremendous problems sorting out results at Sea Otter. The consensus was, that though the computer-chip timing system seemed to be accurately tracking riders, there was an interface problem with the tabulation computers, forcing officials to determine results by hand. That pushed the arrival of the results well into the evening, leaving many riders and fans in the dark about the status of the race.
— Mountain cross got underway Friday, with 2001 winners Brian Lopes and Anne-Caroline Chausson posting the fastest times in four-rider qualifying. The rest of the women’s top five went Katrina Miller, Jamie Lilly, Tai-Lee Muxlow and Tara Llanes. The other top men were Wade Bootes, Chris Kovarik, Cedric Gracia and Mike King. The mountain cross finals are slated for Sunday afternoon.
— A conversation with Sea Otter top man and NORBA series promoter Rick Sutton revealed that mountain cross won’t be completely be replacing the dual slalom on the NCS circuit after all. Two of the series’ five venues, Snow Summit and Snowshoe, opted to put on just dual slalom when given the edict to put on both or just dual slalom.
“They wanted to keep dual slalom for the amateurs,” said Snow Summit organizer Tom Spiegel about NORBA’s instructions. “But we couldn’t build two courses, so we had to just stick with slalom for everybody.”
Pro riders will race just mountain cross at the other three NORBA stops, and Sutton says the series overall title will be based on an combination of results from all five races.
SEA OTTER CLASSIC MOUNTAIN-BIKE STAGE RACE; Monterey, CA, March 21-24; Men; Time Trial; 1. Bart Brentjens (Nl), Giant, 5 miles in 17:51; 2. Roland Green (Can), Trek-Volkswagen, at 0:12; 3. Seamus McGrath (Can), Haro-Lee Dungarees, at 0:15; 4. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 0:28; 5. Adrian Bonilla (CR), Café de Costa Rica-Pizza Hut, at 0:31; 6. Paul Rowney (Aus), Yeti-Pearl Izumi, at 0:33; 7. Chris Sheppard (Can), Haro-Lee Dungarees, at 0:38; 8. Mathieu Toulouse (Can), Gears Racing, at 0:49; 9. Fillip Meirhaeghe (B), Specialized, at 0:51; 10. Geoff Kabush (Can), Kona, at 0:52; Others; 14. Kirk Molday, SunRace-Santa Cruz, at 1:10; 16. Christoph Sauser (Swi), Volvo-Cannondale, at 1:14; 19. Travis Brown, Trek-Volkswagen, at 1:17; 20. Todd Wells, Mongoose-Hyundai, at 1:17; 23. Kashi Leuchs (NZ), Volvo-Cannondale, at 1:25; 26. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, RLX-Polo Sport, at 1:28; 40. Steve Tilford, Verge, at 1:44; 60. Walker Ferguson, Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 2:12
Overall Standings; 1. Brentjens, 1:03:06; 2. Rowney, at 0:02; 3. Green, at 0:12; 4. Rune Hoydahl (N), Giant, at 0:28; 4. Hesjedal, s.t.; 6. Bonilla, at 0:31; 7. Sheppard, at 0:38; 8. Toulouse, at 0:49; 9. Meirhaeghe, at 0:51; 10. Kabush, at 0:52
Women; Time Trial; 1. Caroline Alexander (GB), British National, 5 miles in 21:28; 2. Alison Dunlap, Luna Chix, at 0:02; 3. Chrissy Redden (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 0:06; 4. Jimena Florit (Arg), RLX-Polo Sport, at 0:09; 5. Barbara Blatter (Swi), Specialized, at 0:19; 6. Susan Haywood, Trek-Volkswagen, at 0:28; 6. Alison Sydor (Can), Trek-Volkswagen, s.t.; 8. Mary Grigson (Aus), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 0:29; 9. Dellys Franke (Aus), Merida, at 0:48; 10. Lanie Mason, Cane Creek, at 0:51; Overall Standings; 1. Dunlap, 1:03:56; 2. Alexander, at 0:18; 3. Redden, at 0:24; 4. Florit, at 0:27; 5. Sydor, at 0:36; 6. Blatter, at 0:37; 7. Haywood, at 0:46; 8. Grigson, at 0:47; 9. Franke, at 1:06; 10. Mason, at 1:09.