By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
The joke floating around Snow Summit Resort on Saturday was that the revamped short track course put the short in short track. Minus last year’s brief trip into woods, the 2002 circuit sent riders straight up a quick climb, into a brief chicane, then back into the village via the twisty sidewalk around the resort’s base area. The result was lap times that barely exceeded a minute for both the men and women, and a relentless pace that saw the majority of each field get pulled long before the race was over. Among those who did survive were Alison Dunlap and Ryder Hesjedal, who both took wins under cloudless skies in Big Bear Lake, California.
Dunlap (Luna) earned her victory, after pulling away from Friday’s cross country winner, Jimena Florit (RLX-Polo Sport), on the 12th of 17 laps. From there the reigning world cross-country champion steadily built a gap on the Argentinean, taking the win going away. Florit would hold on for second, with Susy Pryde (Velo Bella), Shonny Vanlandingham (SoBe-Cannondale) and the surprising Dara Marks (Titus) completing the podium.
All told only six of the 48 starters managed to avoid getting pulled from the race. The unattached Mary McConneloug was the other survivor.
“We played cat and mouse for a while,” said Dunlap of her battle with Florit, that began on the climb of the sixth lap when the pair cracked a gap on a group that included McConneloug, Vanlandingham, Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Trek-Volkswagen’s Susan Haywood. “I figured I could get away from Jimena at the end of the race because I knew she’d be tired from yesterday.”
Dunlap’s plan worked to perfection, as she picked up her all-time best eighth short track victory. Still she was among many who thought the course was too short.
“Is it exciting to see six women finish?” she asked rhetorically. “I don’t think so.”
In the men’s race the percentage of survivors was similar, with just 17 of the 68 starters seeing the finish of the 20-lap race. Among the missing was Trek-Volkswagen’s Roland Green, who stayed with the lead group until the 15th lap before dropping out because of what team manager Pavel Cherkasov characterized as exhaustion from Friday’s huge effort in the cross country.
When Hesjedal crossed the line victoriously five laps later, it marked the first time someone other than Green had won a NORBA cross country or short track since Hesjedal took the short track at Deer Valley halfway through the 2001 series.
To get the win on Saturday, Hesjedal needed a little luck and some last-lap heroics. With three laps to go the final selection of five — Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher), Haro-Lee Dungarees’ Seamus McGrath and Chris Sheppard, Adrian Bonilla (Café de Costa Rica-Pizza Hut), and Mongoose-Hyundai’s Todd Wells — all crested the short climb together. From there McGrath was the first to take a flyer, pulling away a lap later in what looked like the deciding move. But the Canadian crashed on the climb, giving away his lead to Bonilla.
“I was going to win that race,” McGrath lamented afterward. “I had a good gap.”
Instead Hesjedal began his charge, picking off McGrath going up the climb for the last time, then passing Bonilla in the chicane. The final standings saw Bonilla hold on for second, followed by Sheppard, then McGrath and Wells.
“I attacked a few times to try to string out the field,” Hesjedal explained of his early-race tactics. “At the end I just managed to find a little reserve.”
Bonilla’s second-place effort was the best of his burgeoning career that saw him first emerge a year ago with three short-track podiums.
NORBA NCS NO. 1; Snow Summit Resort, CA; May 10-12; Short Track Cross Country; Women; 1. Alison Dunlap, Luna; 2. Jimena Florit (Arg), RLX-Polo Sport; 3. Susy Pryde (NZ), Velo Bella; 4. Shonny Vanlandingham, SoBe-Cannondale; 5. Dara Marks, Titus; 6. Mary McConneloug, unattached; 7. Kerry Barnholt, SoBe-Cannondale; 8. Chrissy Redden (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher; 9. Jamie Whitmore-Cardenas, K2-Michelin; 10. Mary Grigson (Aus), Subaru-Gary Fisher; 11. Gina Hall, Luna; 12. Susan Haywood, Trek-Volkswagen; 13. Gretchen Reeves, Rocky Mountain; 14. Lanie Mason, Cane Creek; 15. Katrina Hanusova (Czh), Luna; 16. Kelli Emmett, Luna; 17. Julie Emmerman, Ritchey-Roots; 18. Lesley Tomlinson (Can), Rocky Mountain; 19. Willow Koeber, Cane Creek; 20. Alice Pennington, Clif Bar
Men; 1. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher; 2. Adrian Bonilla (CR), Café de Costa Rica-Pizza Hut; 3. Chris Sheppard (Can), Haro-Lee Dungarees; 4. Seamus McGrath (Can), Haro-Lee Dungarees; 5. Todd Wells, Mongoose-Hyundai; 6. Geoff Kabush (Can), Kona; 7. Carl Swenson, RLX-Polo Sport; 8. Marc Gullickson, Mongoose-Hyundai; 9. Salvador Barriga (Mex), Turbo; 10. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, RLX-Polo Sport; 11. Jeff Hall, Salsa Cycles; 12. Paul Rowney (Aus), Yeti-Pearl Izumi; 13. Andreas Hestler (Can), Rocky Mountain; 14. Mathieu Toulouse (Can), Gears Racing; 15. Frank Mapel, Specialized; 16. James Van Touver, Highlands; 17. Chris Eatough (GB), Trek-Volkswagen; 18. Deiber Esquivel (CR), Café de Costa Rica-Pizza Hut; 19. Peter Wedge (Can), Kona; 20. Jason Tullous, Giant-Dome