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Cross-country racers set to take on Grouse Mountain

In 2001 Grouse Mountain could do almost no wrong when it came to World Cup mountain-bike racing. The small ski resort just minutes from downtown Vancouver stepped up to host the third stop of the series after organizers at Whistler bailed because of financial squabbling; then went on to put on one of the best events of the season, with exciting racing and big crowds. But a year later the vibe here on the famed North Shore isn't the same. This is the land of free-riding, and without any gravity racing this weekend (both the downhill and mountain cross were cancelled because of too much snow)

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor

In 2001 Grouse Mountain could do almost no wrong when it came to World Cup mountain-bike racing. The small ski resort just minutes from downtown Vancouver stepped up to host the third stop of the series after organizers at Whistler bailed because of financial squabbling; then went on to put on one of the best events of the season, with exciting racing and big crowds.

But a year later the vibe here on the famed North Shore isn’t the same. This is the land of free-riding, and without any gravity racing this weekend (both the downhill and mountain cross were cancelled because of too much snow) the buzz is slightly subdued.

Still, this remains one of the best World Cup venues on the circuit, and with tight races for overall titles in both the men’s and women’s categories, a lot may be decided in the next two days.

Racing begins Saturday with the pro women heading out at 2 p.m. Normally the women would be racing in the morning on Sunday, but with the gravity races cancelled, organizations choose to spread out the remaining races. The length for either race hasn’t been announced yet, but last year the women covered 33 kilometers on the 4.6km course, while the men did 36 kilometers.

Barbara Blatter was the winner here in Grouse a year ago, and went on to capture her second straight World Cup overall tittle. A year later, though, Blatter (Specialized) has yet to taste victory and is sixth overall, staring up at American Alison Dunlap. Dunlap (Luna) hasn’t won a race yet either, but with three top 4 finishes the 2001 world champion is in position to capture the first World Cup overall title of her career.

Dunlap has also benefited from Marga Fullana’s continued absence from races outside Europe. The travel-phobic Fullana won the first two rounds of the series in Madrid and Houffalize, but skipped Mont-Ste-Anne in Quebec, and won’t be showing up in British Columbia either.

Also in the hunt for the overall with two races left in the five race series is Annabella Stropparo. The Italian Be One rider pulled off the first World Cup win of her career last week, and now sits third, 80 points behind Fullana and 100 back of Dunlap.

Over on the men’s side, racing will commence Sunday afternoon at 2. Volvo-Cannondale’s Christoph Sauser is the defending champion here. The Swiss rider took the lead on the last lap a year ago after B.C. native and crowd favorite Roland Green suffered a front flat that cost him the win.

Last weekend’s World Cup winner, Belgian Filip Meirhaeghe leads the tight men’s overall race. The Specialized rider is 40 points ahead of Bart Brentjens and 60 up on Roel Paulissen. Green is fourth, 90 points back. The top five places at a race receive 250, 200, 170, 150 and 130 points.

Check back to VeloNews.com all weekend for race reports, photos and results.