By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
Eleven years after the first world mountain bike championships were held here, big-time mountain biking made a rousing return to Durango, Colorado on Friday evening. Fans young and old lined the downtown streets of the Southwestern tourist town to take in a parade, amateur team relay race, and the pro time trial, all precursors to this weekend’s World Cup event.
The time trial was the highlight of the evening, as riders navigated a criterium-like course that included trips through two local businesses: a warehouse-style brew pub, and one of the local bike shops. Many of the top pros chose to skip the event because it didn’t have any effect on start position for Sunday’s cross-country races. Still, the post-race podiums contained plenty of big names.
Biggest of them all was a stranger to the lycra-sect, dual specialist Brian Lopes (GT-Fox). On this night Lopes proved that all the talk about his overall cycling abilities was more than just talk, as he beat out his cross-country peers to win the time trial.
“I love doing different kinds of races,” said Lopes, who rode a team issue GT Zaskar. “Going through the buildings and stuff was cool. This kind of thing would never happen in L.A. It’s definitely the first time I’ve raced in lycra in a while, though.”
Lopes made his way around the short, twisty course in 2:32.203, less than half a second quicker than second-place finisher Paul Rowney (Yeti-Pearl Izumi). Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (RLX Polo Sport) was third, followed by Manuel Fumic (T-Mobile) and Dan Bowman (RPM). Other notables included Volvo-Cannondale’s gravity man Cedric Gracia, who finished 13th, and longtime Durango resident Ned Overend, who won the cross country at those first world championships back in 1990, but settled for 29th on Friday.
In the women’s race it was rising star Susan Haywood (Trek-East Coast) getting the win. Haywood beat out Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher), while Jimena Florit (RLX Polo Sport) was third, followed by Mary Grigson (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Durango downhill star Elke Brutsaert (Schwinn).
In the day’s other action qualifying for Saturday night’s dual final took place at nearby Durango Mountain Resort, and once again Lopes was the fastest man. The SoCal native’s time of 29.08 was .35 seconds better than No. 2 qualifier Eric Carter (Mongoose-Hyundai). Wade Bootes (Trek-Volkswagen), Gracia, and Mike King (Haro-Lee Dungarees) round out the top five.
Lopes beat Carter in the finals of last week’s World Cup dual at Grouse Mountain outside Vancouver, British Columbia.
In women’s qualifying, the hot hand continued to belong to Schwinn’s Leigh Donovan. The 29-year-old put up a mark of 35.08, .52 seconds better than second-place qualifier Tara Llanes (Yeti-Pearl Izumi). Katrina Miller (Jamis), Cheri Elliott (ODI-Azonic), and Anne-Caroline Chausson (Volvo-Cannondale) completed the top five.
For Donovan, Friday continued an unprecedented run of success that started with a win at the season-opening NORBA dual slalom in Big Bear Lake, California back in June, and has continued with two more NORBA wins, plus her first ever World Cup dual win last week at Grouse Mountain.
Racing for real begins Saturday with the downhill semifinals starting at 11 a.m. local time, followed by the downhill finals at 2 p.m., then the dual finals at 6. Cross-country takes center stage Sunday, with the women’s race slated for 10:30 a.m., followed by the men at 1:30 p.m.
Check back to VeloNews.com all weekend for race reports, photos and results.