By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
Day 1 of the 2001 NORBA national championship series looked a lot like the 2000 season opener. But anybody who said they weren’t surprised was probably lying.
That’s because mountain biking’s No. 1 enigma, Californian Kirk Molday, went from having no team in January to winning the season opening cross-country race at Snow Summit Resort in Big Bear Lake, California. Molday’s win, along with Mary Grigson’s victory earlier in the day, meant there was a pair of repeat winners at Big Bear.
In the men’s race Molday was part of a four-rider break that pulled away from the field during the first of three laps around the 8.47-mile course. Joining the former Trek-Volkswagen rider, who’s now a member of the SunRace-Santa Cruz squad, were Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen), and a pair of Subaru-Gary Fisher riders, Pavel Cherkasov and Ryder Hesjedal.
That group stayed together through the duration of the first lap, building a gap of nearly a minute over the closest pursuer, Seamus McGrath (Haro-Lee Dungarees). But at the beginning of the second trip to the top of the mountain, a 1200-foot climb that started at 7200 feet, Molday put the hammer down, leaving the other three behind.
Just like that the race was over. Molday steadily pulled away over the next lap-and-a-half, finishing the in 1:50:53. Green, who took second, ended up 2:39 behind. The rest of the podium saw Cherkasov in third at 3:00, McGrath in fourth at 3:22, and Hesjedal fifth at 4:36.
“He just rode away on the climb and there was nothing any of us could do about it,” said Green, the current leader of the overall World Cup standings. “I think [Molday] was really motivated to prove something today.”
And indeed there was a message behind Molday’s win. “A lot of people wrote me off last year,” he said. “That gave me a lot of motivation to show them all that I’m still around.”
Following a disappointing 2000 season that saw him fade to 25th overall in the final NORBA standings, Molday’s contract with Trek-Volkswagen was not renewed. During the ensuing offseason he struggled to find a new sponsor, and didn’t ink the deal with SunRace-Santa Cruz until January.
“It was a long winter,” he recalled. “I didn’t really have a back-up plan.”
Defending national champion Steve Larsen ended up sixth. Travis Brown was ninth. Tinker Juarez didn’t finish.
Prior to Molday’s surprise win, Grigson rolled to her fifth win in the last six NORBA cross-country races. The Australian Subaru-Gary Fisher rider, who ran away with the series title last year, overtook GT’s Alison Dunlap on the second of two laps around the 8.47-mile course, then pulled away for the win. Grigson finished the race in 1:28:02. Dunlap held on for second, 1:40 back, while defending national champion Ruthie Matthes (Trek-Volkswagen) was third, at 1:58. SoBe-HeadShok teammates Amber Neben and Shonny Vandlandingham rounded out the top five.
In the early stages of the race it was Dunlap who appeared to be in control. The Colorado Springs, Colorado resident was the first rider onto the single track, had a 15-second lead at the end of the first climb, and was up by :23 at the end of the first lap.
But on the second climb up the long fire road that leads to the mountain’s backside, Grigson reeled in Dunlap.
“The second lap is always my strongest,” said Grigson, who won the cross country and short track races at Big Bear last year. “I caught her about halfway up the climb. I think she may have crashed because she looked really sore.”
Dunlap hadn’t crashed. She was just having a tough day on the bike. “Mary was just a little stronger than me today,” Dunlap said. “She rode a great race.”
As for Matthes, Friday’s result was a big improvement over her race at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in Durango, Colorado a week ago when she finished 3:19 behind Grigson. “I don’t know what happened there, but I think I’m coming along now,” Matthes said. “Today was so much better than last Sunday. I had a steady race and was in the top five the whole time.”
The surprise of the race was Neben. Prior to the race at Big Bear, the 26-year-old, second-year pro from Irvine, California had never finished better than 18th at a NORBA national.
Racing at Big Bear continues on Saturday with the men’s short track at 3 p.m., the women’s STXC at 3:30 and the dual slalom finals at 4:30. Check back to VeloNews.com for coverage of all the action.
NORBA NATIONAL NO. 1, Snow Summit Resort, Big Bear Lake, California. June 1-3.
1. Kirk Molday, SunRace-Santa Cruz, 25.4mi in 1:50:53; 2. Roland Green (Can), Trek-Volkswagen, at 2:39; 3. Pavel Cherkasov (Rus), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 3:00; 4. Seamus McGrath (Can), Haro-Lee Dungarees, at 3:22; 5. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 4:36; 6. Steve Larsen (L.L. Bean-Stairmaster), at 4:53; 7. Jose Adrian Bonilla (CR), Café de Costa Rica, at 5:50; 8. Ziranda Madrigal (Mex), Turbo, at 5:59; 9. Travis Brown, Trek-Volkswagen, at 6:53; 10. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, RLX Polo Sport, at 7:12.
1. Mary Grigson (Aus), Subaru-Gary Fisher, 16.9mi in 1:28:02; 2. Alison Dunlap (GT), at 1:40; 3. Ruthie Matthes, Trek-Volkswagen, at 1:58; 4. Amber Neben, SoBe-HeadShok, at 2:19; 5. Shonny Vanlandingham, SoBe-HeadShok, at 3:42; 6. Melissa Thomas, Red Hook, at 4:27; 7. Chrissy Redden (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 5:54; 8. Jimena Florit (Arg), RLX Polo Sport, at 6:05; 9. Willow Koeber, Cane Creek, at 6:11; 10. Trish Sinclair, Ford-Devinci, at 6:41.