By Andrew Hood
The 2002 mountain bike World Cup season opens Sunday with cross-country No. 1 in Madrid. With a scaled-back schedule of just five stops this year and some teams cutting back their commitment to racing, Madrid will be a litmus test on how the international racing season shapes up.
Defending world champion Alison Dunlap, Todd Wells, Gina Hall and Susan Haywood will lead the American contingent in Spain. Canadians making the trip include world champ Roland Green, Ryder Hesjedal, Alison Sydor and Chrissy Redden.
It will be interesting to see how many Spanish fans show up at Casa de Campo, a huge park just across the river from Madrid’s Palacio Real. In 1994, more than 60,000 fans showed up for one of the most crowded World Cups ever.
Headlining the women’s field are Dunlap, defending World Cup overall champion Barbara Blatter, local favorite Marga Fullana, a resurgent Gunn-Rita Dahle and Laurence Leboucher.
In the men’s field, reigning world champion Roland Green and 2000 Olympic champion Miguel Martinez will be trading blows with a deep field of Europeans, including Bart Brentjens, Thomas Frischknecht, Filip Meirhaeghe and Spanish favorite Jose Antonio Hermida.
The 7-km loop course winds up and down short, steep hills in the Casa de Campo, a park popular with weekend mountain bikers, junkies and prostitutes alike. Hopefully the racers won’t have to worry about getting punctures from errant needles. And the prostitutes? Madrid police have reportedly cleared them out, at least for this weekend.
Check back to VeloNews.com all weekend for reports, results and photos.