By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
There’s nothing that says what happened at the European championships will have any bearing on next week’s world championships. But there were certainly a few things that jumped out from the week’s worth of racing in Graz, Austria.
For starters there was Gunn-Rita Dahle, who won yet another big race, and is on her way to putting together the greatest single season in women’s cross-country racing history. Right now that honor goes to Juli Furtado who in 1993 ran the table in the NORBA series and won nine of 10 World Cups. But one thing Furtado didn’t win was the world championship (Paola Pezzo took that), meaning if Dahle can come through two Sunday’s from now, her 2003 campaign has to be considered the best ever. Too bad for Dahle that this isn’t an Olympic year.
In the deep and ultra-competitive elite men’s cross-country, things got even more muddled after young Swiss rider Ralph Näf bested a field that included Julien Absalon, Filip Meirhaeghe and Roel Paulissen, who have all won World Cup races this year. Up to this point Näf was best known for his silver medal in the under-23 race at last year’s world’s. But now he’s thrust himself into the mix for a world’s crown that could be won by at least seven different riders — Christoph Sauser, Ryder Hesjedal and of course Roland Green are also strong contenders.
The other notable performance from Graz was that of Anne-Caroline Chausson. The amazing Frenchwoman has essentially taken the year off from racing, contesting only one World Cup (Alpe d’Huez). Yet she still had little trouble crushing the competition in Austria, beating second-place finisher Marielle Saner by 12 seconds. Of course the field did not include the threesome of Sabrina Jonnier, Tracy Moseley and Fionn Griffiths, who were all contesting the final race of the Jeep King of the Mountains series. Still, if I were setting the odds for Lugano I wouldn’t think twice about making Chausson the favorite.
The men’s downhill winner at the Euro’s was former Nicolas Vouilloz protégé Julien Camellini. But without downhill top dogs Cédric Gracia or Steve Peat competing (they were also at the KoM), it’s hard to get too excited about Camellini.
Speaking of the King of the Mountains series, a somewhat surprising turn had Dutchman Bas De Bever emerging as the overall series winner, along with Frenchwoman Sabrina Jonnier. De Bever earned the win in part by taking second to Wade Bootes at the finals in Kirkwood. The series win earned De Bever and Jonnier each a two-year lease on a Jeep Wrangler X (swappable for cash we hope).
In the team competition (this thing has a lot of layers), it was the Australian pairing of Bootes and Katrina Miller who grabbed the $10,000 bonus and new Infinity sound systems.
Lastly was the individual competition for the last race, which saw Bootes and Great Britain’s Tracy Moseley victorious. For that each was awarded a Fender guitar plus cash.
Bottom line was that the KoM handed out $100,000, and got some national TV exposure for a sport in desperate need of just that. So a big thanks to Jeep and event-promoter Eclipse TV, and let’s all hope they’re back next year.
Big victory for IMBA
Latest news from IMBA was a big one, as the fat-tire advocacy organization announced that it had helped broker a deal that will allow mountain bikes on the Cactus Forest Trail at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona. The 2.5-mile trail — the first legal singletrack open to bikes in a National Park — was closed in April 2002, but will be reopened to bicycle use on September 19.
Cactus Forest had been a successful shared-use model for more than a decade, but was declared off-limits to bikes when an environmental responsibility group challenged its legality, saying that the Park Service didn’t follow agency regulations when it opened the trail to bicyclists in1992.
Off-road National Park bicycling opportunities fall under a rule that mandates a lengthy process to open any trail to bicycle use. Park Service officials say this process often takes three years. This time, however, the NPS completed the Cactus Forest review in less than 16 months. The final rule that set the stage for the trail’s reopening was posted in the Federal Register on August 20.
“We’re glad the trail is about to reopen,” said IMBA executive director Tim Blumenthal. “But when we review all the steps that had to be followed, we come to one conclusion: What a waste of taxpayer money and Park Service staff time.
“The Cactus Forest Trail has been ridden safely and without resource impacts for 11 years. The Park Service conducted public hearings before opening it and monitored the trail carefully during its first year. Local mountain bikers helped maintain it. The trail has been successful from day one and should never have been closed.”
IMBA continues to work with the National Park Service to improve bicycle access on some National Park dirt roads, doubletracks and trails, saying that it views mountain biking as a solution that gets visitors out of their cars, outdoors, and away from congested parking lots and visitor centers.