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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
Unlike baseball or basketball, there’s no official halfway point in themountain biking season. But with three of five NORBAs in the books andthe World Cup slate well underway, it seems like an appropriate time tohand out some midseason awards. So without further ado, here’s the bestand worst from the opening stanza of the 2003 mountain bike season.
So many candidates here that’s it’s hard to pick just one. Right fromthe beginning, at the NORBA opener in Big Bear Lake, there’s been a steadystream and new faces gracing the top of podium. There was Eric Carter’sstunning double that included his first-ever prime time downhill win. Therewas Adrian Bonilla’s upset in the Big Bear short track that ended the Roland/Ryderrun. Then Sue Haywood broke through and won a short track of her own.
Other candidates include young Celine Gros who snatched the DH win atthe Fort William World Cup; American Marla Streb, who has won back-to-backNORBAs; Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, who grabbed the Snowshoe short track, becomingthe first American man to win a NORBA XC or STXC since Kirk Molday in 2001;and of course Mary McConneloug, who scored the most improbable of winsin the Mount Snow cross country last weekend.
But for sheer magnitude, the winner here has got to be Norway’s Gunn-RitaDahle. Sure she came into the season as the reigning world champion. Butto string together wins in the first 7 of 8 races (including two WorldCups) that she’s entered this year is almost beyond belief. Who knows ifshe can keep it going, but right now she’s the runaway MVP.
Again the list of candidates is as long as the number of candidatesfor the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. Tara Llanes broke herfoot in a car accident (more on that later); Lisa Sher crashed in a practicerun at the Mount Snow downhill and ruptured her spleen; Sabrina Jonniercame into the season dinged up, then tore up her chin in West Virginia;Shonny Vanlandingham lost the early portion of her season to a broken collarbone,and on and on.
Still, got to narrow it down some, so we’ll go ahead and pick two. The,err, “winners” are arguably America’s two premier mountain bike racers,Alison Dunlap and Brian Lopes, who are both out for most if not the restof the 2003 season. Lopes went down first, breaking his ankle at Fort William.He’s hoping to get back for the NORBA finals in Durango, but a return intime for world’s is more likely. As for Dunlap she did her damage in WestVirginia when she separated her shoulder in the cross country. It turnedout to be the worst kind of separation — 4th degree — and Dunlap had toundergo what will almost certainly be season ending surgery.
It’s not that Roland Green has been awful. Heck he’s coming off a winat the Mount Snow cross-country and will probably roll through the restof the year like big snowball on a steep hill. But no matter what happens,the opening half of Green’s season was not expected. After crashing onhis face at the Tour de Georgia, Green DNF’d at the opening NORBA XC, andwas no where near the front when it mattered at the first two World Cups.
Surely no one could have been happy about the situation at Alpe d’Huez,where atrocious course conditions led to a rider protest. But we’ve seenrider protests before. Instead the slammer of this year’s season thus farcame before the season even began when it was announced that due to a lackin sponsorship money, there would be no pro prize money at the NORBA NCSraces. No matter what the cause, this left a nasty black-eye on the sportthat won’t fade quickly.
I didn’t make the trip personally, but from all accounts the WorldCup at Fort William, Scotland was as good as it gets. It was a triple,so everybody was there. The courses got good reviews and most importantlya boat-load of fans turned out to watch the races. Just proves that atleast in some parts of the world, mountain-bike racing gets the love itdeserves.
Got this note from Tara Llanes the other day. Sounds like the damagefrom that nasty car accident wasn’t too bad. Here’s what she had to say.
“I went back to my foot specialist and he looked over the CT Scan,”she wrote. “It looks as though it’s just the one bone in my foot. The cuneiform2 and 3 bone. I also told him my two smaller toes were hurting pretty badso he x-rayed them again and sure enough they were both broken. Not thatit makes much of a difference. They were aligned just fine so he didn’t’have to reset anything. It will still take 4-6 weeks.
“To be back for the Grouse Mountain World Cup is my goal and that’sif everything happens just right. If it doesn’t go quite as planned, wellthen obviously I’ll be back just after that. Right now I’m just takingit easy and doing what he wants me to do, which is elevate it a lot andice it. It is still swollen and my toes are still a bit purple and onceI can get the swelling to go away the healing process will be much faster.At this point I’m hoping the swelling should be gone in a few days.
“I may not be able to win a title this year, but I’m going to try andsalvage something and get in the top two or three hopefully. I don’t knowwhat the points look like, but you never know what could happen.”
Pan Am Games team
Following the NORBA at Mount Snow USA Cycling announced the three-riderteam that will be contesting the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, DominicanRepublic in August. As expected reigning U.S. national champion JeremyHorgan-Kobelski was on the squad, but the other two members, Jeremiah Bishopand Mary McConneloug, were a bit of a surprise. But when you consider who’sgoing well right now, you couldn’t argue with the decision. McConnelougjust won in Vermont and Bishop was a career-best third.
Random Mount Snow note
Got this one from our man on the scene, Chris Milliman. Turns out PrimeAlliance roadie and 2002 U.S. cyclo-cross champ Jonathan Page, who recentlysigned a contract to ride with Guerciotti for next year’s ‘cross seasonin Europe, lined up for the men’s cross country in Vermont. After startingat the very back of the pack, Page flatted on the second lap and withdrewfrom the race.
It’s a little known fact…
Lastly got this from the Cannondale gang. Turns out a six-person TVcrew from the Travel Channel visited the their factory in Bedford, Pennsylvanialast week, shooting a segment for a new television series entitled “MadeIn America.” The resulting segment will air early next year when the seriesdebuts.
The TV crew that visited the factory included series’ host John Ratzenberger,best known for his role as mailman Cliff Clavin from the long-running NBCsitcom “Cheers.” Ratzenberger and the TV crew did on-camera interviewswith a number of Cannondale employees.
According to Kathleen Cromley, Travel Channel Executive Producer, “‘MadeIn America’ is a celebration of the best products produced here in theU.S. People sometimes forget that many of the finest products in the worldare produced in America, and the series will serve as a wonderful reminderthat innovative design and state-of-the-art craftsmanship are still verymuch alive in the U.S.”
Other companies that will be profiled on the series include Harley-Davidson,piano maker Steinway & Sons, and Louisville Slugger.