By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
Finally, after what seems like half a lifetime, the 2001 mountain biking season resumes in North America. Stop No. 1 of the NORBA national championship series commences Friday at Snow Summit Resort in Big Bear Lake, California. It’s the 13th time the NORBA series has touched down in these tree-topped mountains just 90 miles from the sprawl of Los Angeles.
Day 1 will feature the men’s and women’s cross country races. The ladies kick things off at 11 a.m. pacific time. The men follow at 2 p.m. The 8.47-mile course at Big Bear is a lung-buster, with a base elevation of 7200 feet and 1200 feet of climbing each lap. The men will do three laps, while the women will go around twice.
Aside from the climbing, the Big Bear course isn’t particularly difficult. Much of the climbing is done on fire roads and there are just a few rocky, technical sections. The weather Thursday was hot and sunny, meaning the course should be nearly 100-percent dry.
The usual cast of characters will be favored to land on the podium at Snow Summit. In the women’s race except a strong ride from Australian Mary Grigson (Subaru-Gary Fisher). She won four of five NORBA cross-country races, plus the series title last year, and is coming off a solid performance at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. At the race in Durango, Colorado, Grigson crushed the field, beating second-place finisher Ruthie Matthes — the defending national champion— by 3:19.
Grigson’s teammate, Canadian Chrissy Redden, RLX Polo Sport’s Jimena Florit, and GT’s Alison Dunlap will likely account for the rest of the podium places. Dunlap has a second and a pair of third-place finishes in World Cup races this year, and said she felt rested and strong when VeloNews ran into her at the airport in Ontario, California on Thursday.
In the men’s race there will be a slew of riders looking to halt the run of defending NORBA cross-country champion Steve Larsen (L.L. Bean-Mongoose). After being left off the 2000 U.S. Olympic mountain-biking team, the always-outspoken Larsen ran off three straight wins to close out the 2000 NORBA season. Along the way he spewed enough bulletin-board material — “When I’m on no one can beat me.” — to last several seasons.
Riders like Travis Brown (Trek-Volkswagen), Tinker Juarez (Volvo-Cannondale), and Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen) are just some of the names who will be looking to serve Larsen a helping of crow.
Green is the current World Cup-standings leader, and his win at World Cup No. 3 in Houffalize, Belgium two weekends ago was the first ever for a Canadian male, and the first by a North American since 1994. Brown, who along with Juarez, earned an Olympic-team berth last year, skipped the European World Cups, but got a runaway win last weekend at the Iron Horse.
Others to watch are Pavel Cherkasov (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Seamus McGrath (Haro-Lee Dungarees), last year’s second and third-place finishers in the final NORBA cross-country standings.
Day 2 at Big Bear will be the only multi-event day, with men’s and women’s short track races set for 3 and 3:30 p.m., followed by the dual slalom finals at 4:30 p.m.
Sunday features the downhill, with the women taking off at 1:30 p.m. followed by the men at 2 p.m.
Check back with VeloNews.com all weekend for race reports, results and photos.
2000 Big Bear winners:Cross country: Kirk Molday, Mary Grigson;Short track: Greg Randolph, Mary Grigson;Dual slalom Chris Kovarik, Cheri Elliot;Downhill: Myles Rockwell, Elke Brutsaert.
2000 overall NORBA winners:Cross country: Steve Larsen, Mary Grigson;Short track: Pavel Cherkasov, Jimena Florit;Dual slalom Brian Lopes, Katrina Miller;Downhill: Eric Carter, Missy Giove.