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Showdown: Dunlap and Spitz explain what they’ll do to win the World Cup overall

It's Friday morning in Les Gets, France, and Alison Dunlap and Sabine Spitz are sitting on opposite sides of the Hotel Stella dinning hall having breakfast. The pair will exchange pleasantries before the meal is over, then head out with their team managers for another day of training. It's a routine that's been repeated for the last couple days, after both riders arrived here in the French Alps, following last weekend's world championships in Kaprun, Austria. Two days from now things will not be so friendly, though. With the final cross-country race of the World Cup season set for Sunday,

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor

It’s Friday morning in Les Gets, France, and Alison Dunlap and Sabine Spitz are sitting on opposite sides of the Hotel Stella dinning hall having breakfast. The pair will exchange pleasantries before the meal is over, then head out with their team managers for another day of training. It’s a routine that’s been repeated for the last couple days, after both riders arrived here in the French Alps, following last weekend’s world championships in Kaprun, Austria.

Two days from now things will not be so friendly, though. With the final cross-country race of the World Cup season set for Sunday, Dunlap has slim a 75-point lead in the chase for the overall title and Spitz is the woman chasing her.

VeloNews caught up with both riders following their morning meal, and discussed a variety of topics including the brutal world championships race (Dunlap dropped out, Spitz finished third) their view of the tame Les Gets course (Dunlap is relieved, Spitz wishes it were tougher) and what their plan is for Sunday’s race (win). Here are the highlights starting with Dunlap.

VeloNews: You broke your wrist in August and raced the NORBA finals in a cast. Give us an update of where things stand now.
Alison Dunlap: It’s definitely still sore, but I trained on the course yesterday without any padding or support. There’s little improvement everyday, but there’s things I still can’t do like rotating it. If someone throws something to me and I try to catch in my left hand it’s a major pain. Luckily it’s not a motion I do mountain biking. The jarring is still pretty painful, though. But this really isn’t a rough course and even that downhill is not the bone jarring super fast descent that we’ve had in the past.

VN: The wrist isn’t the only injury you’ve had to deal with. Tell us about what happened to your leg.
AD: It’s no big deal now, but I crashed last Tuesday training and I didn’t really go down; just came off my bike and came around and grazed my chainring and ended up with four pretty good cuts. Two had to have stitches. It was painful for a couple days.

VN: How about your race at world’s. Pretty tough day?
AD: It was actually kind of funny, because I was hoping the night before that it would be miserably cold and pissing down rain, because I race well in those conditions and there’s some really skinny riders that don’t like that stuff. And sure enough an hour before the start it started dumping and I was pretty excited. But the course was just a disaster. There was a lot of running. I think everybody crashed at least four or five times.

Just like here in Les Gets there was a long grassy hillside that the course traverses. In the dry during practice it was a little tricky because you could feel your back wheel slipping. But with the rain it was virtually impossible to ride across. You’re just waiting because you know you’re going to go down. It’s just a mater of when. I slid out and slid probably 15 feet down the slope. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but it wrecked my deraileur so I didn’t have any shifting. I was stuck in my granny gear. I tried to fix it, but the chain went down to my 12 and that was it. So I ran a couple climbs, stopped again and fiddled with it some more and was able to get my deraileur hanger bent back just enough, and was able to start riding. At that point I was back in the 30s racing with girls I’ve never seen before, and it was tough because I wasn’t there just to finish, I was there to try to get a medal or win it again.

So I started thinking should I drop out or should I keep going. But I’ve never dropped out of a race so I was just like go finish. I was with a couple other U.S. riders and they’re weren’t quitting, so I figured I should suck it up and keep going. But when I came around the feed zone on the third lap my coach Dean Golich was like, “You’re done.” There were too many chances to get hurt again. The wrist is still real tender and this weekend is really important. When he pulled me out I was like “phew.” It was truly absolutely miserable out there. It was definitely the hardest world’s I’ve ever raced.

VN: What’s your take on the course here in Les Gets?
AD: It’s a lot of climbing and it’s not very technical which is a nice break. We’ve had a lot of really hard races this year. This one is like riding on a sponge because the ground is super saturated and there’s a bunch of places that are covered in wood chips and there’s lots of grassy sections. It’s much more doable than the course last week.

VN: What’s the strategy for Sunday’s race?
AD: I’d like to go out and win it, but I’m definitely going to have to be aware of what everyone else is doing. Luckily Sabine is the only one I’m going to have to watch really closely. [Annabella] Stropparo is pretty far behind. Either I have to go for the win or just stay close to Sabine the whole race. I don’t know what will happen yet. I’ll just have to see how the race goes.

VN: What would this title mean to you?
AD: It’d be really exciting. Other than an Olympic medal this is the only thing I haven’t accomplished in my career yet. It’s a really big goal and I’m so close. I’ve never been this close before.

VN: What’s your weather preference for Sunday.
AD: For this course I hope it’s dry. It would be really tough in rain. Most of the races have been really hard this year. Mentally I’m thrilled to have an easy course. Last week was such a mental strain because it was so tough and so scary. Everything went wrong last week. Now I’m just excited to have a race where I don’t have to get to the top of the hill and say “Oh my gosh, how am I going to get down this thing.”


VeloNews: Sabine, it was your second straight bronze medal at a world championships. Tell us about your day.
Sabine Spitz: In the morning when I wake up I think maybe it will rain and I was liking it because I was hoping for a little bit of rain to make the course more technical. But I was hoping for a little bit of rain and it was more like flooding, and it was quite too much.

At the beginning of the race I tried to ride passive and when the breakaway started I just followed. But on the second lap I had some problems with my brakes and couldn’t brake with front brake. I had to stop and it took a couple seconds to figure out and fix it. That was the time when I lost touch with the top riders and I couldn’t get the gap shorter and catch back on the rest of the race.

VN: What will your strategy be come Sunday?
SS: I’ve looked at the points and how I have to finish the race to get overall, but it’s not so easy. During the race who knows what happens to you. Alison is a very strong rider and she went out of world’s on the second lap, which maybe is to her advantage.

VN: What do you think of the Les Gets course?
SS: It’s a very powerful course and if it rains it will be even more so. It could be a lot of running and it will be more like a cyclo-cross race. I’d rather have a more technical course, but this is very good for spectators. They can see riders many times, but I think there is too much grass and not enough trails through the woods.