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By Andrew Hood
Sunday’s opening round of the 2002 World Cup is lining up to be the firstshowdown of the season with all the top guns at the starting line. So far,most of the Euros have been sticking to Continental races, while the NorthAmericans have stayed closer to home at Sea Otter and the NORBA openerlast week at Big Bear.Sixty-eight women and 158 men are competing on a fast, rolling 8km coursein Madrid´s Casa de Campo. World champion Roland Green says he´sready to take on Miguel Martinez, Filip Meirhaeghe and the rest of Europe´sheavy hitters.“The course is fast,” Green said after training on it Saturday. “It’sgoing to be a good race. I’m using semi-slick tires on the front and back,and I have a good set-up for the bike.”The world champion, who arrived in Spain on Thursday, said he’s welladjusted to life in Europe. “The key is to get some good sleep and eatsome food. I like racing in Europe,” he said. “I think I’ll be OK. My onlyworry is that I crashed on my (left ) knee during training (Friday), soI hope it won’t stiffen up. Otherwise I should be fine. Olympic gold medalist Martinez also is ready for his first majorrace of the season. Little Mig has been relatively quiet this spring, splittinghis racing between road-racing appearances and mountain-bike races in Franceand Italy. Martinez confirmed to VeloNews that he won’t be racing in NorthAmerican World Cup races and instead will race on the road in the Tourde Suisse and Tour de France.
“I’m ready to race on the mountain bike,” he said. “I will only racehere and Houffalize (round two). I don’t know how my form will be. I havebeen focusing more on road racing.” On the women’s side, Spain´s Marga Fullana is expected toride well in front of the home crowd. She won a World Cup in El Escorialand the world championship in Sierra Nevada in 2000.”I feel good,” Fullana said before a training ride Friday. “I’ve beenracing a lot in Spain, but I am ready to race against the strongest. Iam always animated to race in front of Spanish fans.”In 1994, an estimated 60,000 fans turned up to watch a World Cup here.Organizers are hoping for an equally large turnout Sunday. The Casa deCampo course – which could be used in the 2012 Olympics, if Madrid winsthe Games bid – features nine punchy climbing sections each lap. A sustainedclimb opens the first 2km, with two sharp descents going into the “El Cruce”section at 4km. The final half of the course is the most challenging, withfour climbs stacked up over 2km, including the most difficult descent atthe “Bajada de la Muerte,” the Drop of Death.It’s unlikely any of the world’s best mountain bikers will be in danger,but it’s sure to be one of the most crowded parts of the course. The finalkilometer is relatively flat coming into the finish corral. Forecastersare calling for a typical Spanish spring day, with temps in the low 80s.