The Worlds: Overall
So Hot, So Cold
August 28-September 1, 2002 Kaprun, Austria
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The UCI Mountain Bike World Championships is the biggest event in mountain bike racing, and Kaprun is one of its oldest venues. Crowning the planet's best downhill (DH), four-cross (4X) and cross-country (XC) racers in one exhausting weekend, this year's 13th Worlds awarded the prized rainbow jersey to only a select few.
Everyone was going for it in these winner-take-all events, and the result was a spectacular last weekend in the mountains of Austria, just outside Salzburg near the legendary ski towns of Kitzbuhel and Innsbruck.
Kaprun boasts a massive hydroelectric station, supplying electricity to the whole of Europe. Yeah it's a clichè, but the fact is that Kaprun was supplying more than just water-generated power to the world this weekend. Massive crowds of paying spectators descended on this small village to witness the primetime spectacle, sponsored by telecom giants T-Mobile and Siemens.
The Americans earned just three medals this year as Brian Lopes (USA, Fox/GT) earned gold in the 4X, while Eric Carter (USA, Mongoose) took the bronze. Missy Giove (USA, Global Racing Team) also took bronze in the downhill, a good result for the '94 champ.
France was again powerful in the men's and women's downhills thanks to gold-medal runs by 10-time champions Nicolas Vouilloz (Vouilloz Racing Team) and Anne-Caroline Chausson (Volvo-Cannondale). But change is in the air, as Vouilloz announced his retirement and Chausson's Volvo sponsors confirmed their departure from the sport.
France won the Under-23 (U-23) men's cross-country race after Julien Absalon (Motorex-Bianchi) dominated a brutal mudfest. But it was Canada's Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen) who earned the toughest win in the senior men's XC, while Norway's Gunn-Rita Dahle (Merida International) was golden in women's XC racing after a heartbreaking loss last year.
The weather was bipolar this weekend; laying on the sun and blue skies for Saturday's downhill and 4X, and then dumping rain and mud all over Sunday's XC. But in the end, it worked out perfectly, resulting in a fast DH and a dramatic XC. And it was all brought to the world via the best TV coverage ever seen in the history of the sport.
Even the Formula One event in Spa, Belgium, couldn't overshadow these good-looking and bad-ass MTB Worlds. The television broadcast was hosted by Austria's national network, ORF, and it made sure the rest of the world knew about it, televising the races live across Europe and beaming their signal directly into 36 countries through the F1 TV trucks via satellite. If you get a chance to see this one on TV (OLN in the USA or Eurosport), watch it.
Kaprun, home of the infamous Dorffest, knows how to throw a party, and this year was no different with concerts, DJs and plenty of mayhem at the famous Baum Bar to keep the police busy. But the late-night shenanigans of the athletes were nothing compared to their on-course performances. And we were trackside for every big event...
Ari Cheren, MountainZone.com Correspondent