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2000 Mountain Biking World Cup
2000 Mountain Biking World Cup 2000 Mountain Biking World Cup
2000 Mountain Biking World Cup 2000 Mountain Biking World Cup
2000 Mountain Biking World Cup

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Homeboy Filip
News: It's True – Mountain Bikers Take Drugs

Huffin' It in Houffalize
Meirhaeghe, Fullana Firsts

Houffalize, Belgium: April 30, 2000

Thirty thousand fans descended upon the scenic town of Houffalize this last weekend in April to kick off the spring series of European World Cup mountain bike races. They wanted speed and action and that's what they got when one of their own, Filip Meirhaeghe, joined forces with teammate Marga Fullana to take round three of the cross-country series in style.

Springtime in Europe is a special season for cycling. All around the continent, fans crowd steep hillsides, both paved and muddy, to watch cyclists ride by in complete agony, yet with surprising grace. And when it comes to mountain biking, no location on earth brings them out each year like the little town of Houffalize.

MEN: FILIP! FILIP! Homeboy Does Good
There was their boy, Filip Meirhaeghe (BEL, Subaru-Specialized), grinding up a steep hillside with thousands of cheering fans just inches from him, filling the forest with their chants of "Filip! Filip!" as he worked his way up from a 94th starting position to win Sunday afternoon's race.

It was an impossible task to begin with. Entering this weekend with no World Cup points due to a DNF in round one and skipping round two, Meirhaeghe found himself racing a qualifier on Saturday — just for the privilege of wrecking himself on Sunday. He placed 3rd in that two-lap race, earning a spot near the back of the pack for the main race.

With last year's winner Christophe Dupouey (FRA, Team Giant) battling with countryman and sometimes-ally Miguel Martinez (FRA, Full Dynamix) up front — the two of them hosting a cadre of various would-be's — Meirhaeghe worked his way up to the elite frontrunners within one lap. "I got lucky," he told us later, "there was a crash in front of me at the start and that helped me get into the top-40 by lap one."

By lap three, he was in 2nd position, while 3rd-overall Bas Van Dooren (NED, Be-One) rode alone in 4th, while a trio of chasers bore down on the leaders some ten seconds further back. That group — consisting of all-time great Thomas Frischknecht (SUI, Ritchey-Yahoo!), newcomer Lado Fumic (GER, German National Team) and Team Giant acquisition Tom Larsen (NOR) — paced the lead for another lap, while yet another new face worked his own magic.

Jose Antonio Hermida (ESP, Bianchi Albacom) had a good start, but flatted in the third lap. He then moved back to 8th position, and finally the lead by lap four. Martinez, meanwhile, dropped back to 5th while Frischy rode in 4th.

It was a blur of riders clicking off 9km laps in 23 minutes, moving so fast that one small mistake could be the end of it. Such is modern World Cup racing — riders come and go in a flash, and you never know who's going to be this week's elated, this week's dejected.

By the end of the race, Meirhaeghe had attacked off the front, leaving Dupouey and Hermida in his dust at the top of a long paved feed zone climb. He quickly had a 40-second gap, which he held to the finish line while a hoard of Belgian press awaited his arrival. Second place was hotly contested as Hermida and Dupouey sprinted down the last section of pavé to the line, Dupouey taking 2nd.

Martino Fruet (ITA, Ritchey-Yahoo!) looked mortal again this week, finishing 23rd but holding on to the leader's jersey by 11 points over Dupouey.

WOMEN: Dutch Newcomer Chases Fullana
It was difficult to figure out what was the more compelling story of the women's race. Was it the outstanding ride of Dutch newcomer Corine Dorland (NED, Be-One) who finished 2nd and whose career arch resembles more and more the talented (but missing) Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR, DBS)?

Fullana's First
Or was it America's great hope, Mrs. Alison Dunlap (USA, Team GT), who went off the front in lap one like a rocket, dropping the field by 27 seconds, and looking stronger than ever, only to flat a tire and finish 4th?

We suppose it was actually the dominant ride of Marga Fullana (ESP, Subaru-Specialized), who had been riding in 2nd position, then capitalized on Dunlap's misfortune to grab the lead and never let go. Fullana got a good fight from Dorland, and even tried to shake the blonde but could only get 21 seconds on her by race's end — only 21 seconds, a long time though in this particular race.

Fullana and Dorland were never far apart up front, while Mary Grigson (AUS, Gary Fisher/Saab) and Paola Pezzo (ITA, Gary Fisher Saab) were right together in 3rd and 4th for most of the race. That went on until Dunlap worked her way back into the top-five, displacing Pezzo to 6th by the end of the race.

Grigson, who won round one and captured the leader's jersey today with her effort, finished a powerful 3rd behind Dorland and, like Dunlap, has now been on all three podiums. Behind Grigson was Elsbeth Vink (NED, Subaru-Specialized), Dorland's rival for a spot on the Netherland Olympic squad. She made a good go of it for 5th place, her best finish ever.

Most teams will load up the trucks and make the short drive to St. Wendel, Germany for this weekend's race, training on the course and living the Euro life for another week while tens of thousands of German fans descend on that particular small town. No doubt next week will hold a few surprises as well.

Ari Cheren, on his own program for MountainZone.com

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