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 2000 Mountain Biking World Cup
2000 Mountain Biking World Cup

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The start
Grigson, Van Dooren Start It Off Right
Tour Doubly Important in Olympic Dream Season

Napa, California: March 26, 2000

Rejuvenated and, excuse the pun, effervescent, the UCI mountain bike World Cup kicked off its second decade of racing in style when the cross-country tour rolled over the startline at the classy Domaine Chandon vineyards in Napa Valley.

Australian Mary Grigson and Bas Van Dooren were the day's biggest winners, but so were the thousands of spectators who soaked in the sun and champagne (sorry, sparkling wine) in California's lush wine country.

In addition to the new title sponsor, Tissot Watches, and the 100th anniversary of the UCI to be celebrated in 2000, the XC tour has gold in its collective eye this season. The competitors are racing for the World Cup title for sure, but also for spots on their nations' Olympic teams and, if all goes exceedingly well, a medal come September.

The Olympics are the overwhelming theme of the XC circuit, and all the riders talk about when you ask them about their race. Regardless of how the World Cup, or even the World Championships play into their season's plans, it's all about the Olympics. So when Mary Grigson of Australia wins the first World Cup, you instantly think, "hmmm, she's Australian and the Olympics are in Sydney..."

Grigson throttled the women's field Sunday morning, breaking off the front of a seven-person pack and then dropping them like a bad habit. Actually they were a bad habit, as the group couldn't rally a counterattack and reel in the powerful Aussie. It was a risky move on her part, especially with the course's rough conditions, and because she pulled ahead relatively early in the race.

Grigson had been riding with the usual suspects, including Alison Sydor (CAN, Volvo-Cannondale), Paola Pezzo (ITA, Gary Fisher Saab), Marga Fullana (ESP, Subaru-Specialized), Laurence Leboucher (FRA, GT) and Alison Dunlap (USA, Team GT) all World Cup winners at some point. Also present were newcomers to the front Chrissy Redden (CAN, Gary Fisher/Saab) and Barbara Blatter (SUI, Scott USA). Missing was Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR, DBS) who just doesn't have the engine yet this season.

The pack of women had distanced themselves from the field in two fast start loops, all vying for position going into the long singletrack section where, unique to this brand-new course, you simply cannot pass. It had the pros worried, so they hauled ass toward the narrow pass like a caravan of crazed pioneers. They had five laps, however, to settle in and contest the win.

Once things settled it was easy enough to pass when you were ready. And only Grigson seemed ready when she said "buh-bye" to the other ladies and promptly put a 25-second gap on the field after Fullana flatted a tire. The other women may have been surprised at their new leader, but didn't take long to react.

Alison Dunlap (USA, Team GT) made her own attack for the lead, getting to within two minutes of Grigson by race's end. Sydor was next to chase, but couldn't make up all that ground and finished 2:10 back. Pezzo was next, happy with her 4th place finish, with her new pink bike and her new pink outfit.

All the action and intrigue at the front of the women's race made it the more exciting event of the day, showing not only that the women's field is getting deeper, but has become just as big a crowd-pleaser as the faster, and larger, men's field.

While 73 women rolled up for the morning's race, a full army of 139 men rumbled around the two start loops with seven full laps in the early afternoon, making for more than 30 miles of racing in less than two hours.

Van Dooren
After his big win in last week's Sea Otter Classic, Bas Van Dooren (NED, Be-One) was the rider to watch, and he didn't take long to go up front, racing at full speed with several other people before taking the win. Early in the race it was Filip Meirhaeghe (BEL, Subaru-Specialized) off the front, but Filip was forced to drop out after an asthma attack.

Then Miguel Martinez (FRA, Full Dynamix) made a contest of it for the last four laps, staying with Bas while a chase group tried to make its own ground. Michael Rasmussen (DEN, Haro/Lee Dungarees) had done well for three laps, but eventually faded to 16th. Luca Bramati (ITA, Scott) also looked good early on, but neither could keep up with the scorching pace of the leaders.

While Bas and Miguel flew off the front to the tune of 41 seconds by lap 4, two surprises emerged toward the front. One was Marcel Heller (SUI, Arrow Swiss Bike) who, in his first World Cup since becoming a full-time pro, finished 3rd and had everyone asking "who was that?" Roland Green (CAN, GT), who often looks good in the early season, held on for 4th and a great World Cup result. Marco Bui (ITA, Full Dynamix), Thomas Frischknecht (SUI, Ritchey-Yahoo!) and Christophe Dupouey (FRA, Giant) rode together in a secondary chase group.

By the end of the afternoon the race had claimed plenty of riders, as only 69 finished on the lead lap and nearly 7 minutes separated the top 20 finishers. The course was dusty, dry and bumpy, prompting many men and women to roll out the full suspension bikes, making this event possibly the most suspended world cup ever.

While some new names appeared in the top-10 this week (ever heard of Roberto Lezaun or Lado Fumic?), others were notably absent. Two Giant riders, a fatigued Jerome Chiotti, and Rune Hoydahl, had a DNF and a 17th, respectively, while others like Dupouey, Sauser and Rasmussen are, hopefully, just pacing themselves. World Cup champion Cadel Evans (AUS, Volvo-Cannondale) is out for two months with a broken collarbone, suffered during practice for Friday night's street crit.

As usual, Tinker Juarez (USA, Volvo-Cannondale) was the top American, at 35th place, with Steve Larsen (USA, Mongoose L.L. Bean) 38th and Travis Brown (USA, Trek Volkswagen) 48th.

Next stop for the circus, the spring break capital of Mazatlan, Mexico, hosts the tour as it goes south of the border for the first time. Check back next weekend.

Ari Cheren, downing the sparkling wine for MountainZone.com

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