1999World Cup Mountain Biking
Houffalize, Belgium
Sept. 4-5, 1999

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Cross-Country Season Ends with Repeat Performances
Sydor and Evans Take 2nd Titles, Fullana and Dupouey Win
Houffalize: Cross-Country #8

The cross-country mountain bike season wrapped up this weekend in grand style in the small country of Belgium as the Diesel-UCI World Cup ended its ninth season with spectacular racing on all fronts. Canadian Alison Sydor won her third World Cup overall and Australian Cadel Evans his second, both riding for the dominant Volvo-Cannondale team.

Alison Sydor WC title #3 How Sweet Sydor Is
While Evans and Sydor celebrated a second year of World Cup titles, Spain's Marga Fullana (ESP, Mountain Dew/Specialized) and Christophe Dupouey (FRA) accentuated their seasons with crushing victories in the final round of racing.

Houffalize is a small town at the bottom of a valley, surrounded by dense forest and open fields. Site of some of WWII's biggest battles, the rolling hills are alive with the ghosts of the past as well as the thriving beat of their newest battles – mountain bike racing. So popular is the sport here that in its seventh year of World Cup racing, '99's edition brought out some 40,000 fans to all corners of the long (10km) track.

Conditions were perfect all weekend; sunny skies and warm weather brought out the crowds and kept the track fast and smooth. As the final chance to test form against rival competitors, these World Cup finals served to both end the season and begin the hunt for next week's World Championship dreams.

Dupouey Crushes, Evans Repeats

Dupouey knows about fulfilling dreams – he did it once last year in Mont Sainte-Anne when he won the World Championship, and again this weekend when he battled back from adversity to pummel the field in Sunday's race.

Cadel Evans Cadel Evans Owns The Globe
While points-leader Evans rode safely in a chase group with rival Miguel Martinez (FRA, Full Dynamix) to seal up the overall title, Dupouey proved himself again the best in the sport by putting an unbelievable four-minute gap on the field at one point. He eventually beat runner-up Michael Rasmussen (DEN, Gary Fisher Saab) by 1:32 at the 50 km race's end after a most impressive performance.

Dupouey lost his father at the beginning of the season and struggled all year with the emotional scars – as well as equipment problems. Racing for the now-defunct Sunn squad, he removed all sponsor markings from his uniform and bike, making a strong case for any potential sponsors next season. He attacked in the first lap and, by the third of five laps, had 3:50 on a five-man chase group. For the rest of the race, he would never be threatened.

Only Rasmussen even came close. The Danish racer dropped his four other competitors in the fourth lap, making it to over a minute closer to Dupouey than anyone else and finishing the day in second place.

Next across the finish line was Evans, who, after riding with Martinez and his teammate Marco Bui in a weakened group, attacked in the final lap to finish approximately 30 seconds behind Rasmussen. Martinez finished 4th, while another Danish rider - Jesper Agergaard (Be-One) – surged from 13th to 5th. Rune Hoydahl (NOR, Giant) had also been a member of the chase group, but faded to an eventual 8th-place finish.

Evans could have finished out of the top-10 Sunday and still won the overall – so long as Martinez didn't win. So Evans played it smart and conservatively, finishing ahead of his diminutive rival and securing the overall title for the second year in a row. Now he has the Worlds to think about, as he remains without a victory in the prestigious year-end event.

Fullana Makes it Three, Sydor Pulls a Hat Trick

Women's racing this season was about as close as it gets, with Alison Sydor and Gunn-Rita Dahle pitched in a tight battle for the overall title. For Sydor it was a third championship on the line, while for the less experienced Dahle it was the chance for her first-ever title after just three seasons racing.

The scenario for Dahle to upset Sydor and take the overall was this: Dahle had to win, with Sydor finishing 4th or worse, or if Dahle finished 2nd Sydor had to finish 6th or worse. No other women were in contention, setting up a potential battle royale between these two powerful riders.

Alison Sydor WC title #3 Sydo-down
But Marga Fullana spoiled the party for the points leaders and took her season's third win in four tries. With Dahle relegated to 2nd place and Sydor holding steady for a 4th-place finish, the lock was in and Volvo-Cannondale got their second World Cup title for '99.

Fullana hates to travel, so she missed this season's four races off the continent. She still managed 6th overall, proving herself perhaps the fastest rider on the circuit. Attacking early and often on the long climbs, Marga took the lead on the opening climb, never relinquishing it for the remaining 36 kilometers, over nearly four-laps of racing.

Dahle chased hard, holding Fullana to within 50 seconds for most of the race before fading a bit in the final lap and finishing 1:17 back. Since Sydor was safely back in 4th, Dahle's mission was simple – win the race, win the title. But Fullana was on a tear and Dahle had to settle for second overall… still an amazing achievement in only her third season of racing.

Third place went to Switzerland's Barbara Blatter (Scott/One-Life), who took her best-ever World Cup finish after passing the fading Sydor in the final lap - after riding in 4th all afternoon. Blatter lives in Minneapolis with her boyfriend, but returned to train in Switzerland this season and has improved greatly on the circuit.

Sydor finished 4th with a bit of luck on her side, securing her third career World Cup title ('96, '98, '99) to go with her three World Championship titles ('94, '95, '96). She said 1999 was her toughest World Cup season ever, with just 50 points finally separating her from Dahle and the series coming down to the minute that separated Dahle from Fullana.

Next up, the big-daddy of them all, the UCI World Championships in Åre, Sweden.

MountainZone.com correspondents, loving the Trappist Monks in Belgium

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