1999 World Cup Mountain Biking
Les Gets, France
May 22-23, 1999

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French World Cup a Muddy Disc-race
Peat and Chausson Slide into Victories
Les Gets, France: DH/DS #1

Cédric Gracia (FRA, Volvo-Cannondale) may have put it best when he said in pre-race press conference: "In boat racing, you donít push the boat, so in downhilling you shouldnít push the bike." Unfortunately for the silver medal finisher and a couple hundred of his colleagues, thatís exactly what happened when a springtime storm hit the French Alps and created the muddiest World Cup downhill in memory. They could have used a boat...

Pro Mt. Biker Anne-Caroline Chausson A-C Chausson
Qualifying, which along with the finals, took place on Sunday instead of last seasonís Saturday semis, really was a pathetic representation of the sport. Bikes were packed with mud, forcing riders to sometimes drag their dirt-laden sleds through the glop and even brought one female racer to tears on course. Had conditions not changed, it would have been an Eurosport-televised embarrassment.

Luckily for menís winner Steve Peat (GBR, GT), conditions finally dried up enough Sunday afternoon for him to actually ride the course and spray the competition with the same mud. Anne-Caroline Chausson (FRA, Volvo-Cannondale) had slid down a couple hours earlier, starting what will, hopefully, be another great seasonís rivalry with Missy Giove (USA, Foes/Azonic) Ė the dayís runner up.

"But surely the race was over for the Frenchwoman, right? Wrong. At the next split, she was an astonishing 16 seconds ahead of Giove..."

You could practically hear the sigh of relief from the Volvo-Cannondale Team truck as Gioveís replacement showed she can win on any bike. Giove, on her new Foes, had a great run, beating the then-leading time by over 15 seconds. Looking like the Missile of two seasons ago, she sat in the leaderís chair and watched her nemesis crash hard on course, letting out a yell of joy as she figured the race must be hers.

But Chausson, with the help of some fans, managed to drag her bike back up the hill, back on track, and unravel the tape in order to continue. But surely the race was over for the Frenchwoman, right? Wrong. At the next split, she was an astonishing 16 seconds ahead of Giove, who slumped a bit in her chair, realizing it was going to be a long season.

While Chausson roosted the field by over 17 seconds, Giove and third-place finisher Marla Streb (USA, Yeti) were separated by less than a second — serving yet another wake-up call to Strebís tremendous talent. Nearly 15 more seconds back was Sari Jorgensen (SUI, Tomac/Manitou), with Katja Repo (FIN, GT-Finland) rounding off the podium.

Gracia Wins but Peat Pedaled
The menís event looked to a be a good one, as the track set a bit and bikes arrived at the finish line much cleaner as the finals progressed. Swedish mudder Johan Engström (SWE, Volvo-Cannondale) had qualified fastest, with Peat close behind. The big surprise was Nicolas Vouilloz (FRA, Sunn), who qualified 24th — slow even for his strategy. He did blow away the current leader by about 26 seconds midway through the race, but swore his time wouldnít hold...and it didnít.

Pro Mt. Biker Shaun Palmer's Bike Palmer's Ride
Shaun Palmer (USA, Mountain Dew/Specialized) was the first to take a serious whack at his rivalís time, no doubt fired up by the very close second he took here two seasons ago. Or maybe it was the .15 second gap he lost the í96 World Championships to him... either way, the Palm was flying and, like Giove, looking strong as both these colorful Americans tried to upset the coolheaded Frenchies.

No luck yet again, as Palmer missed Vouillozís time by a mere six-hundredths of a second, rolling past Nicoís throne with the look of fire in his eyes. Vouilloz may have squirmed, but it would take more than some napalm to unseat his run.

It took his rival Gracia to do it, and Nicoís former Sunn teammate flew down the hill, taking advantage of the ever-improving conditions (and some sweet inside lines) to eclipse his time by several seconds at the mid-race time split. But Gracia mysteriously crashed on the last turn, losing all but sixteen-hundredths of a second by the time he rolled in the mud and continued to the finish line as the new leader.
Steve Peat Steve Peat

Then Peat came down the hill. He had gotten reports from Brit mates in the pits that the course was drying, so he put his SPD pedals back on his new GT I-drive DH bike and removed the Michelin spike tires everyone else was running. That, and some serious motivation, carried him down the hill in what was the most dominant run of his career — a long-ass World Cup DH, in France, in the season opener. It was huge.

So Peaty got a big mug of beer from GT staffers on the podium to go with his Diesel leaderís jersey... and lucky new helmet from Troy Lee, featuring a beer mug on the side with space to notch off wins. After winning Big Bearís NORBA opener, Peat has now won five races of various sorts in a row Ė proving himself a serious threat on the World Cup.

Dual Even Muddier
Pro Mt. Biker Brian Lopes Brian Lopes
Dual racing took Saturday afternoon in Les Gets but was a bigger muddy mess than Sundayís DH. Brian Lopes (USA, Volvo-Cannondale) stayed fast and true, beating upstart Filip Polc (SVK, Seat) in the finals with a beauty inside move. Katrina Miller (AUS, Jamis) won the womenís event after narrowly dispensing of Leigh Donovan (USA, Intense) in the semiís, finally beating another upstart — Britainís Emma Guy (GBR, Raleigh) - in the finals. Miller and Lopes are the defending world cup champs.

Downhill action now heads for the warzone — Maribor, Slovenia in the former Yugoslavia. Donít expect to see Lopes in his U.S. stars Ďn stripes jersey, or hear U.S. and British teams brag about their nationality too much. Tech trucks will roll through the border en masse Thursday, but the racing should be great. Check back next weekend.

MountainZone.com Correspondents, wishing they all had dual Canadian citizenship.

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