1999 World Cup Mountain Biking
Sydney, Australia
April 10-11, 1999

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Aussies Find Silver Lining
Sydney, Australia: Cross-Country #2

The Diesel-UCI Mountain Bike World Cup took its second step of an eight-move dance this weekend when 7,000 fans came out to Fairfield Farm, 22 km from Sydney, to have a look-see at the new Olympic course for the 2000 Games.

What they saw was encouraging; hometown heroes Cadel Evans (AUS, Volvo-Cannondale) and Mary Grigson (AUS, A.I.S.) each taking second place in their races. Winners for the weekend were newcomer Gregory Vollet (FRA, Bianchi Martini) and veteran Alison Sydor (CAN, Volvo-Cannondale), who hammered home strong wins and got the inside edge for next year’s games.

Gregory Vollet Vollet Victory
After a street race in Sydney’s Darling Harbor Thursday afternoon (won by Canadians Chrissy Redden (Ritchey-Yahoo!) and Polo Sport’s Andreas Hestler), the main event got underway Saturday with a good ol’ fashioned whipping by Canadian Alison Sydor (Volvo Cannondale). After two lackluster showings at Sea Otter and Napa, some were wondering if she still had the fire this season. Any doubts were quickly put to rest after she won by a minute and gave herself a huge mental boost going into the 2000 games. She also won her 15th world cup race and vaulted to first overall in the ’99 series.

Weather was sunny for women’s racing on Saturday, but evening rains Saturday night led to a cloudy Sunday. The new Olympic track is 7km long, over which the women raced four laps and two start loops, and the men 7 laps with one start loop.

The course’s design — an intricate loop which winds around a working animal farm — was well received by most riders and has an innovative mix of technical sections as well as fast open riding. It only gains about 1,000 feet of vertical per lap, but has a great design which keeps riders in view for much of each lap, including a scenic start loop full of undulating rollers and Sydney’s skyline in the background.

Alison Sydor Sydor's Back
The women made two big start loops in the grass before heading out for four full laps. By that time a lead group had formed, with the usual suspects up front. But Sydor had ten seconds on second place within the first lap, and increased the gap steadily until she finished nearly a minute ahead of second place Mary Grigson (AUS, A.I.S.).

And who, you ask, is Mary Grigson? She’s one of the Australian Institute of Sport athletes, trained by the same system that produced Cadel Evans. Grigson was in the top five for most of the race and methodically picked off riders to a silver medal. Chrissy Redden (CAN, Ritchey/Yahoo) had been in second place early, but slowly faded to finish in 5th. Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR, DBS) also rode in second for much of the day, but faded to finish third.

Cadel Evans Cadel Maintains
Sunday brought out bigger crowds and more speculation as to who might win on this winding course. Martinez and Evans were favored to win, with Evans getting a slight home field advantage. Other likely winners included world champ Christophe Dupouey (FRA, Sunn), Christoph Sauser (SUI, Volvo-Cannondale) and ’96 world champion Jerome Chiotti (FRA, GT). All these riders did well, but got schooled by another young Frenchman.

Gregory Vollet (FRA, Bianchi Martini) has slowly been improving on the scene and began riding for Bianchi this season to get out from his old Giant team’s shadow, cast by Hoydahl and Kristensen. Vollet was riding in the lead group that had separated itself from the field all afternoon, when he decided to attack in lap five, "just for fun."

Mary Grigson Somethin' About Mary
What fun he had. Catching his elite chasers completely by surprise, Vollet put 30 seconds on the chase group by the seventh and final lap. Evans and teammate Sauser tried to respond, but the three other Frenchies in this peleton seemed unwilling to chase too hard, plus Martinez was spent from his own attack earlier. So Vollet got away and Evans led the chase, trying to live up to Australian expectations.

By the finish the field was broken up, but Evans, Chiotti and Sauser did put on a great-looking sprint finish for second place, no doubt amazed at the show Vollet had orchestrated in those two laps. We haven’t seen such tight racing since St. Wendel last year, and look forward to next year’s Olympic showdown.

Cross-Country racing continues in two weeks with Madrid’s round three, and will feature Sydor and Vollet in the leaders’ jerseys. We’ll be there in full force, and will see you at the races.

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