1999 World Cup Mountain Biking
St. Wendel, Germany
May 8-9, 1999

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Filip and Paola Win XC #4
Meirhaeghe and Pezzo Return to Spotlight
St. Wendel, Germany: XC #4

The Diesel-UCI Mountain Bike World Cup returned to St Wendel this weekend to mark the halfway point of the eight-race Cross Country series. By the time 10,000-plus fans had vacated the huge party tent, deserted the sports center and ceased in chanting "hey-hey-hey," Belgiumís Filip Meirhaeghe (Mountain Dew-Specialized) and Italian babe Paola Pezzo (ITA, Gary Fisher Saab) had marked their return to the spotlight with convincing wins.
Pro Mt. Biker Paola Pezzo Pezzo's Back

Pezzo put the hurt on a well-equipped womenís field Saturday thanks to a mid-race power move off the front. Then the next day...the same thing happened when Meirhaeghe constructed his own solo attack off the front. It went against the normal tactic (and last seasonís model) of this "roadie" courseís group-racing style, yet provided amazing racing for the gathered multitudes nonetheless.

"By the end of the fifth lap Pezzo had a full minuteís lead on Sydor and took her first win since Portugalís round two last season..."

Last season at this venue, Filip Meirhaeghe won his first World Cup with a hard-fought sprint finish after a tight group race. This year, he was more confident and, still to the fieldís surprise, decided to roll the dice early and head off the front of the race. From there, he just let the competition try to catch him.

But, catch him they did not, as nary a top-ranked rider could match his climbing power or technical prowess in the trees. When no one followed his lead, Meirhaege decided to go it alone and build as big a gap as possible. By the end of the race that gap was more than a minute between he and silver-medal finisher Bas Van Dooren (NED, Be One).

Pro Mt. Biker Filip Meirhaege Meirhaege Wins
Van Dooren was able to separate himself from the front group, and chased Meirhaeghe until losing visual contact in the woods. Miguel Martinez (FRA, Full Dynamix) chased Van Dooren and sounded happy with third place after cramping up during the dogged pursuit. At that point he was being told by his manager to chill out and chase only Van Dooren — and secure third place in pursuit of the leaderís jersey (which he did not get either).

The remaining all-star chase group was spearheaded by points' leader Cadel Evans (AUS, Volvo-Cannondale) who, after a rear derailleur problem late in the race, landed in 11th place but held onto the U-23 and leaderís jerseys. Other members of the one-time leaders club included Michael Rasmussen (DEN, Gary Fisher Saab), Dario Acquaroli (ITA, Bianchi-Martini) and Roel Paulissen (NED, American Eagle).

Paola Pezzo (ITA, Gary Fisher Saab) is a fashion maven and loves it when she wins. She always sports a shiny new outfit on the podium and, suffice it to say, itís been a while (over a year) since we saw a new outfit for Paolaís podium visit. This week, however, the golden girl came storming back — into form and onto the top of the podium — after she dropped the worldís four best females in a cloud of German dust.

The women raced five laps plus a start loop on a course slick from a previous nightís rain. With a technical section removed, the already-fast St. Wendel track became even faster, a stiff breeze blowing at its uppermost reaches for good measure. Within one lap, the field was separated into a gang of four — all working together off the front. Pezzo traded the lead with points-leader Alison Sydor (CAN, Volvo-Cannondale), points runner-up Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR, DBS) and Napa winner Alison Dunlap (USA, GT). This foursome put a large gap on the field, pursued by only a couple riders, such as Marga Fullana (ESP, Mt Dew-Specialized) and Caroline Alexander (GBR, American Eagle).

In the fourth lap, Pezzo decided she had seen enough teamwork and mustered a fierce attack on the long climb out of the start/finish. Sydor responded, but Pezzo put the hammer down and gapped the Canadian by 20 seconds, while Dahle, Alexander and a surging Annabella Stropparo (ITA, Volvo-Cannondale) chased in solo efforts.

By the end of the fifth lap, Pezzo had a full minuteís lead on Sydor and took her first win since Portugalís round two last season. Dahle held off Alexander by one second for third place, while Stropparo took her second podium of the season for fifth place. Dunlap, meanwhile, dropped back due to tired legs and landed in 10th place, while last roundís Madrid winner Fullana was victim to overtraining (and her Tour of Mallorca bronze medal), finishing 16th.

MountainZone.com Correspondents, running wild in the Globus store.

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