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The Mountain Zone Mountainbiking NAVBAR

'97 World Championships @ Cahateau d'oex, SUI.

Sep. 19, 1997
U-23 Men's Under 23 Cross Country
2:45 Swiss Time (5:45 PST)

Sep 20, 1997
Downhill Finals Men and Women
9:00 - 16:00 Swiss Time (Midnight - 7:00 PST)

Sep 21, 1997
Cross Country Finals Women
10:00 Swiss Time (1:00 PST)
Cross Country Finals Men
1:30 Swiss Time (4:30 PST)

Course Characteristics:
Cross Country:
Course length: 9,900m per lap
Starting lap: 2,000m
Single track: 21.3%
Wide track: 78.7%
Climbing: 43%
Highest point: 1,100m
Flat: 26%
Lowest point: 900m
Expected course time:
behind Miguel somewhere

Single track: 24%
Wide track: 76%
Climbing: ..yea right!
Highest point: 1,610m
Flat: Ahhh..what???
Height differential: 675m
Finish elevation: 935m
Average grade: 16%
Lowest point: hurtin' on the ground
Expected course time:
7-8 minutes depending on your self preservation instincts.


New Champs Hubert Pallhuber and Paola Pezzo are the new Cross Country World Champions
(left, chewing their medals)
Nicolas Vouilloz and Anne-Caroline Chausson are the World's fastest downhillers AGAIN!

[Course Descriptions][Pre-race Updates]

Fromage. Lait. Swiss Army knives. Really clean trains. These are words that describe life in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. Welcome to Suisse and the 1997 UCI World Championships of Mountain Biking. Located in Chateau d'Oex, a small dairy and tourist village just east of Lake Geneva and nestled in a lush green valley, these Worlds have taken on a mellow, Sound of Music like vibe as jaded industry types talk more about the cheese they ate than the course they rode. Everyone's gathered from the far corners of the globe to go for the rainbow stripes in these winner-take-all races. forty-nine countries and 2,000 people will be competing in five major categories for next season's bragging rights.

Competing in the cross-country and downhill, plenty of events await those chosen to race this week. Downhill will see men and women competing in the big-daddy senior (pro) event, along with juniors and veterans going for medals in their lesser divisions. Cross country also has a junior and vet category, plus the senior level. Cross country also has a under-23 division for the men. (see race report)

So what are the Worlds? For most Americans, we follow three major events: the U.S. National Championship series (NORBA), the Grundig/UCI World Cup series (a global affair) and these once-a-year World Championships. In their 8th year, Worlds award the highest honor on racers and bragging rights for an entire year. Countries field national teams based on their own national series and send riders here in their countries' jersey to represent the nation as well as the sponsor. The Americans are easy to spot, wearing ugly blue jerseys with a big red stripe down the middle. The pros are housed with their sponsors in various chalets around town while junior riders (and four senior women) are staying in a dorm-style housing complex which is seeing lots of hanky-panky amongst the junior guys and gals. Racing began early this week and culminates this Sunday when all will have been decided. That's it in a nutshell... any questions?

The town of Chateau d'Oex is small, situated on a hillside just up from a creek in a scenic valley. There's a train station, market, tons of housing and just enough shops and food to keep the crowds happy. With 40,000 fans expected, they'll have to bake a lot of baguettes and pull out a lot of the local L'Etivaz cheese to keep everyone happy. We Mountain Zoners have done our part to assimilate by drinking lots of local wine and eating said cheese constantly, as we troll for the inside scoop and wonder how much those huge cow bells cost.

The village sits just north of the two race tracks and race pit venue. The cross country course starts and finishes adjacent to a big VIP tent and all the timing. This is where XC action takes place. Meanwhile, across the creek sits the finish of one helluva downhill course with its own announcers' stand, timing, food and drink. Saturday will see this hillside area packed as crazy Euro-fans cheer for their national teams in the hopes they grab some gold and glory.

The Zone staff arrived Monday by car after checking the surrounding areas for beer and coffee as we attempted to expand our cultural horizons and better understand the area where all the fun will transpire. Checking into Le Petit Pre, we were quickly online and checking e-mail before scouting the venue. Our pad is right behind a mini-expo area and at the edge of the village's main drag - tres convenient. But before long the races had begun and so we grabbed a free Coke from the pressroom's fridge and went to work with 150 other international media types from all sorts of countries. Soon after our laptops heated up it was time to do our traditional walking and riding of the courses; to see what's in store for our pals, the racers. Let's take a look, shall we?

With the exception perhaps of Mont Ste-Anne, the DH course here is the gnarliest I've witnessed so far, and one that's definitely taking its toll on riders. It's long, with qualifying times well over seven minutes for women and in the sixes for the men. While lacking any extraordinary sections which are unrideable (like in Nevegal), the course is deceiving. With three main sections, the course starts on top of rolling grassy hillside pasture where the track takes a roller-coaster ride with huge slalom-style turns. Then a pedaling section goes over a couple specially built bridges and across flatter ground, eventually dropping through some trees and then down a fireroad and through a speed trap. The bottom section is where the action is. Full of narrow chutes through rocks and tight slippery singletrack through the trees, the lower section is epic and intimidating with many a rider taking a fall in its steep switchback turns.

Many riders, including Leigh Donovan (USA, Mongoose), Kirt Voreis (USA, Yeti) and Francois Gachet (FRA, Sunn-Nike) have fallen victim to this course with various injuries to show for it. The Swiss Army - home of the Red Cross and famous Swiss timing - is ever ready for racers on this course with friendly men in fatigues at every corner, helicopter evacuation platforms courseside (with jet copter standing by at the finish line), and sophisticated timing by Tissot to catch all the action. Add to that an extraordinary amount of construction for spectators which includes bridges, climbing ropes and new pathways to allow full access and you begin to appreciate the organizer's attention to detail.

The course has a 675 meter elevation change over its 4,150 km length and is accessed by a cable car gondola and chairlift. The finish line sits across a creek from the main XC start/finish and has its own little village and local farmers selling fresh milkshakes and L'Etivaz cheese while fully operational field bathrooms have been provided as well. And what course would be complete without a MASH-esque field hospital? All in all, a championship-level course which will leave no doubt as to who is the best in all the land.

The XC course is also a great one, with everything a racer and fan could want. Comprised of a small village loop and larger main loop, the course begins in a grass area immediately south of the village. Beginning with a parade loop through the grandstand, VIP and timing area, riders cross a specially built bridge over the road to the village for a quick paved ride past the shops and press room, up into the main awards/gathering stadium and back down to the start/finish. After crossing the other side of the bridge, racers head out into the woods for a combination of trees, meadows and more trees on this 10k course. The course basically climbs up a steep pitch, levels out over a traverse, then up a steeper 500m climb to the infamous CD (Chantal Daucourt) corner. This is where things get interesting as the course drops down a sick pitch over still-muddy soil before heading right and traversing the fall line on rooted, rocky singletrack.

After crossing a spectator area, the course then heads east along a creek before again heading up into the woods for a good climb before taking an even sicker drop down toward the creek again. This drop is rideable but has catch nets rigged up just in case, before it crosses over a waterfall onto another man-made bridge. From there the course follows the creek back toward the finish, taking a few crazy singletrack turns along the way. Then racers cross a suspension walking bridge and - viola! - are back to the finish to the sound of huge cowbells and the enthusiastic French/German/English announcers. Crazy stuff, but again a great course which will test all the talents of this field.

So there you have it. Check here for updates daily and all the latest news and notes as we continue to cover the Worlds like a cheap suit.

UPDATE: Thursday, 9/18
Four riders were barred from competition today as mandatory random drug testing showed haematocrit levels above 50. Riders include Annecy 2nd place finisher Jean Chr. Savignoni, Seamus McGrath and Filip Meirhaeghe who is appealing.

Downhill qualifying took place as Missy Giove took the fastest time in the women's - 15 seconds faster than Anne-Caroline Chausson. Nicolas Vouilloz was the fastest man, 3.97 seconds faster than Corrado Herin.

Many riders are injured as a result of course practice runs, including: WC title winner Paola Pezzo, who injured her thigh but will race; DH legend Francois Gachet, who injured his ankle and won't compete; Leigh Donovan who broke a bone in her leg but will compete; and, Lennie Kristensen who went home ill.

UPDATE: Friday, 9/19
All 32 riders tested for possible blood doping passed, although the French team was nowhere to be found when officials came knocking on their team housing's door this morning.

Miguel Martinez is the new U-23 XC world champ as he beat Cadel Evans by over six minutes in today's feature event. See the full story in Race Reports.

The Dual Slalom, which was scheduled for Tuesday then cancelled, will take place Saturday evening as an unofficial event. Riders pitched in $35 in a winner-take-all race. The top 32 men and 16 women are invited.