|American's Win Medals at Worlds Downhill and DSDual guru Flyin' Brian Lopes (Laguna Beach, Calif.) left fans with no questions about his bike handling skills when outrode 32 other men to take home the dual gold medal at the 2001 World Mountain Bike Championships, Sept. 15, in Vail, Colo. |
The dual and downhill event made up the gravity action Saturday at the World Championships. France's Anne-Caroline Chausson won both the women's downhill and dual competitions, while her compatriot Nicolas Vouilloz took home the gold in the men's race. The dual world title was the first for American Lopes.
Leigh Donovan (Capistrano Beach, Calif.) may have convinced herself she's ready to retire, but her thrilling performances at the world championships have her fans wanting more. The national and world champion snagged the bronze medal Saturday in the women's downhill and later took fourth in the women's dual, while teammate Tara Llanes (Newport Beach, Calif.) scored the bronze medal in the dual.
Donovan held the highly-desired top spot for much of the women's race, completing her run early in the finals schedule. Donovan's time was so incredible she held while 17 of her peers made failed attempts to beat her.
"I was going all out," Donovan explained. "It was a good day for me on the course. The fans were yelling 'Go Leigh!' and it meant a lot to me on my last downhill. I rode aggressive and pedaled hard. I was fatigued at the bottom and thought I might lose it, but God was with me today. This is my first Worlds awards podium since 1996, so it feels great! This is how I wanted to retire ... on top."
The woman who finally dethroned the U.S. national champion was Great Britain's Fionn Griffiths, who was the second-to-last racer down the hill. Griffiths barely had time to enjoy the top spot before France's wonder woman Chausson snagged the title in shocking time, nearly four-and-a-half seconds ahead of her competitors, at four minutes and 10.37 seconds. The victory marks Chaussonís 10th-consecutive world title.
When asked to put Chausson's prowess into perspective, Donovan commented, "How do you explain Michael Jordan? I was hoping she would win if I didn't. She is just a great athlete."
Fellow Americans April Lawyer (Big Bear Lake, Calif.), Elke Brutsaert (Durango, Colo.), 2000 Junior World Champion Kathy Pruitt (Lake Almanor, Calif.) and Marla Streb (San Geronimo, Calif.) all came up short, but put in outstanding finishes. For Brutsaert, it was her last race as a professional cyclist. Like her teammate Donovan, Brutsaert will hang up he racing helmet at the end of the weekend.
"The course changed since practice," Brutsaert said. "It was faster and drier. I didn't really know how fast I could go. I'm just glad I didnít get injured. It (retirement) was a big relief, especially once I made the decision. I'm happy I've had a fulfilling career and I'm excited to move on."
Lawyer, on the other hand, has her entire career in front of her, putting in her best season as a mountain bike racer in 2001. And for Pruitt, it was her first elite world championships since graduating from the junior ranks as the toughest junior woman in the world.
"It's like going from middle school to high school. I have to work my way up again. Everyone is nice to me, so it's alright. There are day when I don't want to ride and sister tells me to snap out of it. Some days I don't know what it takes. All my friends are good, and I want to be up there with them," said Pruitt, who added the week's tragic events weighed heavy on her heart.
"It was out of mind earlier in the week. I didn't personally know anyone, but I can't understand why all those people had to suffer. At the top, I visualized and thought of the families, the kids, the women and men and I wanted to do my best for Americans. Do something to make them feel happy and bring their feelings up," she said.
Mountain bike legend, world champion and national champion Missy Giove (Durango, Colo.) was served bad luck at the end of her sweltering-hot, fast run when she crashed. Medical personnel helped her off the hill, and is now being treated at a local hospital for head injuries.
The men's race shook out differently, with the American squad leaving the trails without medals. Myles Rockwell (Durango, Colo.) came the close, making a valiant attempt to defend his 2000 rainbow jersey. He was the 50th of 80 racers to get down the mountain and held the top spot until Slovakia's Filip Polc knocked him out nine riders later. Rockwell finished as the top American at seventh.
"I've been in the dumps this year," Rockwell told reporters. "I've had a lack of confidence ... I broke my ankle boarding and I changed bikes. I felt like I was less of a rider than I used to be, and that's a bad way to think. I got my balls back for this race. Today was for a good time. I had a bad wreck in qualifying and it kind of took the wind out of my sails. If I get a top-eight or top-10 here today, I'll be really happy."
He added that the end of his 2000 reign as world champion signified a time of relief.
"It's like a monkey off my back. At first I dug it, then when I was slow I thought maybe people were mocking me. It's bad vibes, because everyone wants to kick your ass," he said.
U.S. teammates Eric Carter (Temecula, Calif.) and Kirt Vories (Santa Barbara, Calif.) experienced their own setbacks Saturday in different ways. Vories was on course to one of the best finish times of the day before he crashed just after the midway point of the race. Carter rode without errors but had a tough time dealing with the events of the week.
"I had a pretty good run, but it was mostly the mental aspect today. With everything going on, I had a lot of trouble racing today. I was riding an emotional roller coaster. I can't control my emotions like that. I've never dealt with big loss. Today it was all about the mental aspect and trying to pull my head out of where it was," Carter said.
The evening wrapped up with fan-favorite dual. Lopes whipped through the heats, never facing a real threat. His most exciting race before the finals was against fellow American Rich Houseman (Temecula, Calif.), who pulled out an outstanding last-second victory over the Czech Republic's Petr Joch to face Lopes.
Ironically, Lopes easiest match-up came in the final against France's Cedric Gracia. The Frechman bobbled after the start and Lopes was able to get away clean.
Donovan also had an easy times of things in her early heats. It wasn't until the semi-final round against Australia's Katrina Miller that she was knocked from a gold medal chance.
It was an American face-off in the consolation round between Donovan and Llanes. Though the two remained nearly neck-and-neck during the first part of the track, it was Llanes that was able to edge Donovan in a crucial turn and make her way to the finish for the bronze medal.
"I feel really good," Llanes said. "Either way, and American was going to get on the podium. I've had a great season."
The always professional and well-spoken Donovan left the field of competition for the last time with these words: "It's been an honor sharing my last race with all of you."
2001 WORLD MOUNTAIN BIKE CAHMPIONSHIPS, ELITE DOWNHILL AND DUAL, SEPT. 15, VAIL, COLO.
Womenís Elite Downhill (1.43 miles at an average speed of 24.99 mph): 1. ANNE-CAROLINE CHAUSSON, France, at 4 minutes and 10.37 seconds; 2. Fionn Griffiths, Great Britain, @ 4.28 back; 3. Leigh Donovan, Capistrano Beach, Calif., @ 4.71
Americans: 10. Marla Streb, San Geronimo, Calif. @ 13.19; 11. Kathy Pruit, Lake Almanor, Calif., @ 18.54; 12. Elke Brutsaert, Durango, Colo., @ 20.60; 14. April Lawyer, Big Bear Lake, Calif., @ 28.08; DNF, Missy Giove (Durango, Colo.)
Menís Elite Downhill (1.43 miles at an average speed of 23.93 mph): 1. NICOLAS VOUILLOZ, France, @ 3 minutes and 35.20 seconds; 2. Steve Peat, Great Britain, @ 2.53 back; 3. Greg Minaar, Republic of South Africa, @ 2.64
Americans: 7. Myles Rockwell, Durango, Colo., @ 11.32; 16. Eric Carter, Temecula, Calif., @ 15.12; 26. Kirt Vories, Santa Barbara, Calif., @ 18.74; 32. Derin Stockton, Temecula, Calif., @ 20.81; 37. Rich Lancaster, Santa Margarita, Calif., @ 22.82; 39. Rich Houseman, Temecula, Calif., @ 23.34; 40. Colin Bailey, Big Bear Lake, Calif., @ 23.65
Womenís Dual: 1. ANNE-CAROLINE CHAUSSON, France; 2. Katrina Miller, Australia; 3. Tara Llanes, Newport Beach, Calif.; 4. Leigh Donovan, Capistrano Beach, Calif.
Menís Dual: 1. BRIAN LOPES, Laguna Beach, Calif.; 2. Cedric Gracia, France; 3. Wade Bootes, Australia; 4. Karim Amour, Francewww.usacycling.org