Napa – A who’s who of Olympic medal prospects lined up
at 6:30pm on Friday evening, 24 March, in downtown Napa for the prelude to Sunday’s
Elite world cup race.
The evening event was the relay race, contested between teams of four comprising
one female Elite category rider, two from the male Elite category, and one male Under-23
rider. About 30 minutes after the start gun, the legendary Team Ritchey emerged victorious
after fending off a late attack by the Giant team and constant pressure from the
Great Britain squad.
Redwood City’s (CA) Team Ritchey, to which three-times world champion Henrik Djernis
(Denmark) has returned this year, also features the most successful male world cup
racer to date, Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland); the 1999 Under 23 world championships
bronze medallist Martino Fruet (Italy); and one of America’s favourite mountain bikers,
Shari Kain, from Redwood City, California. Kain, formerly a Ritchey rider, was borrowed
for the event from the RLX Team.
Djernis, who won the world championships in ’92, ’93 & ’94 – when wearing the
Ritchey colours – was delighted to ride the anchor leg and win the race in his first
world cup event back with the ‘old firm’. “This kind of event is really good
fun, both for the competitors and the spectators. For us competitors it breaks up
the trip a bit with some variety to our racing. The race is long enough to be hard,
but not long enough to do damage to our form for Sunday’s world cup cross country
Defending world cup champion, Cadel Evans (Volvo-Cannondale), fell during the race
and broke his left clavicle, which had only recently healed after being broken eight
weeks earlier in the Tour Down Under, Australia. “It is bad luck, but it’s the
best time of the season for this to happen. Cadel is still going to be a main contender
in the Olympic Games,” said his team manager Charlie Livermore. The Olympics
this September will be in Evans’ home nation, Australia.
The 2000 World Cup season starter will be held on the brand new 4- mile course at
Domaine Chandon winery in the Napa Valley. This exotic new venue has drawn rave reviews
from athletes, team managers and the media attending the event. Athletes have described
the course as “hard” and “technical”. “It is going to be
a hard race, and fast,” says world champion Michael Rasmussen of Denmark.
Riders to watch out for are those who performed best in the Mercury Sea Otter Classic
one week ago. Traditionally this is the best form guide for the World Cup opener.
Bas Van Dooren (Be One), Netherlands, and ’96 Olympic Champion Sir Bart Brentjens
(Subaru-Specialized), Netherlands – yes, he received a knighthood for winning the
’96 Olympic gold medal – have super form. Brentjens won the world cup overall in
1994 and the world championships ’95. Van Dooren has only one world cup round win
under his belt (Plymouth, England, in 1999), but is a rider on the ascendant and
dominated the Sea Otter Classic. 1999 World champion Michael Rasmussen also looks
strong, as does Thomas Frischknecht, who has amassed a total of 16 world cup round
wins and whose ‘palmares’ include three world cup series wins, four world championships
silver medals and the Olympic silver in ’96.
Among the women ’98 world champion Laurence Leboucher, (Team GT), France, looks the
favorite. After a season troubled by illness last year she is back to her best and
was the convincing winner of the Mercury Sea Otter Classic. ’99 world champion Margarita
Fullana (Subaru-Specialized), Spain, also looks very strong as does the USA’s top
cross country mountain biker, Alison Dunlap of Colorado Springs. Dunlap, 30, formerly
a national team road racer will race for the USA in the Olympic Games this year.