Firefighters battled brush fires in neighboring Provo Valley while racers sporting dusk masks lined the starting corral of the cross-country course, awaiting the chance to blaze their own trail, here in Deer Valley, Utah. Ironically, a course-side water main sprung a leak just moments before the start, delaying the women's race by several minutes. A maintenance crew plugged the geyser and the races were run. When the dust settled, Steve Larsen (US, L.L. Bean-Mongoose) and Mary Grigson (AUS, Gary Fisher-Saab) stood atop the podium, clenching their celebratory bottle of bubbles.
Larsen was a monster today! He looks intimidating with his bald head and pulsing veins, and to put it lightly, he's irked. Just a few weeks ago, the USA Cycling Selection Committee overturned Stephan Girard's (US Olympic coach) decision to send Larsen to Sydney for the 2000 Olympics. (Travis Brown and Tinker Juarez will race in his place.) Larsen's Olympic dreams have been crushed and he's pissed.
||He crossed the finish line five minutes ahead of the Pavel Tcherkassov (RUS, Gary Fisher-Saab), and the emotion surfaced. The adrenaline was pumping when he lifted his bike overhead, and screamed, "Here it is baby!"
Larsen put the hurt on from the start and never looked back. He crossed the finish line five minutes ahead of the Pavel Tcherkassov (RUS, Gary Fisher-Saab), and the emotion surfaced. The adrenaline was pumping when he lifted his bike overhead, and screamed, "Here it is baby!" The emotion continued in the interview tent, where he gave us all a piece of his mind.
"I'm just racing for myself and my sponsors now. I'm clearly the top American and when we go head to head like this, there's no question that I'm the best guy. Pavel was up there today and I told him he was racing for second. I pushed it all the way to the end. I had a real point to prove and I wasn't going to give up any seconds." Steve, tell us how you really feel!
Tcherkassov was the only rider who had any chance to hang with Larsen. Tcherkassov dealt well with the altitude and hung on Larsen's rear tire for the first half of the race, but eventually, Larsen left him sucking dirt for silver.
Roland Green (CAN, Team GT) ate big for third. "The first lap I crashed twice; coming down this last part, two corners in a row, I just ate dirt...put my face right in the dirt. But the rest of the course I had no troubles with." He's not exaggerating; his face was black with soot
at race end.
Earlier in the day, as the women lit the course, a pile-up near the start forced some riders to the pavement and allowed the lead ladies a jump. Jimena Florit (ARG, RLX Polo Sport) pulled hard and led for the first lap. However, she too ate dirt in the first full lap and was left behind.
As Florit scrambled to recover, Ruthie Matthes (US, Trek-Volkswagen) jumped in front, pulling Mary Grigson (AUS, Gary Fisher-Saab), Chrissy Redden (CAN, Gary Fisher-Saab)and Alla Epifanova (RUS, Volvo-Cannondale) along. Florit's crash pushed her to fifth where she sat for the remainder of the race.
Matters were now in Matthes' hands and she sat proud at the front of the pack, until she flatted. Her pinched tube sent her to the side of the singletrack for over two minutes.
||"I felt like I had the legs so I pushed it and it worked"
Grigson stole the lead from Matthes and the chase began. Matthes made an amazing comeback, making up a minute on the next lap, only to pull right in behind Grigson for the last two laps.
"I didn't plan any attacks...I just felt out the field. They were climbing strong but I felt like I had the legs so I pushed it and it worked," said Matthes. I found myself next to Matthes' mom as she cheered with crossed fingers, but despite her family's support, Matthes fell second to Grigson who's on a mission of her own.
Grigson's been doing her squats and her thighs were able to hold gold, but at 20 miles, today's race wasn't grueling enough.
"This afternoon I have to go training and I'll race tomorrow (short track cross-country.) I'm going to make this my longest week with 24 to 26 hours on the bike. I want to be flying by Mammoth." You go girl!
Epifanova, the Russian rocket, quietly rolled into third.
The weekend is official and most of the races are still to come. Saturday brings the short track cross-country and the SoBe dual slalom. Consider this is your invitation...
Lucas Kane, stuffed and buzzed in the VIP tent for MountainZone.com
SEE ALSO: NORBA Index | NORBA Schedule