Mike Cushionbury

Wow, what a weekend! Round two of the Tissot/UCI World Cup cross-country series arrived in the vacation resort of Mazatlan, Mexico. Located on the Pacific Ocean across the peninsula from Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan is a favorite for vacationers and spring breakers alike (the latter making this 30-year-old mountain bike hack feel aged and used up). While the Mazatlan race course didn’t have the prestige, mountains, scenery or history of some of our finer venues, it had a heart and soul that makes me hope this venue stays on the list for a long time (they have applied for the race to return in 2001, 2002 and 2003).
The makeshift staging area and start line were in a dusty field and most every team was working out of rental cars. The most noteworthy exception was the Turbo team: Mexico’s biggest race squad had a huge display that was a big attraction for the fans. What amazed me the most was how into it everyone was. Wherever the riders went, a throng of fans followed, wanting autographs and pictures. They were rock stars in Mazatlan. Whenever we took a rider aside for a photo, Mexican journalists would line-up to get the same shot and get autographs.
The approximately four-mile course was all singletrack cut through a forest of thin saplings and down dry river ravines. There was one substantial yet short climb complete with switchbacks that led to a nasty North Shore style downhill with roots and rock steps. The constant braking and accelerating the course required, along with the high-speeds and threat of hitting a tree, drained the riders of energy quickly, but the absolute killer of the course was the thick layer of flour-like dust covering the course, often as much as four inches deep. After less than a lap riders were covered from head to toe in white powder. It was not pretty.
All around the course, boisterous locals stood in packs to the tune of about 12,000 total. For the Mexican people, a bike race is a reason to party. And though the cervezas were flowing, the riders were still the main attraction. In one up-hill section, a group of fans lined the outside of a switchback and chanted as each rider came by. One guy had a start list and would yell out the rider’s name and rhyming songs were quickly sung. At one point, I became the unwitting master of ceremonies. Someone would yell, “who’s coming?” I would tell them, get a big cheer for myself and an offer to swig off their 40 of Mex beer. Then the chants would go off. While I don’t speak a lick of Spanish, I know when I turned down their drinking offer I became the butt of their good-natured jeers. When a Turbo rider came though the section, the crowd went completely nuts with national pride.
The biggest attraction was the downhill. I met some fans that camped out the night before just to get the best spot. There were people and children hanging in trees, clinging to the edges of rocks and struggling to get closer at every opportunity. It was a zoo and I loved it! This is what it should be like: people yelling, screaming and giving every rider encouragement. Whenever a journalist or fan jumped on the course the entire crowd would yell “pista, pista” which loosely means ?get your behind off the course.? If a fan happened to fall down, the crowd would erupt in jeers and laughter.
On Saturday there was a Mexican national championship race with a good turnout. In the junior World Cup race, 15-year-old Team Turbo rider Hugo Chavez of Tecate won, putting a whoop on our Team Devo riders. This kid may go far. Needless to say, the Turbo camp was quick to talk about their young rider. How about the pros? Well…


Less than a lap into the men’s World Cup race, U.S. National Champion Travis Brown wrapped himself around a tree and broke his leg. In the hectic scramble for position on the first section of singletrack, Travis went off course (whether he was nerfed or was just going too fast we don’t know) and hit a strong young tree. His bike went one way; he went the other and was left with a broken tibia (just below the knee). How long Travis will be out is unknown at this time but this could put his Olympic berth in jeopardy. L.L. Beam-Mongoose pro and Olympic contender Steve Larsen said he believed that this mishap was early enough in the year that Travis should be back soon enough to have a shot at qualifying. Always the pro, Steve also said doesn’t want to be on the Olympic team simply because Travis is hurt. He merely wants the best rider to go.


The riders requested that the lead motorcycle go off early so its dust trail could settle ahead of the riders. The organizers decided instead to simply do away with the motorcycle. In most cases you could tell when the leader was coming by the cheers approaching from the distance. Missing from the start line were two notables, World Champion Marga Fullana of Specialized-Subaru and Gary Fisher-SAAB’s Paola Pezzo. As the women exited their two parade laps around the expo area and went onto the course, it was Gary Fisher-SAAB rider Chrissy Redden leading the field, followed closely by Volvo-Cannondale’s Alison Sydor, GT’s Alison Dunlap and Laurence Leboucher. Sydor made her move on the climb and slipped past Redden. At the end of the first lap Sydor had about 20 seconds on Redden, followed by Dunlap and Great Britain’s Tracy Brunger. Look rider Sandra Temporelli led a chase group with Gary Fisher-SAAB’s Mary Grigson (last week’s winner), Scott’s Barbara Blatter and Volkswagen-Trek’s Chantal Daucourt. As each lap unfolded, Sydor increased her lead. Redden and Dunlap continuously exchanged places until the fourth lap, when Dunlap began to pull away. Leboucher and Grigson continued the chase.
On the last lap Sydor, who continued to ride the tricky downhill while almost everyone else walked, had a comfortable one-minute lead over Dunlap, who attacked Redden on the climb and took teammate Leboucher with her. Dunlap said she felt she had more power on the climb and needed to get a gap on Chrissy because Chrissy was descending better. Dunlap said she felt good and went all out for the last two laps. Grigson and Blatter battled it out till the finish with Grigson outmaneuvering Blatter by a few seconds. This win was enough to put Sydor in the leader’s jersey. Dunlap said that Sydor went hard on the first flat section and split the field up early, and this initial gap was too hard to close. Sydor simply said she wanted to get to the singletrack first and that the course was perfectly suited to her strengths.

1. Alison Sydor (CAN) Volvo-Cannondale
2. Alison Dunlap (USA) Team GT
3. Laurence Leboucher (FRA) Team GT
4. Chrissy Redden (CAN) Gary Fisher-SAAB
5. Barbara Blatter (SUI) Scott USA

1. Alison Sydor…(CAN)…Volvo-Cannondale


Who didn’t show? Full Dynamic’s Miguel Martinez, World Champion Michael Rasmussen of Haro-Lee Dungarees and the entire Specialized team, save for Bart Brentjens, all stayed away. Other than those few, most of the world’s top male riders were in attendance. After one parade lap the men headed out onto the course, led by Lado Fumic of the German National Team. He had Paul Rowney of the AIS team, Christophe Dupouey of Giant, Christoph Sauser of Volvo-Cannondale and Roland Green of GT hot on his heels. Ritchey-Yahoo! rider Martino Fruet was sitting about 20th and Giant’s Rune Hoydahl was just out of the top 10. On lap number two, last week’s winner, Bas Van Dooren, was moving up, now in third behind Rowney and Fumic. This is when Fruet began to pick off riders two and three at a time. He said he felt strong and worked to the front slowly.
By the third lap, Van Dooren took the lead with Fumic and Rowney right behind. A train of riders led by Roland Green and Hoydahl followed.
Van Dooren soon flatted his tire and lost contact. He later flatted again and pulled out, as did Roland Green, who flatted once, then began to move up until he flatted again and DNF’d. It wasn’t until the fifth lap that Fruet cracked the top five. This is also the lap that Hoydahl caught and passed Fumic. On the last trip out, Fruet made his incredible move: after passing twenty riders on a course that was supposedly not good for passing, he caught leader Hoydahl. Rune said he saw Fruet catching up to him. When Fruet attacked him on the flat section, Rune said he couldn’t match the pace and chose to take it easy and maintain his place without blowing. He did and Fruet never slowed.
Of course, the big news for us is Tinker’s tenth place, even with a bad crash on the downhill, which I saw. Tinker flipped end-over-end into a rock garden face first. He later told me he thought this was the big one–the one that ends careers. Somehow, he doesn’t really know how, he came away with only a cut lip and some anger. For a while Tinker rode on anger until he realized he was making small mistakes and regained his composure. This is what got him into the top ten. I must say though, you should have seen it. Tinker rose from the ground and looked like a soot-man, he was white from head to toe with the powder.
Fruet also said control was the key. He told me that all the other teams he rode for only talked about strength and he has Team Ritchey to thank for stressing that the mind is the most important racing tool a rider can have. If your mind is strong, your legs will be strong.
True. True.

1. Martino Fruet (ITA) Ritchey-Yahoo!
2. Rune Hoydahl (NOR) Giant
3. Lado Fumic (GER) German National

4. Ludovic Dubau (FRA) Marin
5. Rob Woods (AUS) AIS-GT

1. Martino Fruet…(ITA)…Ritchey-Yahoo!

At this point I want to thank Fernando Berdegue Sacristan, the man who put this thing together-you did a heck of a job my friend. Fernando is the owner of the El Cid Mega Resort in Mazatlan (a big sponsor of the event). Fernando is also the president of the organizing committee, and he, along with Patrice Drouin and GESTEV Mexico, brought the race here. Fernando got some flack for the course because of its “so-called” lack of passing” and dusty conditions. All Fernando wanted was to get the race here, give it a go and have a chance to improve on it next year. He should get that chance. The race went off great, the fans loved it and the course was good. The riders said it was great for riding but tough to race on. Overall, most had positive experiences. I know I did. The people of Mazatlan were super friendly and quick to talk bikes or help you out. Everyone, from the locals who loaned us surfboards free of charge to the Policia who gave me a 1 a.m. pat-down on the way home from el disco, were friendly and respectful. If anything, the race should come back for the people. They are the ones who appreciated it the most. Well, OK, I did too.


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