Back to the top was the slogan of the weekend as the 2000 NORBA series concluded at Mammoth Mountain, California, on September 8, 9, and 10. The slightly cryptic phrase was a reminder to the racing public that, after a two-year break, the annual Mammoth Mountain race was returning to the very top of the mountain. For the previous two years the race was held a few miles closer to town on a lower slope of the 11,000-foot mountain.
Beautiful sunny weather and warm temperatures were the order of the multi-day event, though it did get cold Thursday night, with temperatures being reported as low as 28 degrees in the nearby mountains.
NATIONAL TITLES DECIDED
This was the biggest race of the year for U.S. riders, as it determined the national champions in all disciplines of mountain biking. For the most part, it was close to an all-American turnout, as relatively few foreign athletes competed in the racing, except for a good number of Canadian riders. Still, the ones who did compete were able to make some serious withdrawals from the ribbon supplies.
Steve Larsen wanted to show that he was the really the best cross-country racer in America after being denied a slot on the U.S. Olympic team. He’d won the previous two nationals before getting to Mammoth, and he had a healthy lead in the points as a result. He went off the front at the start of the Mammoth race and, except for occasionally glancing back to see where everybody was, he didn?t see another rider in front of him until some two hours later when he started lapping the field on the six-mile course. Nobody came close to catching Larsen during the race. He had over a two-minute lead on the closest rider, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, when he approached the finish line. Near the last turn in front of the crowds lining the course, a fan handed Larsen an American flag, and he rode to the line, arms raised high, waving the stars-and-stripes as the crowd cheered. Horgan-Kobelski (a former collegiate mountain biking champion) finished second, with Pavel Tcherkassov third, and Dave Wiens fourth.
“I thought the competition was going to be tougher,” said Larsen, who admitted that he wasn?t expecting to win when he started the race, but he started out fast, led the pros up the first climb, and found out as he went on that no one else could catch him. He won the Norba series title and the U.S. national title in the process. Larsen said he wanted to prove that he is the top cross-country racer in America, despite the Olympic team selection committee’s contrary opinion.
Pavel ended up second for the year in the series, with Seamus McGrath of Canada in third. Olympic team member Tinker Juarez ended up seventh in the race and sixth for the year, while fellow Olympian Travis Brown dropped out of the race and finished outside the top ten for the year-long series. Larsen says he is officially an alternate on the Olympic team, but he told MBA that the U.S. team has given him no indication that they want him to be ready to go to Australia. He plans to go the Interbike show in Las Vegas that weekend.
GRIGSON WINS RACE, RUTHIE WINS U.S. TITLE
Australian Mary Grigson dominated the womens cross-country race at Mammoth, going off the front in the beginning and holding off all challenges to win her third NORBA NCS event of the year. Alison Dunlap and Ruthie Matthes finished second and third, respectively.
The race brought Grigson enough points to earn her the NORBA series title, but her Aussie citizenship kept the U.S. title out of her hands. As the top American in the points series, Ruthie Matthes ascended the podium after the race to claim her fourth national title trophy and one of the stars-and-stripes jerseys that all the national champions were awarded.
CARL SWENSON GRABS SHORT TRACK WIN AND TITLE
Carl Swenson of Boulder, Colorado (RLX Polo Sport), built a huge lead in the men’s short-track cross-country race to take a decisive win on Saturday afternoon at Mammoth. Pavel Tcherkassov, of Russia, got second, and Seamus McGrath of Canada got third.
Swenson’s win earned him the short-track national title, as well.
Readers who wonder why Pavel is competing in the U.S. might like to know that Pavel is living in the U.S. in Vermont, where he is engaged to marry his American girlfriend, whom he met on the racing circuit. With the green card that will come from his marriage, Pavel is likely to be a serious factor for years to come in the NORBA races.
DUNLAP WINS SHORT TRACK EVENT; TROMBLEY WINS TITLE
Alison Dunlap, Jimena Florit and Mary Grigson had a close race to the finish in the short-track event at Mammoth, but it was Dunlap who was able to out-sprint Jimena and all the others for the win. Jimena’s second place finish earned her the series title, but she is racing for her native Argentina this year in order to represent them in the Olympics, so she couldn?t win the U.S. national title. That honor went to Ann Trombley.
LOPES TAKES SECOND BEHIND BOOTES IN DUAL SLALOM RACE BUT WINS THE TITLE
Brian Lopes of Laguna Beach, California, won his eighth national title on Saturday with his finish in the dual slalom finals at Mammoth. Lopes met his match in the final round when he had to go against World Champion Wade Bootes. The two had met at the Worlds in a similar final, and they met this time with a similar result: Bootes, the Australian-born BMX star beat Flyin? Brian in the two-run final match up.
Despite the loss, Lopes had dominated the NCS series up to the final race and won both the series and national titles. Eric Carter got second in the year-end points standings, with Mike King in third and Wade Bootes in fourth.
DONOVAN WINS DUAL SLALOM FINALS, BUT MILLER AND ELLIOTT WIN THE TITLES
Leigh Donovan met Katrina Miller in the dual slalom finals at Mammoth and Leigh came away the victor, but it was Miller who got the bigger honor in the end. Katrina came away with the series title, thanks to her consistency throughout the season. As the second place finisher but top American in the series, Cheri Elliott won the U.S. national title, with Donovan finishing third in the series’ final standings.
There were two downhill races at Mammoth this year, but the extra one was nothing like the Reebok Eliminator of old. Starting at eight oclock in the morning on Sunday, and running until about 8:40 a.m., a select group of top pros and some lesser stars raced the famous Mammoth Kamikaze course. The race was not part of the National Championship Series (the final race of which would start just three hours later), and so most of the top national points seekers skipped the Kamikaze so as to minimize the chance of jeopardizing their national title chances.
A smattering of top riders did race in the event, which was won by Jeremy Purdy, with Jason Sigfrid second, Jurgen Beneke third, and Todd Snider fourth. John Tomac finished ninth, wearing a cast on one arm for injuries he suffered a couple of weeks earlier on a ride near his home in Colorado. Later in the day he would officially retire from competition, as he had previously announced he would do.
In the women’s side of the event, Marla Streb beat Lisa Sher and Kristian Nichols.
WOMEN’S DOWNHILL FINALS
The NORBA series downhill race was held on an entirely new course a few hundred yards from the Kamikaze. This new one was a doozy, too. Unlike the Kamikaze which is held on a long fast fireroad, the NCS championship course was held on a gnarly (mostly) singletrack course that dropped down steep rocks, weaved through boulders, threaded its way through stands of trees, and eventually came to the finish line at the main lodge.
The finals were expected to be the chance for Elke Brutsaert to achieve her fourth win of the five-race series and clinch the national downhill title. Expectations don’t always work out, however.
Elke was about 100 feet below the top of the course when she rounded a corner behind a huge boulder and the sound of her tires rolling through soft pumice was replaced with a loud thud as Elke hit the ground. Observers said she was trying to ride out an unintentional nose wheelie through a steep, sandy and rocky section when she swerved to avoid a large rock, flew over the bars and landed face down in the dirt. Spectators said Elke took five seconds to get back up, then got on her bike and started back down the course, visibly slowed by the crash. Shortly thereafter, Leigh Donovan would crash in almost the same spot.
The time loss for Elke was significant. She ended up 15th in the race, when she needed an 11th to get a lock on the national title. As it turned out, defending national champion Missy Giove won the race and, with it, the title. A clearly disconsolate Brutsaert wound up second in the end-of-the-year standings.
Marla Streb ended up second in the finals, over 19 seconds slower than Missy, with Vanessa Quinn third, Lisa Sher fourth, and Tara Llanes fifth.
After Giove and Brutsaert, the next five places in the year-end overall points went: Llanes, third; Sher, fourth; Quinn, fifth; Donovan, sixth; and Elliott seventh.
Fabien Barel of Nice, France, riding for GT, was the top descender in the men’s pro finals at Mammoth, handily winning first place. Visiting New Zealander Nathan Rankin, who’s currently residing in Pasadena, California, came in second, and GT’s Eric Carter came in third in the final downhill race of the NORBA NCS series for 2000.
The excitement in the men’s points race was to see whether young upstart Colin Bailey could unseat Carter from the leader’s position and snatch the championship from him. Colin needed to beat Carter by several places to do it, but Colin couldn’t make it happen. Carter beat Bailey by 3.64 seconds, third place to seventh place, and that gave the series title and the national title to Eric. Bailey ended up second in the national points rankings, with a group of Aussies and Kiwis above him in the series ranks. Australian Michael Ronning got second overall in the series; New Zealander Nathan Rankin got third; fellow Kiwi John Kirkcaldie got fourth; and Australian Nathan Rennie got fifth. While the riders from the southern hemisphere seem to be taking over downhill racing in the States, let it be known that the ever-so French Mr. Barel won the race by 9.34 seconds over second-place finisher Nathan Rankin. You couldn’t find a margin bigger than that in the men’s ranks until you got down to the last two riders in the race, in 68th and 69th place. Obviously, Mr. Barel is one fast character.
CREDIT TO THE COACH
As a side note, Blair Lombardi, who teaches speed and balance techniques to mountain bikers, as reported in the August 2000 issue of MBA, was on the hill keeping track of her former students. At the end of the weekend, she said she had four more national championships to add to her students’ credits, including, the newest title by Missy Giove. If Colin Bailey had gotten a title, too, Lombardi’s count would have been five. Colin was one of the first prominent downhillers to take her course, and it was his enthusiasm for the training that led Missy to take the course, too.