Three World-Cup series were settled in Angel Fire, New Mexico when Gunn-Rita Dahle (Multivan Merida), Christoph Sauser (Siemens Cannondale) and Greg Minaar (Team G-Cross Honda) won their respective events and put enough World Cup points between themselves and their second-place rivals to close out the Cross Country and men's Downhill competitions.
The Angel Fire World Cup, the seventh round of cross country and sixth rounds of four-cross and downhill, were the first World Cup races held on U.S. soil since Telluride, Colorado in 2002. And after many top competitors skipped the previous week's races in Balneario Camboriu, Brazil (July 2-3), more than 300 riders - many of them Americans - showed up in New Mexico.
Minaar, Sauser and Dahle were clearly the favorites but a combination of altitude, heat, dry-dusty mountain air and North Americans with podium ambitions (like Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain Business Objects) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis)) meant that nothing was assured.
In the men's cross-country competition, second-place José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Multivan Merida) skipped Angel Fire in favor of preparing for the Spanish national championship race and all Sauser needed to do was place well to take the series. Instead of settling though, he set the pace and won ahead of Canadian national champion Kabush. The win was a stamp of authority on the series and sets Sauser up as a clear favorite in next month's World Championship (September 4, Livigno, Italy).
For Gunn-Rita Dahle, Angel Fire was her twenty-first World Cup win and her third World Cup series win in a row and was won only after a battle with her young nemesis. Dahle would open a gap over Premont on the course's technical downhills only to find the young Canadian creeping back on the climbs. In the end, Dahle prevailed. "I am totally happy about my victory here," the Norwegian said afterwards. "I had no idea how I would cope with the extraordinary altitude. I have only arrived Tuesday, which is not the optimum way to get used to the thin air."
Dahle says she now wants to break Julie Fortado's 28-race World Cups Wins record.
South African Greg Minaar (Team G-Cross Honda) won a close race in Angel Fire. In the downhill final, Minaar first put a five second gap over a long-standing best time set early in the run by Chris Kovarik (AUS). The only racer left with a chance to upset Minaar was Aussie Jared Graves, who had beaten Greg in the opening round of the NORBA series in Tapatio Springs, Texas. At the interim timing checkpoint, Graves was 0.49 seconds faster that Minaar and it wasn't until the dust settled after Graves' run that Minaar's win was secure.
The win was Minaar's third World Cup in a row and put an end to the Downhill series. "It hasn't really sunk in yet, I can't believe it," Minaar said after the win. "I knew there was a chance of taking the overall today but I didn't want to have that distract me, so I just focused having a strong result. In the top section of the final I wasn't as quick as would have liked so I really hammered down the bottom to make up the time."
NORBA competition resumes this weekend (July 15-17) at Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Sand Point, Utah. The rest of the mountain-bike racing world will be contesting various Northern Hemisphere national championships.
Click here for full results, photos and race reports from Angel Fire.