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By Lennard Zinn
In one of few sporting events happening worldwide only four days after Tuesday’s tragic terrorist attacks, Japan gets to celebrate its first downhill world championship.
Eighteen-year-old Mio Suemasa beat the heavily-favored Céline Gros of France by almost two seconds on the difficult American Flyer course at Vail. Suemasa had already thrown down the gauntlet in Thursday’s seeding run by posting the fastest time by 7.33 seconds. She rides for Team GT in Japan and improved on the fifth place she managed at the 2000 world’s in Sierra Nevada, Spain by handling the large rock drops on the course.
Junior riders raced exactly the same course as the elite men and women, which features many breathtaking jumps and rockpiles on its steep 1.43-mile drop down the front of Vail Mountain.
Gros was coughing so hard from a chest cold she has had all week, she couldn’t talk after her run. When she finally could get some words out between hacks, she said, “I didn’t do a good run. I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe.”
The soft-spoken Suemasa is no stranger to the top of the podium, as she was a world observed trials champion in 1996 and 1997, a discipline she has since quit. Along with the rest of the top four riders Saturday, she will move on to the elite ranks next season, where she has big plans.
“I want to be the elite world champion sometime, too,” she said shyly from below her short, black bangs.
In the Junior men’s race, the fastest qualifier again took the gold, and a French rider relegated to second place was again angry and disappointed. The 6-foot-6, 183-pound Ben Cory used his substantial strength to muscle his bike over the rocky technical sections and power across the flat double-track sections.
Early starter South African Jason Delport was sitting on the yellow Honda road motorcycle that served as the leader’s hot seat through 29 riders after crushing the previous best time by over 11 seconds. With only a handful of riders left, he was getting used to the idea of being world champion and said, “I just hope nobody comes and beats me. I don’t want to get off this bike here.”
But just as Delport’s time was starting to look untouchable, the third-to-last rider, Julien Camellini of France knocked over five seconds off it and waved his arms excitedly as he crossed the line. Australia’s 16-year-old Sam Hill also beat Delport, but he was three seconds behind Camellini. But when Cory blew in 1.39 seconds faster, Camellini had to settle for second.
“That is the coolest course I’ve ever ridden,” Cory exclaimed. “You have no idea how good this feels! Oh, dude, that was so cool!”
Meanwhile, Camellini stomped off, angrily throwing down his gloves. The French youngster, who is a member of the Vouilloz Racing team, had banged into trees twice during his run and was later diagnosed with a broken left wrist.
Unlike so many of this sport’s young stars, the new junior world champion did not get his start on a motorcycle. Rather, “My first mountain bike was just a crappy 15-speed, but I just couldn’t believe how cool it was,” said Cory, who moves up to the elite category, while Hill and Camellini will meet each other again next year as juniors.
UCI MOUNTAIN BIKE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS DOWNHILL, Vail, Colorado. September 6-16; Junior Women;
1. Mio Suemasa, Japan, 1.43mi. in 4:30.34 (23.11 mph); 2. Céline Gros, France, 4:31.97; 3. Helen Gaskell Great Britain, 4:37.02; 4. Emma McNaughton, Australia, 4:51.88; 5. Estelle Vuillemin, France, 5:01.89; 6. Bernadita Pizarro, Chile, 5:04.20; 7. Diana Marggraf, Ecuador, 5:33.96; 8. Darcy Turenne, Canada, 5:47.37; 9. Holly Kuhn, USA, 5:48.13; 10. Cassie Maino, USA, 6:19.11; — Katherine Lobodzinski, Canada, DNF;–Katarzyna Slabon, Poland, DQ; Junior Men; 1. Ben Cory, Australia, 1.43mi. in 3:48.24 (27.05mph); 2. Julien Camellini, France, 3:49.63; 3. Sam Hill, Australia, 3:53.04; 4. Jason Delport, South Africa, 3:54.87; 5. Mark Beaumont, Great Britain, 3:56.26; 6. Danny Mills, Australia, 3:58.35; 7. David Klaassenvanoorschot, USA, 3:58.40; 8. Mario Schurter, Switzerland, 3:58.68; 9. Jordie Lunn, Canada, 4:00.21; 10. Julien Clauzel, France, 4:00.52