Alison Dunlap said she started thinking about the 2001 world championships when she hit a tree during the cross-country race at last year’s Olympics in Sydney. On that day, the Colorado Springs, Colorado resident would have to settle for seventh, but she vowed things would be different when the world championships came to her home state.
A year later, the 32-year-old made good on that pledge, putting together a stunning last-lap charge to win the cross country on the damp slopes of Vail Mountain. Dunlap entered the final lap of the race in third place, 54 seconds behind race leader Gunn-Rita Dahle and 28 seconds behind Canadian Alison Sydor. But the GT rider charged her way up the final major ascent of the race, picking off Sydor halfway to the top, then passing Dahle, who was standing by the side of the trail in shock. On that climb, the Norwegian had cut the sidewall of her Michelin Wildgripper tubeless tire. Her tire needed a boot and a tube to continue, and all she had was a can of tire sealant. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Dahle after unsuccessfully trying to fix her flat with a tire-seal spray. “I was almost at the top of the climb and I heard air coming out. It’s not fair.”
Dunlap could barely believe it either.
“I knew the race was going to come down to the last lap,” she said. “I’ve been dreaming of this my entire life, and I come up the hill and there’s Gunn-Rita. That’s when I knew I had a chance for the jersey.”
To cash in on that chance Dunlap would have to hold off Sydor, who was just eight seconds behind her fellow North American as the pair made their way up the Golden Peak loop, the last climb before the descent to the finish. But this was an opportunity not to be missed and Dunlap, with a smile creased across her muddied face, hammered her way up the final climb, then headed for home and the first rainbow jersey of her career.
“This is the best thing that’s happened in my entire life except getting married,” said Dunlap, who finished the 31.34km race in 1:51:28, 12 seconds ahead of Sydor.
Germany’s Sabine Spitz came across in third at :50 to complete the podium. Switzerland’s Barbara Blatter and France’s Laurence Leboucher rounded out the top five. Ruthie Matthes and Shonny Vanlandingham finished eight and ninth respectively to give the U.S. three riders in the top 10.
“After what’s happened this week, this is great for America,” Dunlap said.
The early stages of the race saw Sydor in front, with Dahle and Great Britain’s Caroline Alexander chasing together. But while Dahle closed in, Alexander feel back, eventually settling for sixth. Dahle overtook Sydor during the second lap, and had a 27-second advantage as the two riders came down the Jetta Jump, a steep, rocky dropoff that had many riders dismounting their bikes.
Further back several race favorites found themselves in unfamiliar position. Two-time defending World Cup champion Blatter was 16th, while Mary Grigson was 18. Both would battle back, with Grigson ending up seventh. At the same time, Dunlap found herself fifth, 1:13 behind Dahle.
“There’s so much adrenaline at world’s, and I knew at altitude everybody would go too hard too early,” Dunlap said. “I was patient, then I gave 150 percent on the last lap.”
UCI MOUNTAIN BIKE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, Vail, Colorado; September 6-16; Cross country; Women; 1. Alison Dunlap, United States, 20.37 miles in 1:51:28; 2. Alison Sydor, Canada, at 0:12; 3. Sabine Spitz, Germany, at :50; 4. Barbara Blatter, Switzerland, at 1:24; 5. Laurence Leboucher, France, at 1:35; 6. Caroline Alexander, Great Britain, at 1:50; 7. Mary Grigson, Australia, at 2:44; 8. Ruthie Matthes, United States, at 3:01; 9. Shonny Vanlandingham, United States, at 3:12; 10. Kiara Bisaro, Canada, at 3:23; 11. Camilla Bertossi, Italy, at 4:26; 12. Katerina Hanusova, Czech Republic, at 4:37; 13. Audrey Augustin, United States, at 4:59; 14. Chrissy Redden, Canada, at 5:10; 15. Jimena Florit, Argentina, at 5:11; 16. Silvia Rovira Planas, Spain, at 7:25; 17. Anna Enocsson, Sweden, at 7:26; 18. Anna Szafraneic, Poland, at 7:29; 19. Hiroko Nambu, Japan, at 7:36; 20. Trish Sinclair, Canada, at 8:14; 21. Katrin Schwing, Germany, at 8:24; 22. Petra Henzi, Switzerland, at 8:56; 23. Leslie Tomlinson, Canada, at 9:49; 24. Irina Kalentieva, Russia, at 10:35; 25. Anna Baylis, Australia, at 10:42; 26. Birgit Braumann, Austria, at 11:17; 27. Susan Haywood, United States, at 11:47; 28. Sadie Parker, New Zealand, at 13:04; 29. Suzanne Thomas, Great Britain, at 13:35; 30. Melissa Thomas, United States, at 13:48; 31. Yukari Nakagome, Japan, at 14:07; 32. Regina Marunde, Germany, at 14:37; 33. Claire Townsend, Canada, at 16:07; 34. Blaza Klemencic, Slovenia, at 16:29; 35. Sonja Traxel, Switzerland, at 17:13; 36. Jacequine Low, Australia, at 17:21; 37. 37. Jacqueline Mourao, Brazil, at 17:51; 38. Claire Baxter, Australia, at 17:56; 39. Dellys Franke, Australia, at 17:57; 40. Jenny Hopkinson, New Zealand, at 18:24; 41. Janka Stevkova, Slovakia, at 19:07; 42. Lisa Savage, New Zealand, at 19:36; 43. Robyn Wong, New Zealand, at 21:05; 44. Brenda Clapp, New Zealand, at 24:35; 45. Rebecca Cullen, New Zealand, at 25:20; 46. Karen Matamoras Zuniga, Costa Rica, at 26:51; 47. Carla Salgado Gonzalez, Mexico, at 30:15; 48. Willow Koerber, United States, at 34:00; 49. Dora Elizondo Lizano, Costa Rica, at 35:34; Janet Elizando Miranda, Spain, DNF; Claudia Marsilio, Italy, DNF; Magdalena Sadlecka, Poland, DNF; Gunn-Rita Dahle, Norway, DNF; Veronica Leal Balderas, Mexico, DNF; Veronica Leal Balderas, Mexico, DNF; Tarja Owens, Ireland, DNF;