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Norba Cross Country

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DEER VALLEY — The winners of the men's and women's pro cross country mountain bike races didn't catch everyone off guard, just most everyone.

Ryder Hesjedal of Canada had never won a NORBA cross country before Friday's start. But he won here, and not by inches or feet or even yards, but by hundreds of yards.

Caroline Alexander of Great Britain came into Friday's race with a reputation as a great rider, prone to mishaps. And even though she crashed near the close of the race, she too won by multiple football fields.

The NORBA Mountain Bike Championships, as it has for the past eight years, brought the world's best mountain bikers to the ski slopes of Deer Valley. Many raced in the Olympic cross country in Sydney.

Alexander came into the event with less training time than she would have liked. She, along with others in her country, was caught in the panic of foot and mouth disease. Fear of spreading the disease literally shut down the countryside. No one was permitted out. One man, it was reported, went on a hike, was caught, arrested and fined about $2,000.

The British champion had to pack up her belongings and look for other countries to train. She came into the race having conceded the previous five races to Mary Grigson of Australia.

On Friday, however, Alexander said she felt good and was determined to heed her coach's suggestion that "I go at only 80 percent. 'Please, please,' they asked. They wanted me to finish. But I felt really comfortable out there. I knew I could win."

Based on her racing form, she opened up a lead over Grigson that was impossible to close, even after Alexander took a tumble on the long descent off Little Stick, which is near the Olympic slalom course.

She had a little more than a 90-second lead before the crash and a little less than a 90-second lead after.

"It was a little crash, nothing to worry about," she said with a smile.

She finished with a time of 1 hour, 54 minutes and 3.45 seconds. Grigson posted a time if 1:55:19.17. Third was Ruthie Matthes of Bolder Colorado, with a 1:56:36. In the Sydney Games, Grigson took 6th and Alexander 12th.

Sally Warner of Salt Lake City was 26th and Teresa Eggertsen of Park City was 28th.

The men's race was almost a carbon copy of the women's. Hesjedal started in the lead and finished in the lead by more than 70 seconds ahead of his closest challenger — Cadel Evans of Australia.

And while odds were not in his favor, no one bothered to ask Hesjedal.

"I felt good. I don't think I followed anyone today. I led from start to finish. If you can do it, why not?" he said as he struggled to grab his breath in the finish area.

"I'm not used to the altitude. I come from sea level, so this is hard for me. I can barely talk. But I knew I could win today."

Evans was the only racer among the 135 entered in the men's event with a chance to catch Hesjedal. This included Steve Larson of California, winner of last year's event at Deer Valley and owner of the No. 1 plate as the 2000 overall cross country champ. He finished 5th.

But catching Hesjedal wasn't possible. "Every time I would make my move, he'd put the hammer down and pull away. There was nothing I could do," Evans said. At one point on the last lap Evans had closed the gap to a mere 15 seconds, but across the finish Hesjedal led by more than 70 seconds.

The winning time was 2 hours, 5 minutes and 36.2 seconds. Evans' time was 2:06.46.8. Third was Kashi Leuchs of New Zealand. Utah's Eric Jones finished 20th.

As days go, Jones said this was definitely not his. "I felt good, but I think the heat got to me. I really had to struggle to finish the last lap. It wasn't the bike, and I didn't have any real problems, it was just me today."

The events continue today with the men's and women's pro short track at 3 p.m. and the pro dual slalom at 4:30 p.m. Earlier in the day the beginners, intermediates and experts will race in cross country and slalom races.

The event concludes on Sunday with the downhill events. The men's and women's pro downhill will at 1:30 and 2 p.m., respectively.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com