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Friday, September 22, 2000

Careful, it's a jungle out there

 SYDNEY -- Triathlon had to contend with the possibility of a shark attack.

 Road cycling is a little leery of poisonous snakes.

 Now, mountain biking has to worry about the birds.

 Isn't Australian wildlife wonderful?

 It seems Canadian mountain bike medal favourite Alison Sydor was swarmed by angry Aussie magpies during a training run at the Olympic mountain bike course at Fairfield City Farm the other day.

 "Alison says those birds are very aggressive," shrugged Canada's cycling team leader Pierre Hutsebaut. "She rode through one part of the course and the birds came swooping down at her. She had to duck down and keep pedalling."

 It hasn't been much of a month for Sydor, the 34-year-old Victoria native who won the silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and hopes to upgrade that to gold tomorrow afternoon.

 Much like sprinter Donovan Bailey, she has struggled with illness, and hasn't yet hiked all the way back to her peak.

 She caught a brutal cold three weeks ago in Switzerland, and the recovery time forced her to cut back on her all-important, pre-Olympic practice time.

 But that doesn't mean she's not well-prepared or rarin' to go.

 "I am not worried about Alison at all," said Hutsebaut. "The last 10 years, she has not finished lower than fourth at any World Championship. She will find a way."

 Many figure Sydor's experience will make the difference on what is considered a difficult course.

 In road cycling, 19-year-old Quebec phenom Genevieve Jeanson arrived in Sydney amidst questions about her ability to work as part of a team with Canada's other two riders: fellow Quebecer Lyne Bessette and Winnipeg's Clara Hughes, double bronze medallist at Atlanta in 1996.

 On the World Cup circuit, Jeanson is not a member of the Saturn Racing Team with Hughes and Bessette. Her father has mentioned he would like to see his daughter on a team built around her.

 "I have talked to her, not about strategy ... but to look at it as just another race," said Jeanson.

 'TOO BAD'

  At the national championships in July, Hughes was misdirected off the course in the time trial event, but still managed to cross the line in first place.

 At the medal ceremony, second-place Jeanson hesitated to receive the silver, but Hughes said, "That's so bad," and Jeanson immediately stepped up to the podium.

 Hughes has said she thinks Jeanson's a great talent, and will play a huge role if Canada is to win a road cycling medal this time around.

 The question now is which rider will make the break for the podium, and which of the other two will run interference to help her get there?

 "We have not talked about race strategy yet," said Jeanson. "I expect we'll do that a few days before the race (on Sept. 26) or just wait until the race actually starts.

 "If I'm having a bad day, and Clara or Lyne are having a good day, then one of them should go.

 "And if I'm having a good day, it will be me."

 If they stick together, they have what it takes to do something special.

 "Clara has the experience, Lyne is very strong, and Genevieve works so hard," said Hutsebaut. "If I was betting, I would not put them in top five, but I think two of them can finish in the top 10. "Where in the top 10, we'll have to wait and see. "They have the ability to surprise some people."