MOUNTAIN BIKE RACING : English Rider in Near Upset

TIMES STAFF WRITER

From a land more suited for grass tennis courts comes Jason McCroy, a 21-year-old mountain bike racer from the village of Washington in northern England.

McCroy reached new heights Sunday when he finished second in the Reebok Eliminator, a made-for-television downhill race at Mammoth Mountain. The race features the world's 32 best downhill racers in head-to-head competition over a 3.7-mile course starting at the top of 11,053-foot Mammoth Mountain. Although it has no bearing on the national and international points standings, the race has become one of mountain biking's most popular spectator events.

McCroy, citing fatigue, was overcome at the end of his final run by Myles Rockwell of Durango, Colo., and lost by 0.19 seconds. Jake Watson of Westlake Village defeated Toby Henderson of La Mirada for third.

Kim Sonier of Flagstaff, Ariz., easily defeated Regina Stiffel of Germany to win the women's event. Cindy Whitehead of Mammoth Lakes edged Missy Giove of Durango for third.

By his admission, McCroy, the British downhill champion, was not considered to have much of a chance in the event. After all, he does not get much practice on mountains in relatively flat England.

The highest mountain he has charged down?

"This was it," McCroy said, pointing toward the summit.

McCroy had some other disadvantages. He had to fund his trip to compete in the United States, and unlike most of the world's best, does not have a big-name sponsor.

McCroy does have a local bike shop that supports him, and for now, he is happy. A year ago, McCroy was working for British Telecom in customer service. But he was dabbling in downhill racing and doing quite well.

"I knew I was capable (in mountain bike racing) so I quit," he said.

He used his savings to try the American circuit. He performed poorly last week at Vail, Colo., and was disappointed with his performance in Saturday's World Cup downhill.

But he never lost confidence.

"I was a bit reckless," he said of his slow start. "I realized that you do have to think about what you're doing."

McCroy will have a lot to think about after his impressive riding Sunday. In defeating some of the best racers here, he will no doubt have pressure to continue to improve.

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