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National Mountain Bike Series #6 (NMBS Finals) - NE
Brian Head, Utah, USA, August 30-31, 2008
By Dave McElwaine
The U.S.A. National Mountain Bike Series Finals (NMBS) will be held this weekend on the rugged slopes of Brian Head, Utah in the Wasatch Mountains. Series titles will be awarded in Cross Country, Downhill, and Dual Slalom events.
Most of the top racers in North America will be in attendance including Olympians (and series leaders) Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) and Georgia Gould (Luna Woman's MTB). Both will be flying halfway around the world from Beijing to nail down NMBS cross country titles. Neither have been racing at altitude since the World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy so the thin air at Brian Head could be a challenge. Gould finished 8th in her Olympic race while Kabush finished 20th.
The rest of the North American Mountain Bike Olympians will be heading directly from Beijing to the World Cup Race in Canberra, Australia. This includes Catherine Pendrel (Luna Women's MTB), who finished 4th in the Olympics (which was the best result for any North American). The absence of these riders opens the door for other racers to shine at Brian Head.
Some racers who will be competing this weekend have raced in The Great American Stage Race this past weekend in and around Brian Head. While racing 170 miles in fours days may not seem to be good preparation for the series finale, a couple factors may work in their favor. Firstly, they may have had enough time to acclimate somewhat to the high altitude. Secondly, the last stage was exactly the same course as the NMBS cross country circuit. These racers will have the course dialed in.
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Gary Fisher/Subaru), Jeremiah Bishop (Trek/VW), Ryan Trebon (Kona), Heather Irmiger (Gary Fisher/Subaru), Pua Sawicki (Ellsworth), Lea Davision (Trek/VW), and Jenny Smith (Trek/VW) have all competed in the stage race.
The Brain Head Cross Country course consists of a 20 mile loop. Racers start at about 9,500 feet with a road climb that gains nearly 1000 feet in elevation. The course includes the legendary Brian Head trail called Dark Hollow which has some steep, tricky descents. Overall, the riders will experience 2,800 feet of climbing per lap.
Gorgia Gould leads her Luna team-mate Katerina Nash by 29 points. While Gould has four wins this season, having a bad day or a mechanical could put the series title in jeopardy. For instance, if Nash won and Gould finished 4th or lower, the title would go to Nash. While Gould can afford to ride a bit more conservatively than normal, she cannot let Nash out of her sight.
In what could be an exciting battle, Trek team-mates Mical Dyck and Lea Davison are tied with 554 points for the last spot on the Finals Podium. Davison has been coming on strong towards the end of the season and earned a top ten finish at the World Cup in Bromont, Canada. Dyck has been a star at the Canada Cup Series this year.
Geoff Kabush has a slightly better situation in the men's race. He leads Barry Wicks (Kona) 699 points to 588 points. But, in order to win the series, he must at least start the race and have a reasonable finish. While Kabush regularly gambles with paper thin Maxxis tires, you can be sure that he will be riding a bullet-proof setup this weekend. In this situation, many riders will carry extra tubes and sealant to assure that a mechanical does not torpedo their season. Wicks has nothing to lose and will no doubt going for the win.
The Schultz brothers have provided some exciting head-to-head racing this season. Sam (Gary Fisher/Subaru) leads his older brother Andy by only 9 points for the last spot on the Finals podium. Andy (Kenda/Titus) can grab that podium spot if he beats Sam (Gar Fisher/Subaru) by a couple positions. Both are rising stars in the sport and seem to make each other better in these types of situations.
The Short Track course at Brian Head will head straight up a ski slope, make a 180 degree turn, then descend a "gnarly" singletrack back to the base area. It generally includes some pavement, grass, dirt, and loose rock. Racers will be required to race for 20 minutes at which point the officials will give them the signal for three laps to go. At nearly 10,000 feet you can expect even these elite athletes to be gasping for breath.
Katerina Nash (Luna Women's MTB) is the undisputed queen of North American Short Track. She lost the first race of the season to her team-mate Georgia Gould, but has been undefeated since. She generally races tactically right up to the point when she decides to drop the hammer on her competitors. Nash not only lives at altitude in Truckee, CA but also recently competed in the Trans Rockies Race. She will no doubt be ready for the thin air at Brian Head.
The standings currently have Nash with 728 points, Gould with 689, Irmiger with 603, and Dyck with 600. In the unlikely event that Nash were not able to complete the race, Gould would most likely take the series title. Irmiger and Dyck, no strangers to each other, will be quite aware they are in a virtual tie for 3rd place.
Geoff Kabush has even a more commanding lead over Barry Wicks in the men's race. Kabush has 709 points while Wicks has 634. Again, it will be imperative that Kabush finish the race to be assured of the series win.
Ryan Trebon (Kona) and Carl Decker (Giant) are tied for 3rd place with 601 points. Trebon, a great starter, often goes off the front of the race early on. Sometimes he stays away, but quite often just forces the selection of contenders behind him due to his blistering pace. Decker, on the other hand, tends to start slowly and then pick off riders until he lands on the podium. Whether Decker will abandon his usual strategy in order to keep Trebon in sight should be quite interesting.
NMBS rules state that in order to win the series, a racer must at least start his/her race at the Finals. World 4X Champion Melissa Buhl (KHS Bicycles) leads the Dual Slalom by such large margin (228 points) that she only needs to start the race to claim the NMBS title. Joanna Peterson (Maxxis) currently holds second place.
The men's race promises to be one of the most exciting of the weekend with three riders within striking distance of the series championship. Petr Hanak (Totally wired) has 636 points, U.S. National Champion Eric Carter (Mongoose) 629 points, and Mike Haderer (Fox Shox/Yeti) 622 points. Hanak won at Santa Ynez, while Haderer won at Windham Mountain. Eric Carter has earned his points through consistency, but to date has not won an NMBS event. However, if Carter brings the form he had at the Mount Snow National Championships, he will be a force to contend with.
NMBS Downhill racing this year has been affected at times by the World Cup schedule as well as other large races. Very few of the competitors have actually attended every race in the series.
Darien Harvey leads Melissa Buhl 64 points, with Joanna Peterson only 4 points farther back. Harvey is the only one of the three who has raced the whole series. Neither Harvey or Peterson have beaten Buhl in head-to-head racing this year, however. Even if Harvey took 3rd place she would easily have enough points to win the series.
Brad Benedict (X-Fusion) leads the men's series with 629 points over Brad Oien (Odi/Southridge) who has 537 points. Ryan Kondrashoff (X-Fusion) sits in 3rd place with 517 points. He has beaten Benedict this year on at least one occasion and could pull an upset.
Kieren Bennett (Odi/Southridge) currently owns 4th place with 512 points despite the fact that he has only attended three of the five races this year. He won two of those outings and has to be considered a favorite to win the race at Brian Head, even if his chances of winning the series title are slim.
Michelle Rivera (StevensKSD) is the odds on favorite to win the NMBS Super D title as she leads Sue Butler by 126 points. Joanna Peterson, currently in 4th place, proved at Deer Valley that she can win if the course favors downhillers. Other racers to watch include Kelli Emmett (Giant), and Lyne Bush (Tough Girls).
While U.S. National Super D Champion Rachael Lloyd (Proman) has only done one NMBS race this season, she would have to be considered the favorite if she decides to make the trip to Brian Head.
On the men's side, Carl Decker is well positioned to win the series as he has a 76 point lead over Jon Wilson (Northstar/Giant). U.S National Champion Adam Craig will not be racing this weekend as he is on his way to the World Cup in Australia. Other racers who have won this year include Barry Wicks (Kona), downhiller Sam Blenkinsopp (Yeti/Fox), and Nicolas Enjalbert.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews this weekend for complete results and reports from the races at Brian Head.
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Images by Dave McElwaine/www.trailwatch.net