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Cactus Cup Stage Race - SR

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, September 19-21, 2008

2007 results     Schedule     Preview    Start List    


  • Stage 1 - September 19: Time trial,
  • Stage 2 - September 20: Super D,
  • Stage 3 - September 20: Fat Tire criterium,
  • Stage 4 - September 21: Cross country,

The Cactus Cup is back but in Vegas this time!

By Dave McElwaine

Most of the racing will take place here
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The mere mention of the Cactus Cup brings smiles to thousands of mountain bikers who remember the grand-daddy of stage races back in the 1990s. At its peak, it drew 10,000 racers and 75,000 spectators to Arizona's Pinnacle Peak Park, and later to McDowell State Park. Races were also held at other venues in the United States, and in foreign countries as far away as Japan.

The Mountain's Edge Cactus Cup is set to premier this weekend within 20 minutes of "The Strip" in Las Vegas, Nevada, with over US$25,000 in prize money. It is timed to piggyback onto the hugely successful Interbike trade show which draws in excess of 50,000 bicycle industry retailers and sponsored racers to Las Vegas. The event will feature four stages over three days; The Exploration Peak Time Trial, Super D, Fat Tire Criterium, and Cross Country race sponsored by Titus Bicycles.

One of the driving forces behind the rebirth of the Cactus Cup is Ravi Rajcamoor who is the Managing Director of Swagger, the Georgia-based company who is producing the race. Swagger is one of the largest organizers of road criteriums in the United States. Rajcamoor had also been the Promotions Director at Specialized for some of their Cactus Cup's in Arizona.

Rajcamoor commented on the new Cactus Cup "We have a long history in cycling and our commitment is to grow mountain bike racing. Our intent, 100% is to have the race in Vegas for the next several years. Our goal is to grow the race."

Desert flowers
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Many legends in the sport of mountain biking raced in the Cactus Cup when it was the largest mountain bike race in the world. John Tomac, Ned Overend, Tinker Jaurez, Shawn Palmer, Thomas Frischknecht, Cadel Evans, Missy Giove, Juli Furtado, and Alison Dunlap are among those who battled in the Arizona desert every spring.

Tinker Juarez (Mona Vie / Cannondale), 47 years-old, is still actively racing and will compete in the cross country race on Sunday. Juarez, a former US National Champion, Pan Am Games Gold medalist, member of the US Olympic team to Atlanta (1996), member of the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame and 2007 24-Hour Solo Mountain Bike Champion has fond memories of the race.

"The best thing about the Cactus Cup is that it was a well organized and big event. It started the path to develop bigger and better events and happened before the Norba Nationals...they did a great job bringing in a lot of international riders and everybody in the US that wanted to get good recognition. It is definitely one of those races no one wanted to miss."

He added "If the (new) Cactus Cup can do what it did in the past, which is to bring in the international racers…it will bring back international recognition to the American mountain bike racing scene. It would be great if we could bring in the racers, media, international attention, and sponsors back onto US soil. There are several road races now that are doing this and I'd like to see it happen for mountain bike racing, too."

Christoph Sauser (Specialized)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

It appears that Juarez will have his wish, as World Champion Christopher Sauser has been confirmed for the race. Sauser, a Swiss national, won the World Cup race at Vallnord, Andorra this season, then went on to win the World Championship at Val di Sol, Italy. He finished second overall in the World Cup standings after last weekend's race in Schladming, Austria.

It is a game-changer whenever Sauser is in the race, as the Swisspower duo of Florian Vogel and Nino Schurter found out at the Fort William World Cup earlier in the year. Sauser dragged them around the course for two hours, nearly but not quite breaking the elastic many times. Vogel won a sprint finish but was quick to praise his countryman, "Nino and I were pretty much on the limit on the climbs; Sauser was so fast on the climbs but he could not quite drop us."

Two Americans will likely test Sauser's skill on American singletrack. Carl Decker (Giant) recently won the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) Super D Championship. Decker has also been highly competitive in the cross country and short track events, appearing on many podiums this season. He races rally cars in the off-season with team-mate Adam Craig, and is likely to put any cash winnings into their race car according to Craig.

Typical singletrack
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Ross Schnell (Trek/VW) is making quite a name for himself as an all-around mountain bike racer. Even Adam Craig has admitted he admires Schnell's ability to shred singletrack. Schnell won the brutal Downieville Classic All-Mountain race this season, then capped things off with a victory at the NMBS Finals on 11,000-foot Brian Head Mountain.

Decker's team-mate Kelli Emmett will head up the women's field. Emmett has won at Sea Otter this season as well as on the NMBS circuit. At the Santa Ynez NMBS race, she got her first ever cross country victory. In addition, she has several lifetime Super D wins and is considered one of America's elite in that event. Emmett was also the 2007 World Single Speed Champion, and will forever have the requisite large tattoo to prove it.

Emmett has added power to her game during the past two seasons. When asked about this she replied "I used to joke about never having any power as a rider... .I have heard about this but not sure what it is." She added, "Last year I spent a lot of time in the gym and this year I rode the singlespeed a lot throughout winter. I always felt like it was the key ingredient missing from my racing. Power has helped me with steep climbs and being able to go fast on the flats."

Ross Schnell (Trek/VW) won at Downieville and at the Brian Head NMBS Finals
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The Time Trial and Fat Tire Criterium will be held inside Mountain's Edge, a 3,500 acre adult planned master community, which will boast its own schools and post office when completed. The super D and cross country will be held in the eye-popping Cottonwood Valley, and on trails that lead to the old mining town of Blue Diamond.

"The trails around Blue Diamond are some of the best we have ridden, incredible singletrack winding through the desert with awe inspiring views of the mountains and sky," said US National Champion and Olympian Mary McConneloug. "It is fitting that the Cactus Cup return is to such a venue," she said.

Famed trail builders and Blue Diamond residents, Jared Fisher and Brandon Cunningham know every bunny trail in these mountains and have designed the race courses for the Cactus Cup. Fisher, a local legend, founded Escape Adventures in the early 90s, and has introduced thousands of Las Vegas visitors to these trails. His company is now one of the race sponsors.

Mary McConneloug said recently "Jared Fisher of Escape Adventures is a rare breed! Not only is Jared an awesome rider but he lives true to the roots of mountain biking. You can find him out there early in the morning on his 50 pound bike… wearing Teva sandals 'with socks for protection' just enjoying the terrain."

While the Cactus Cup is likely to draw some of the big names in cycling to the race, what really made the Original Cactus Cups successful were the legions of amateurs who took part. This weekend there will be races for children, beginners, masters riders, semi-pros, and pros. Unlike many national races, the Cactus Cup has designed somewhat different courses for riders of various abilities. The venue at the Mountain Edge community is intended to have a festival feel, with many companies from the bicycle industry represented in the Tech Zone.

Time trial

In this individual race against the clock, Elites, semi-pros, and expert riders will race one mile to the top of Exploration Peak. At 2,846 feet, this peak is a local landmark and can easily be seen from the road. The descent is described as rocky, technical, singletrack.

Beginner and sport riders will only race halfway up Exploration Peak before returning on a technical singletrack.

Fat Tire criterium

Like the original Fat Boy Crits, this race will be held under the lights on a half mile paved loop within the Mountain Edge community. Elite men will race 30 minutes while elite women will race 20 minutes.

Steve Tilford, now in his late 40s, is rumored to be racing. Tilford is undefeated in the many Fat Boy Crits he competed in. He is a former World Masters Champion, a US Masters Cyclocross Champion, and is still is active in racing.

Super D

Carl Decker (Giant)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The Super D course is a monster. It is eight miles long and drops 1,000 feet in elevation. By NMBS standards, it will include far more pedaling than riders are used to and will feature several gut wrenching climbs.

Starting at about a 4,300 ft. elevation near the South Cottonwood Parking lot, racers will head out through rolling singletrack until they reach a loose, steep, rocky climb called White Rhino. It is quite possible that some riders may have to push their bikes at this point.

Once clear of White Rhino, racers will enjoy some sweet downhill singletrack until passing through a tunnel under Highway 160. They will then ride a false flat that parallels the highway heading west. While it does not look like a hill, your lungs tell you otherwise. Riders will then take a right hand turn onto the last climb they will experience for quite a while.

After cresting the hill, the expanse of Cottonwood Valley lies before you. The course begins a long singletrack descent called "Viagra" that seems like about two miles. Even on this section, riders will have to pedal most of the time. At the bottom of Viagra, racers will cross a deep wash with a steep rocky climb on the other side. Many riders will opt to push their bikes at this point, before heading out into some of the sweetest whoops the desert can serve up.

Shortly the dirt turns red and the going gets fasters. Racers will round one of the big red hills and then face a straight, relatively flat, scorching fast assault on open desert. Once they reach the famed "Giant Yucca Tree", they will turn right onto rolling singletrack that is so much fun they may be tempted to abandon racing to go back and do it again.

For over a mile the terrain is generally uphill, ending in a tricky box canyon that locals call "The Hurl". It is strewn with rocks, forcing you pay keen attention on the descent. At the bottom riders will cross a wash before making another slightly downhill run across open desert.

As racers approach the fire road leading to Blue Diamond there is one uphill ledge that will force many off their bikes again. The fire road leading to Blue Diamond is flat and will favor those with power left in their legs. The final rocky descent into Blue Diamond requires caution as there are some unexpected land mines on the way down.

Cross country

The bottom of Cottonwood Valley
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Elites and experts will race 30 miles, sport racers will cover 20 miles, and beginners eight miles. The race generally covers most of "The Mustang Trails" within Cottonwood Valley and makes a clockwise loop around Mustang Mountain. Some of the course will include trails used in the Super D competition the day before.

Riders will climb the false flat along Highway 161 for one mile. This climb is often sandy and will peg the racer's heart rates from the word "go". Again, racers will cruise down "Viagra", pedaling as much as they dare. Even one mistake; riding slightly off the trail, or a touch of the brakes in the wrong place, can ruin the entire run. The countless loose sandy corners will favor racers who are comfortable allowing their bikes to drift under control.

For the next several miles, Sport racers will face the same course as the Super D. However, experts and elites will be treated to the Blue Velvet trail, one of the most technical in the valley. Perhaps the best way to describe these trails is "East Coast Riding" with a lot more sand and steep washes. There is no question that a full-suspension bike will be an advantage here. Blue Velvet can beat you up in short order.

Kelli Emmett (Giant)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Once through Black Velvet, racers will head back onto the super D course over the rolling hills, through The Hurl, and then race down desert singletrack in the direction of Blue Diamond. There is one significant obstacle on the way to Blue Diamond that the elites and experts may never forget. It is called Puke Hill. This 600 ft. climb is extremely rocky and includes several uphill switchbacks. In fact, it is so difficult that even the pros will be given a "go-around" on their second lap. This entire "outbound" leg of the race is 13.2 miles in length.

On the back side of Puke Hill, racers will begin the gradual, but lung-burning 6.1 mile climb back to the start. The gradient on the return trip is steady but the trail generally does not have quite as good traction as the outbound leg. If Puke Hill does not separate the men from the boys, the race back to the start will.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for complete coverage, including photography, from this weekend's action in Las Vegas.

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