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MTB news & racing round-up for August 16, 2007

Welcome to our regular roundup of what's happening in mountain biking. Feel free to send feedback, news, & releases to mtb@cyclingnews.com and results, reports & photos to cyclingnews@cyclingnews.com.

Edited by Sue George

Swiss riders collect both marathon world titles

Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) takes a five and a half minute victory
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Christoph Sauser (Specialized Factory Racing) and Petra Henzi brought home two World Marathon Championship titles to Switzerland last weekend from Verviers in Belgium.

For Sauser, the marathon championship was his first world title, in any discipline. It was "one of the best days in my racing life! Just unforgettable! I can not describe the excitement on the last kilometre, finishing the line or getting dressed in the rainbow jersey," said an excited Sauser on his web blog, www.sauserwind.com/diary.asp.

"The feeling of being World Champion is indescribable. There were tears in my eyes when I crossed the line," said Sauser, who already has an impressive cross country resume. He's won 11 world cup titles, including two overalls in 2004 and 2005, and he won silver at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

It had rained heavily in the days prior to the event, but racers were greeted with clear skies and decently dry conditions for Sunday's race on a rolling 105km course through the Ardennes forest.

Defending marathon champion Ralf Naf started the race hard, and he and Sauser soon separated themselves from the rest of the field. Only Belgian Roel Paulissen could mix it up near the front. However, Naf eventually suffered mechanical problems with his chain and a flat tire, which left Sauser alone at the front. Sauser ramped up the pressure, eventually winning in 4:23:06 by 5'23" ahead of Paulissen. Frenchman Thomas Dietsch was third, 7'26" back.

Compatriot and last year's silver medallist Petra Henzi won the women's event in 5:12:11. The 38 year-old overcame back injuries that plagued her earlier in the season and won by just 2'07" ahead of European cross country champion, German Sabine Spitz. Pia Sundstedt (Finland) finished third, almost 12 minutes off the winning pace.

Absent from the race was defending champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja, champion in 2006. She has been forced to take off much of the 2007 season to recover from an intestinal virus.

Thomas Frischknecht was the last Swiss marathon champion. He won in 2003 and 2005.

For full results and photos from the world marathon championships, click here.

Exciting NMBS cross country decided in sprint finish

By Sue George

Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) outsprints Jeremiah Bishop (Trek/VW)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The top two men from the most recent NMBS round at Sugar Mountain battled it out again in Colorado for the final race in the series. Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis) and Jeremiah Bishop (Trek / VW), ended the series with a sprint finish. Only one second separated the two riders.

Kabush, sponsored by a tire manufacturer, made a calculated gamble by choosing to race with super light tires. He hoped the gains he would experience on the climbs would offset any caution he'd have to employ not to flat on the downhills, and no matter what happened, he'd still win the series, if not the race.

Kabush had raced the tires before, at events like Sea Otter, and he knew their appropriateness for climbing courses. He often races them on grassy short tracks, too. "When I can use them, it drops over a pound from my bike." The Maxxis tires weigh 310 grams, an asset on a course that started out with 1,200 feet of steep climbing, but a potential liability on rocky downhills, like the 20 minute descent that ended the race.

"I already had the series wrapped up, so there was less pressure," said Kabush. "It was craziest (rockiest) course I've ever ridden them on. I tried to use them to go uphill as fast as I could and crack the guys, but Jeremiah was riding really well."

"Kabush was running a risky setup in my opinion," said Bishop after the race. "The one thing that would have derailed his day was a double flat or a slashed sidewall. The wheelset was a shock to me when we started the race and I saw what he was running. I can't believe he didn't flat." After seeing the course, Bishop took the opposite approach ran a full 2.2" mountain bike tire on the rear, which he said paid off on the descents.

Although the two men employed different strategies, one to go fast up, one to go fast down, they ended up at the finish together. Kabush would sometimes shake Bishop on or just after the climb, but Bishop would always get him back on the downhill.

"He caught up with me seven or eight minutes to go," said Kabush. "It made for an intense finish. I'd push it on any uphill, but he kept coming back to me. On the final grass sweeping corner to the finish, we were neck and neck. We were both drifting on the gravel in the corner."

"It made for a really interesting race, probably the most exciting race of the year," said Bishop. "We would yo-yo back and forth. I would catch up to him and he'd pull away on steep climb, and I'd think I was done and dropped, and then I'd rip downhill at a steady place, and I'd see him slowing down for a stream crossing and I'd blast right through and catch back up."

Kabush said he was not bothered by the altitude. When not travelling for racing, he lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at 6,000 feet altitude, not quite as high as the 9,000 feet at Snowmass. He'd had over a week to re-acclimated after racing in North Carolina. In contrast, Bishop, who resides nearer to sea level, chose the arrive-at-the-last-minute strategy and said he felt fine at altitude Saturday, but suffered Sunday.

National champion Adam Craig (Giant) finished third, back 2'30". Todd Wells (GT) and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru - Gary Fisher) rounded out the podium for fourth and fifth.

The Canadian Kabush claimed the overall national series title with Horgan-Kobelski in second. Bishop's strong two series-ending performances helped him step up to third overall, and he said he felt on track for the rest of the major races for the season. Wells (GT) and Barry Wicks (Kona) finished off the series podium.

On the women's side, Georgia Gould (Luna Women's MTB Team) won the cross country ahead of team-mate Katerina Nash and Heather Irminger (Subaru / Gary Fisher). Gould moved quickly and strategically to the front of the field. "I had a good start and I knew it was important to be first going into the singletrack. It's a 20 minute climb, almost all on singletrack and pretty steep, and there was potential for gaps to form there." Gould maintained her lead until the end, eventually extending it to 1'48". Her win locked up her overall title with 910 points after completing a perfect record by taking all six victories. Nash and Vanlandingham were second and third in the series.

For Cyclingnews' complete coverage of all NMBS disciplines and categories, click here.

Copnall and others named to Britain's worlds team on second round

Four time British national cross country champion
Photo ©: Jenny Copnall
(Click for larger image)

Great Britain expanded its line-up for the World Championships on home turf in Scotland, September 3-9, after the announcement of the initial team stirred controversy within the British mountain biking community.

"Following discussions with members, event organisers and stake-holders in the Fort William World Championships, British Cycling has extended the number of British riders who will compete at the event in September," read a statement on the federation's website.

The British team for worlds is now up to 57 riders including newly selected male cross country riders: Simon Richardson, Nick Craig, and Paul Oldham. Three female cross country racers were also added to the roster, thereby addressing the concern that no elite senior women were named initially: Jenny Copnall, Ruth McGavigan, Elizabeth Scalia.

Many members of the mountain bike community had responded strongly and publicly when they learned that no senior women had been named to the team. The omission put at risk the number Britain's starting spots for the Olympics. Starting spots will be determined by nations' rankings compiled from UCI events such as worlds.

The UK Sport's strict performance goals for all lottery-funded sports were cited as one of the original reasons for not naming any senior women. However according to British Cycling (BC), "Following negotiations with UK Sport, BC's Performance Director, Dave Brailsford, agreed to a special one-off dispensation to select additional riders for this 'home' world championships," continued the statement. "It was agreed to allow BC to run an additional number of riders in the event outside these performance goals."

"We have listened to the many members who have got in touch with us over this issue, plus Mountain Bike race organisers and the Trade," said Brailsford. "The groundswell of opinion was that the Fort William World Championships is a unique event, a unique opportunity to cheer on the leading home riders and that they would like to see a broader participation-based selection than our strict performance-based policy would allow."

After her selection, Copnall said, "While there are wider issues remaining (with regard to team selection), I am very happy that the immediate situation has been resolved and that I can now focus on performing my very best in the race on 8th September. I'd like to thank everyone who has displayed their support for me over the past two weeks. There is no doubt at all that the reaction to my initial non selection by so many and from such a diversity of parts of the cycling community fuelled this change of heart on the part of the governing body.

"One positive is that now we have, for the first time in years, not one, but three women representing Great Britain in the cross country race...," said Copnall. "We have an opportunity to display our very best racers on the biggest stage, hopefully inspiring some future champions along the way."

Blenkinsop readies for worlds

Samuel Blenkinsop
Photo ©: Bike NZ
(Click for larger image)

New Zealand's downhill phenom Sam Blenkinsop is busy training and filming in Eastern Europe, and is in the final phase of preparations for the World Championships in Fort William, Scotland, September 3-9, where he will again be representing his country. This year will be his first racing in the elite category. He won silver in the junior race at the 2006 World downhill championships in Rotorua, New Zealand.

The young 18 year-old rider suffered some bad luck earlier this season, but has since logged fine performances in Italy and France. He also recently launched his own website, www.samblenkinsop.com to keep friends, family, and fans updated.

In Ravascletto, Italy, Blenkinsop took the win in the final round of the Italian National Series. He travelled there with compatriots Nathan Rankin, Glenn Haden, and junior Matthew Scoles, from their base in Morzine, France. The Italian race format has qualifications in the morning, followed by a best of two races run format in the afternoon. He won all three runs.

"The track had heaps of pedalling and was really dusty. We had a good time there and the Italian races are well organised and fun to do," said Blenkinsop after his return from the Avalanche Cup.

In France, he took third in the sprint Avalanche Cup in Oz en Oisans and seventh in the Megavalanche Cup at the Alpe d'Huez.

Crocodile Trophy gets tougher

The main bunch going at a steady pace at the 2006 edition
Photo ©: John Flynn
Click for larger image

Shaken and stirred by the harsh reality of Australia's remote Far North, a cyclist who twice vowed never to return to the Crocodile Trophy has inked a deal to suit up to for a third shot at winning the race scheduled for October 23 to November 1.

Austrian Stefan Rucker (Elk Haus) entered the 2006 Croc Trophy in career-best form, but his dream of winning the coveted classic went horribly off-track when he took a wrong turn on the opening stage.

"Stefan went up a dry gully last year, as you Australians would say," Race Director Gerhard Schoenbacher said as the parcours for the 2007 event was revealed.

"He gets another chance this year, but the course will be tougher and the competition stronger in what I believe will be the most competitive Crocodile Trophy we have yet seen." The retirement of 2006 winner Christophe Stevens has opened up the race in 2007, and all eyes are on the return of consistent Hungarian Attila Marton, Czech hard-man Andrej Fojtik, and the rider who had victory in his sights in 2006, Dane Michael Borup.

In a similar cruel twist of fate to Rucker, a navigational error cost Borup (Team Ghost) dearly in last year's race, but the Dane fought back to record numerous stage wins – vowing all the while to return "gladiator style" this year and seek his vengeance.

Austrian Stefan Rucker
Photo ©: John Flynn
Click for larger image

The task this time around may not be so easy for Borup and his cohorts who will have to race for 10 days, with 1,400 kilometres packed into the schedule - and no rest day. The final five days are expected to be particularly brutal, with an average of 150 kilometres per day on the soul-destroying back roads across the savannah country and rainforest mountains at the Southern end of Cape York.

"We know from experience with this race, if it is hot, and normally that is the case, many of the riders will struggle to finish," Schoenbacher said. "It is our purpose with the Crocodile Trophy to find a worthy champion."

Sixty cyclists from 13 countries have already signed up, among them inspirational Belgian Ironman Marc Herremans, who aims to become the first hand cyclist to complete the race on a custom built bike. A full field of seventy cyclists is expected at the start line in Mareeba. The full schedule is below:

October 23: Mareeba – Irvinebank, 120km
October 24: Irvinebank – Koombooloomba, 128km
October 25: Koombooloomba – Wombinoo, 117km
October 26: Wombinoo – Chillagoe, 169km
October 27: Chillagoe – Chillagoe, 100km
October 28: Chillagoe – Mount Mulgrave, 145km
October 29: Mt Mulgrave – King Junction, 163km
October 30: King Junction – Laura, 156km
October 31: Laura Cooktown, 142km
November 1: Cooktown – Cape Tribulation, 148km

Gunn Rita Diary: Training in Italy

Another week of training camp here in Italy is complete. I'm still not feeling totally well, but things are moving forwards. Ten weeks with hardly any exercise has left me feeling out of shape, and I have to accept that the racing season is over for me.

So I won't be participating in any more competitions this season. After such a long absence from training, I need time to rebuild my strength. It would be starting at the wrong end if I was to start racing again in a couple of weeks. The highest priority is to allow my system a full recovery, get in a few normal training weeks, and then take on the winter season in October.

Even so, I'm optimistic about the situation, and I think we will emerge strengthened from what we've been through. An unwelcome break like I've had is without doubt good for my body, after so many seasons of high intensity and incredible results. The season of 2008 is both exciting and important, and it's good to meet it with a well rested and well prepared body and mind.

It's been challenging to be forced to take it easy these weeks since the end of May. I certainly don't enjoy the feeling of being out of shape. My body has been crying out to me that rest is the best and only medicine that will help me recover my energy after having competed and trained with the virus and stomach bacteria in my system.

We're still here in the north of Italy, in the town of Rovereto, south of Trento. This is an unbelievably gorgeous region for those who like a bit of dramatic nature, with mountains and hills, castles and citadels on both sides of the valley, and the river running through here. We're staying in a fantastic area which offers interesting history, beautiful nature, delicious Italian cuisine (it's impossible to get tired of Italian pizza when you're here), fantastic wines and endless opportunities for both hiking and biking.

To read the complete diary, click here.

Finding Fool's Gold in Georgia

North Georgia's mountains will host the Fool's Gold 100 & 50 races and festival on August 17-19. The Fool's Gold 100 is Georgia's first and only 100 mile mountain bike race.

Harvey Minton and local Peter Joski are among the favorites vying for US$1,200 that will be paid out to top 100 miler finishers. The winner will take $300.

Riders can come for the race only, the festival only, or both. For more information, visit 55nineperformance.com/100.html.

Avalanche Cup to make enduro stop in Scotland

The Avalanche Enduro, scheduled for August 25-26 will let riders experience some prime singletrack in Scotland. The course features a mixture of deep wooded forests, mountain landscapes, and wildlife. The event will have four timed special stages for novices and eight timed special stage for experts. An optional prologue is scheduled for Saturday. Then racers will start at 30 second intervals Sunday, with novices tackling one loop, and experts doing two.

For more information, visit www.avalanchecup.com.

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