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MTB news & racing round-up for April 19, 2008

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

Houffalize opens 2008 World Cup cross country season

By Luke Webber in Houffalize, Belgium

The course is a favourite of the riders
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

Houffalize, the home of cross country racing, will open the UCI Mountain Bike Cross Country World Cup presented by Nissan this Sunday with thousands of fans lining the course hoping their rider clinches a most memorable win.

Standing between the 273 male and 130 female competitors is a currently dry and dusty circuit - the racers' favourite. Similar to the lap that so suited Jose Hermida last year, it is a real mountain bike course with short power climbs, fast roads through the Houffalize town centre and steep descents. The Spaniard is already in high spirits before the race along with the circus that follows the World Cup circuit across Europe, Canada and Australia. All are eager to start after a long winter break.

For most this race will be a first test in an especially important Olympic year - so far in 2008 most of the front runners have only competed in national events with the exception of those who were in South Africa for the toughest endurance test - the Cape Epic.

Amongst those Epic riders was promising under-23 Burry Stander and despite a leg injury sustained early on in that race, he will start on Sunday. Also back is Liam Killeen, but following a year out through illness, he will have a hard race starting a long way back on the grid in 140th.

Irina Kalentieva is reigning World Champion
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

All of the usual favourites will start the race with great ambitions - current World and Olympic champion Julien Absalon, marathon World Champion Christoph Sauser and local favourite Filip Meirhaeghe. Nino Schurter will once again look to dominate the under-23 category following World Champion Jakob Fuglsang's move into the senior ranks.

Adam Craig is the top American, while strong performances in the NMBS leave Canadian Geoff Kabush another contender, especially if it stays dry. He finished especially well last year in similar conditions and in 2008 has a great chance thanks to a much improved grid position.

The women's race sees the return of Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja to the field - another rider who was ill in 2007. While her outward ambitions are reserved everyone will be watching her, including newly crowned World Champion Irina Kalentieva.

A typical Houffalize trail
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

"I'm excited about the start of the new season, especially the added competition it will be more interesting and definitely harder," said Kalentieva to Cyclingnews on Thursday. I did not prepare in the same way this year because I have aspirations for the Olympics and World Championships. If I win, that will be great, but if not it will have at least been good training!"

Last year though it was the Chinese who dominated the women's early season races and nobody will be more motivated to show what is in store for the Olympic race than Ren Chengyuan, Jingjing Wang and Ying Liu.

A race within the women's race will be the Australian team of Kate Potter, Dellys Starr, Tory Thomas and Rowenna Fry - all of whom are travelling the first three European World Cups together in a bid to become the Australian representative for the Beijing Games.

Alongside the elite racing there is also a packed schedule of support events on Saturday including a UCI category one 4X race. Houffalize is full of mountain bikers with an expectant atmosphere so stay tuned to Cyclingnews to find out what happens on race day.

Niner Bikes pairs with IMBA for limited edition charity bikes

By James Huang in Monterey, California

The IMBA-edition frameset features Reynolds 853 tubing…
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

Niner Bikes founders Chris Sugai and Steve Domahidy have teamed up with IMBA to create a limited edition bicycle in order to raise money for the premier mountain bike advocacy organization. "We're now to the point where we are financially ready to give back to the industry," said Sugai. "IMBA was our first choice."

The IMBA-edition Niner M.C.R. 9 frameset will use the same custom Reynolds 853 tubeset as the standard version but will covered in a trail map-inspired powdercoated finish by Spectrum Powderworks. The first frameset was awarded to Vermont resident Chris Weber, who won the preceding design contest, but remaining copies will command a retail cost of US$1149. All proceeds from the sales will be donated to IMBA.

Standard M.C.R. 9 frames normally fetch US$749 and the matching rigid fork another US$179. As such, the IMBA-edition version represents a surprisingly modest premium for such as small production batch so we anticipate that they will likely go quickly.

Ultimately, Sugai and Domahidy hope to make this sort of fundraising activity an annual event with a different beneficiary each year.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by James Huang / Cyclingnews.com

Mike & Mary diary: Early season races

Rincon, Puerto Rico is a good place to surf
Photo ©: Meg Wells
(Click for larger image)

The transition into the race season is always a bit difficult. In our case, returning to the states from Chile to my family's home in Massachusetts was the first step of transitioning into race mode, a mandatory stop in and, judging by the piles of backed up paper mail and loose ends that awaited us on our return, a bit overdue. After a busy and cold 10 days at home of training, building race bikes and shuffling papers, Mary and I flew south to officially kick off our race season. The first stop was the Ultimate Dirt Challenge in Rincon, Puerto Rico, on March 31 then on to Venezuela on April 6 to attend the Pan American Continental Championships.

This year's edition of the Ulitmate Dirt Challenge more than lived up to our expectations for tropical weather, huge crowds and once again a fantastically organized and fun event. Mary and I have attended this race for the past three years, and it has become one of our favorites as well as our traditional season opener. The promoter, Doel Gonzales (www.ciclomundo.com), once again treated us better than necessary to get us back to be a part of this in this one of a kind event. This year, the race included a spectator friendly traffic snarling downhill (actually crossing the main road into town), a crowd pleasing dirt jumping exhibition, as well as a UCI category one ranked cross country event. Thousands of enthusiastic Puerto Rican spectators attended from all over the island to enjoy this unique and fun one day bike festival.

Mary on the podium at the Ultimate Dirt Challenge
Photo ©: Meg Wells
(Click for larger image)

A tropical island is a great place to host an early spring mountain bike festival and the location in Rincon, Puerto Rico, (a premier surf spot) makes this one all the more alluring for us. Although the potential for a cross country course is limited by available land, it makes up for this with its uniqueness. The cross country track is a seven kilometer twisting ribbon jammed into a dense jungle-y patch of trees that surrounds a long retired nuclear power plant. Primarily singletrack, short stabby climbs and drops and the feeling of constantly being on a fast railing turn pretty much sum up the course. Glimpses of the blue Caribbean and the rustling of the shady palms helps to make this course one of our favorites. This year, the daily afternoon downpours splitting up the hot/humid sunny days had the track primed, fast and tacky as we have ever seen it.

Of course, the racing still hurt!!! All those long off season hours of specific training rides that are supposed to have you up to speed and ready to compete never really seem to match up to the intensity of the first race. Having learned this lesson before, we always try to get in a few training races as this one before some of the more important ones on the schedule.

The small women's field did not stop Mary from pushing her limits although she was able to ride away easily and take the win - averaging around 19 mph throughout the race and putting close to 30 minutes on the second place woman. She clearly made the most of her hard training effort as she continued her preparation for top race fitness in the soon upcoming World Cups.

Read the complete diary entry detailing Mike & Mary's adventures in both Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Hessler to race Baja Epic

Canadian Andreas Hessler became the latest big name to enter the 300-mile, four day Baja Epic slated for November 5-8 in Mexico.

Hessler's achievements include two Canadian National titles, three Canadian National Series titles and two Trans Rockies wins. He also organizes the BC Bike Race, a multi-day stage race through British Columbia.

"We are thrilled to have Andreas in and part of the field," said Baja Epic promoters. "He's a great racer who's really shined in these stage races. This should be a very good field for the inaugural event".

Plattkill signs Ulmer

Plattekill Mountain Bike Park, in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, signed one of their longtime local downhill racers, Geoff Ulmer. The 17 year-old Ulmer, who started riding at Plattekill when he was just 10 years-old, has advanced to the pro class for 2008, where he'll also fly the Playbiker - Iron Horse UCI trade team colors.

"I've been training at the Bike Park for years and it has paid off," said Ulmer.

He will attend North American and European UCI World Cup Events and hopes to represent the US at the World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy. Ulmer has won numerous titles in the US including the last three JrX Championships at Plattekill and a US National Championship last year.

"I'm more than happy to support Geoff this season. I've had my eye on him for the past seven years and have seen him win championships every year here from the beginner class to the JrX class when he was just 14," said Laszlo Vajtay, General Manager of Plattekill Mountain.

Plattekill will host the New York State Championship series, featuring downhill, dual slalom and cross country races and well as a new endurance race, a six-hour event on June 7. This year the Bike Park will host a stop and the finals of the Gravity East Series for the second year in a row and a race on May 3-4 will serve as the JrX automatic qualifier for the US team at the World Championships.

American juniors to vie for automatic nominations to worlds team at Greenbrier

One of the largest races in the Eastern US, the Greenbrier Classic will be especially important for expert juniors for this year's edition on April 27. The race, held on Maryland's Catoctin Mountain will serve as just one of two automatic qualifier events for berths on the US Junior World Championship Team.

The second qualifying event will be the Santa Ynez Valley race on May 18 in California. Since no juniors finished in the top three at last year's World Championships, any American juniors with international licenses who win the expert junior male and female categories will automatically be added to the Junior World Championship team.

Furthermore, the Greenbrier race is also part of the Allison Dunlap Junior Olympic MTB Series for the first time ever. In addition to featuring juniors, this year's race will feature 49 categories and US$8,000 in prizes. It is part of both the American Mountain Bike Calendar (AMBC) and USA Cycling National Calendar and is a qualifying event for the US National Championships for all categories.

For more information see www.potomacvelo.com.

Watch Valley Bike cup starts this weekend

The sixth edition of the Watch Valley Bike Cup, with 10 events, starts this weekend, April with the National Bike Race Perrefitte and runs through September 28. Events will take place in the Swiss cantons of Neuchatel (NE), Jura (JU), Bern (BE) and Vaud (VD).

Watch Valley Cup 2008
April 20 - Round 1: National Bike Race Perrefitte BE
April 27 - Round 2: VTT Planeyse Colombier NE
May 11 - Round 3: Arnon Bike Bonvillars VD
May 18 - Round 4: Roc du Littoral Hauterive NE
June 21 - Round 5: P'tit Raid Moutier BE
July 13 - Round 6: Watch Valley Bike Marathon La Chx-de-Fds - Les Genevez NE / BE / JU (56, 87 or 120km)
July 26 - Round 7: Les Tchérattes Epauvillers JU
August 10 - Round 8: Biel-Bienne Bike Race Biel-Bienne BE
September 13 - Round 9: Eole'Bike Tramelan BE
September 28 - Round 10: Mega Bike La Chx-de-Fds NE

The classification will be based on the results from each rider's six best races. For more information, visit www.wvbikecup.ch or www.watchvalley-bikemarathon.ch.

Chase the Sun MTB series for 2008

The second-year Chase the Sun Mountain Bike Series will feature four events at Lysterfield Park in Victoria, Australia. Each event will vary from five to eight hours according to the amount of daylight hours available. The challenge of this endurance test is to ride as many laps of the course as possible, before the sun sets.

"I am really looking forward to building on the success of last years events and welcoming even more newcomers to the sport again this year," said Kristjan Snorrason of Full Gas Promotions.

As in 2007, the course for each of the four events will differ, providing riders with a fresh challenge for each event. The actual course for each event is finalized close to race day, after consideration of prevailing trail conditions, forecasted weather and participant numbers, ensuring sensitivity to the environment and trail maintenance.

May 11: Round 1
June 1: Round 2
July 27: Round 3
August 17: Round 4

For more information or to register teams of one, two or three, visit www.fullgaspromotions.com.au.

Scottish Borders to host festival

The Scottish Borders will host a multi-sport adventure festival on July 5-6 in the UK. In addition to an ACE Race adventure race and a 12km Dirty Dozen trail run, mountain bikers will have the chance to tackle the Polaris Challenge.

The two-day Polaris Challenge is a joint challenge of navigation and endurance. Mountain bikers much reach as many checkpoints as possible within the allotted times. Riders will be given a list of checkpoints and sent out from the base camp at Traquair where they ride for between five and seven hours before returning to base to receive further instructions. As a two day event, riders will camp over night before taking on the second half of the challenge and will finish mid-afternoon allowing plenty of time to enjoy the festival atmosphere at the main event village.

The weekend's activities are part of regional efforts to establish the South of Scotland as a UK destination for mountain biking and adventure sports.

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