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MTB news & racing round-up for December 24, 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

UCI gives thumbs-up for Pietermaritzburg

The highest section of the cross country World Cup course in Pietermartizburg
Photo ©: Gary Perkin
(Click for larger image)

The Pietermartizburg, South Africa, round of the 2009 Nissan UCI World Cup received praise from UCI officials. The opening mountain bike series round is set for Easter Weekend on April 10-12. Event Director Alec Lenferna presented the South African event at the official World Cup organisers' seminar staged at the UCI offices in Aigle, Switzerland, on December 10-11 and was commended on the significant work already completed on the race routes and competition arena.

The South African World Cup will be a triple, with cross country, downhill and 4X events on the forested slopes on the northwest of Pietermaritzburg, adjacent to the Cascades Centre Shopping Mall.

"Due to the fact that the Pietermaritzburg leg of the series is the opening event, the majority of the international teams and national federation teams are expected to attend," said Lenferna. "Many of the teams have already made enquiries as to whether they will be able to come to the region earlier and train in the warmth of the South African sun in the weeks leading up to the event."

This will also boost the fourth round of the MTN South African National Cup Series that will be staged at the same venue the weekend prior to the UCI MTB World Cup event, giving local riders a chance to compete against some of the world's best.

"At this point in time, the major interest is in the cross country and downhill disciplines, but the newly-built 4X course, which is the longest and steepest on the competition calendar, is eliciting a high level of curiosity too," said Lenferna.

4X racing is a new discipline for South Africa but because it a spectator-friendly event, is expected to be one of the highlights of the weekend. Pietermaritzburg will also inaugurate a new category, introduced by the UCI for 2009, the Junior World Cup Series, which will offer riders aged 17-18 a premier international racing series for the first time.

Riding the course Stewart
Photo ©: Gary Perkin
(Click for larger image)

Junior men and women selected by their national federation will be eligible to compete in this category in an effort to prepare young stars for the rigors of professional racing when they leave the junior ranks. Each national federation may enter one junior male and one junior female per World Cup event, although the host nation may enter two males and two females, giving MTB South Africa a new opportunity to showcase its junior talent.

Lenferna and his team have already reached an advanced stage of preparation for the event, which is expected to attract more than 1,000 riders, team support staff, sponsors, officials and media from around the world.

"The level of support we are receiving from the City of Pietermaritzburg is exemplary and this is evident in the fact that the City has made a prime piece of real estate available to us to develop, which is part of the Legacy Project rollout that is attached to each of our events," said Lenferna.

"Before and after the UCI World Cup event, the competition courses and facilities will be available for national and regional mountain bike clinics and races throughout the year, which helps to assist in further developing the sport as well as Pietermaritzburg as the African hub of the sport. Local and international visitors to the area can also ride the courses, the only UCI mountain bike World Cup-graded courses in Africa. There are not many places in the world this kind of public access exists," said Lenferna.

Lenferna and his company, Treble Entertainment, staged the 62-nation 2007 UCI B Road World Championships and the 58-nation 2008 UCI Junior Road World Championships, both in Cape Town, South Africa.

"Africa is becoming more and more important as a new market for the UCI in its drive to fully globalise the sport and to this end, the UCI is very keen that we succeed in staging a very good event in April 2009. I've always believed that in Africa in general and in South Africa in particular, we have some excellent event organisers and we don't need to stand back for anyone. I'm confident that we will show the rest of the world a thing or two in 2009 and beyond," said Lenferna.

Alvarez Gutierrez signs extended contract with Giant Italia

Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez made the podium in Schladming, Austria.
Photo ©: Luke Weber
(Click for larger image)

With an eye toward the Olympic Games in London, England, Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez signed a four-year contract with the Giant Italia team. His contract comes with an option for the 2013 season, too.

"I'm very happy about this contract and my results from the entire year. In 2008, sometimes I had bad luck, like in Madrid. But this year, I will be ready in every race on my calendar."

Alvarez Gutierrez, who was born in Talavera de la Reina, had some good results in 2008. He finished third in the final round of the UCI cross country World Cup in Schladming, Austria, behind World Champion Christoph Sauser and Jose Antonio Hermida. He also finished second at the Roc d'Azur.

"The renewal of the contract is another element of the ambitious Giant Italia Team's project," said Team Manager Gianfranco Bechis, who added that his riders are targeting a win in a World Cup in 2009.

Alvarez Gutierrez and his team will take part in a training came in Sicily from February 5 to 23. His first race will be the fourth edition of the Granfondo del Muretto di Alassio.

Vallnord World Cup makes course modifications

Sabrina Jonnier at the Vallnord, Andorra World Cup
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

The UCI World Cup will return to Vallnord, Andorra, in 2009 for a gravity-only round on May 16-17. Organizers will keep the same downhill and 4X circuits as last year, but are making some modifications to the courses according to the recommendations of the technical delegates of the UCI and the participants themselves. The goal is to improve access, and create more space for better visibility of the progress of both events.

The first part of the four cross will stay the same, but the second part will see several changes. Three jumps were re-worked as was a plateau followed by a step up and a triple. The final section, still to be completed, will consist of a stem-shaped oblique, followed by an elevated left and a step up to the finish line.

A tree was cleared from the lower portion of the downhill course to increase spectators' visibility. In addition some lines were changed to add more options for the expected 300 competitors.

Much of the work was completed at the end of the season, before the snow began to fall. The snow pack is expected to help consolidate the recent changes.

For more information on the Vallnord venue, visit www.vallnordbikeparkworldcup.com.

Pendrel named Canadian Cyclist of the Year

Catherine Pendrel (Luna Women's MTB)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Catharine Pendrel of Kamloops, British Columbia was named Female Canadian Cyclist of the Year for 2008 after one week of voting on canadiancyclist.com. Now in their 12th year, the Canadian Cyclist of the Year Awards are recognized as the premier cycling awards in Canada.

Pendrel, who finished second in the season-long World Cup of mountain bike racing and was fourth at the Olympic Games in the cross country, finished marginally ahead of defending award winner Marie-Helene Premont of Chateau Richer, Quebec. Premont won the World Cup overall title and took a higher percentage of first place votes, but Pendrel's stronger ranking in second and third place voting gave the New Brunswick-born rider her first title. The top road racer was national road champion Alexandra Wrubleski, in third place.

"It feels great to be voted Female Rider of the Year for 2008," said Pendrel. "It was a big year [for Canadian women], with a lot of great performances by women on the road, track and dirt. This was definitely my best season yet. I'm looking forward to another great season in 2009 with my Luna professional team."

On the men's side, Canadian national mountain bike champion Geoff Kabush of Courtenay, British Columbia finished a distant second behind winner Svein Tuft of Langley, British Columbia. Tuft repeated the award win after taking more first place votes than his four competitors combined. He won silver in the UCI time trial world championships and finished seventh in the time trial at the Olympic Games. Tuft was subsequently signed to the American Garmin-Chipotle professional team, and is scheduled to ride the Tour de France in 2009.

Tour de France competitor and former mountain biker Ryder Hesjedal finished third.

One month to go until Australian nationals

Just one month remains until the 2009 Mountain Bike Australia National Championships will be held on January 22-26 at Stromlo Forrest Park, Canberra. The races will be held on the same courses as the 2009 World Mountain Bike Championships and they will feature the best riders from all over Australia.

Complete course information, maps and a schedule are available at www.mtbnationals.com.au. Registration is now open.

2009 Australian National Championships
Friday, January 23: club team relay
Saturday, January 24: 4X heats & finals; cross country (U17, sports, masters)
Sunday, January 25: cross country (elites, U23 & U19 men & women; veteran & expert men); downhill group C finals & group A seeding)
Monday, January 26: downhill groups A & B finals; short track

USA Cycling names clubs of the year

Black Bear Cycling of Sussex, New Jersey, was named mountain bike club of the year by USA Cycling. It was one of ten sanctioned clubs to be recognized for outstanding programs throughout the 2008 season and to receive complimentary registration fees for the 2009 racing season.

The club promotes the Wawayanda Spring Cleaning mountain bike race in Hewitt, New Jersey, and it hosted four clinics throughout the season focusing on bike safety. Its members enjoyed several competitive successes throughout the season with podium finishes at the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships and the Campmor H2H MTB Race Series.

The group maintains a high level of visibility in the regional racing scene, has an exemplary volunteer record and partners with two state park administrations and local high schools. Club members logged more than 300 hours in volunteer trail work in 2008.

Clubs were judged on several key areas including race promotion, membership composition, instructional clinics and seminars, club activities, charitable contributions and racing performance. Of USA Cycling's 2,216 member clubs, approximately 76 applied for consideration in 10 separate categories.

Alpine winter downhill series returns to Innerleithen

Following last year's success, The Alpine Bikes Winter Downhill Series is returning to Innerleithen for 2009 for two weekends of action. The first round will happen on January 31 to February 1, and round two is scheduled for February 28 to March 1.

"I am looking forward to two great weekends of racing set on the famous Innerleithen downhill tracks," said Bryan Shedden of the only winter races scheduled for Scotland.

Each weekend will feature a full day of practice on Saturday, more practice Sunday morning and a single race run on Sunday afternoon.

For more information, visit www.alpinebikes.com or register at www.sda-races.com

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