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MTB news & racing round-up for February 28, 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

Kessiakoff and Irmiger start season with wins

Men's winner Fredrik Kessiakoff (Full Dynamix)
Photo ©: Armin M. Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)

Fredrik Kessiakoff outsprinted Roel Paulissen for a season debut-winning performance this past weekend at the opening round of the Sunshine Cup in Cyprus. On a sunny and warm day, the Swedish Full Dynamix rider was fastest through the 45km event. Swiss racer Andreas Kugler finished third. The women's competition saw a largely solo ride from American Heather Irmiger (Subaru / Gary Fisher). Belgian Maaike Polspoel (Belgian National Team) took a surprise second place ahead of Ukrainian Natalie Krompets (ISD).

"For me, this has been the perfect start to the season," said Kessiakoff. "I wanted to win as a gift to my new team. Normally [former team-mate] Roel is more strongly than me in the sprint, but he went too soon. It was a beautiful contest and gives me enthusiasm for the 2008 season."

Kessiakoff and Paulissen spent most of the race off the front together while the rest of the riders battled for third.

The women's podium.
Photo ©: Armin M. Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)

"I took the sprint but the finish line didn't come," said Paulissen after his miscalculation in going for the line. "So I lost energy and motivation. But it's okay, we had a good race together and a lot of fun because we didn't attack each other when we were together. And the course was a nice one."

Irmiger got a gap at the top of the Kalavassos dam. She kept her speed steady and crossed the finish line alone after two hours, 23 minutes and six seconds, with an advantage of 1'24 over Polspoel. The 18 year-old Belgian woman was the surprise of the race as she was much faster than third placed Natalia Krompets, who finished 1'32 minutes later. Swiss marathoner Petra Henzi was one of the race's favorites, but she flatted twice and lost a lot of time.

"It was a long race for us women, and it was my first race this year," said winner Irmiger. "I didn't attack but was going my rhythm all the time. I kept it on because I knew my gap was not too big. It's my third time Cyprus, and I like it. There are a lot of wonderful climbs. It's great to start with a win, I'm happy."

See full coverage of Sunshine Cup #1.

Afxentia to host next two rounds of Sunshine Cup

And they're off...
Photo ©: Armin M. Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)

The Macheras mountains and its singletrack trails are awaiting the Cyprus Sunshine Cup rounds two and three this weekend. The first stage of Afxentia stage race on Friday in Mantra will draw an international field of world-class racers including riders like Germany's Sabine Spitz, who will start in her first cross country competition of the year.

First round winner Fredrik Kessiakoff will be taking a break, but round one's runner-up Roel Paulissen will be the favorite in the men's race. Young Czech Jaroslav Kulhavy played a role in last year's Sunshine Cup races and will be back with his national team to challenge Paulissen.

In addition, Andreas Kugler, Karl Platt, Stefan Sahm, Karl Markt, and Jeremy Horgan Kobelski will be podium contenders. Team Bikin' Cyprus racer Christof Bischof will be on well known terrain mixing it up with the best while Belgian Björn Brems, who had bad luck in Sunday's round one from Tochni to Kalavasos, will be looking for a better result.

For European marathon and cross country champion Spitz, the Sunshine Cup is the first step on her way to Beijing. The silver medallist at the world cross country championships in 2007 is a favorite for the Olympics. She'll face off against marathon world champion Petra Henzi, who suffered two flat tires Sunday, round one winner Heather Irmiger, and young Tereza Hurikova. Eyes will be on 18 year-old Belgian Maaike Polspoel to see if she can repeat her strong effort from first round which netted her a second place.

Round two's 45km point to point race will take racers through the Macheras mountains on Friday. Saturday's second stage of the Afexentia, a 7.4km time trial, will not count for the overall Sunshine Cup although it is held on the cross country course for Sunday's race which will double as the third stage of Afxentia and the third round of the Sunshine Cup.

Sunshine Cup 2008
February 23: Tochni Village (XCP)
February 29: Mantra-Kionia-Mantra (XCP) AFXENTIA stage race #1
March 2: Mantra tou kampiou (XCO) AFXENTIA stage race #3
March 9: Voroklini (XCP)
March 16: Limassol-Yermasogia (XCO)

For further information please take a look on www.mtbcyprus.com.

Jongewaard and Smith reign in Otway Odyssey

Chris Jongewaard emerges from Yaugher for the final time
Photo ©: Andrew Connolly
(Click for larger image)

South Australian and Olympic hopeful Chris Jongewaard and American-based New Zealander Jennifer Smith led their respective races at the 100km Lowan Otway Odyssey MTB Marathon from start to finish last weekend.

In the men's race, a strong field including 2004 Olympian Sid Taberlay, 24 hours of Adrenalin solo world champion Tinker Juarez, defending champion Murray Spink and Australian marathon champion Dan McConnell were put to the sword from the very first climb of the day.

Jongewaard attacked up the steep Busty Road climb, establishing a one minute lead by the top - only 7km in. The main group was splintered early and was whittled down to as few racers as six by 10km, although it regrouped somewhat on the descent and crossing of Wild Dog Creek. Up the longest stretch of climbing for the day and Jongewaard extended his lead to three minutes by the time the race reached the Mount Sabine turnoff with 25km covered. Taberlay, sensing the danger Jongewaard presented, also broke away and rode alone in second place from thereon.

After the exposed and open first 10km,
Photo ©: Andrew Connolly
(Click for larger image)

By the time the technical sections began at the 37km mark, Jongewaard had a four minute lead on Taberlay and a seven minute lead on the main group. Juarez had dropped off the back and was in eighth place nine minutes down. The day's major controversy came in a linking section where the top seven riders excepting Jongewaard were sent the wrong way by course vandals, thereby riding an extra 2.3km. The sabotage wasn't discovered until after Taberlay had already ridden back to town and he pulled out at 50km. For the main bunch the only real effect was to increase Jongewaard's lead, which had now swelled to approximately 12 minutes before the start of 40km of technical riding.

Jongewaard finished in a scorching 5:06:31, especially considering this year's difficult, wet conditions making some of the climbs unrideable in places.

In the women's race, Smith, out in Australia from her base in the US and training for March's Cape Epic in South Africa, led from start to finish, like Jonegwaard. The main threat throughout the course of the day came from Emma Colson, who held the margin at two minutes through to Forrest at 65km. However in the technical and challenging singletrack section from 65km to 87km, Smith put a further seven minute gap in to Colson to extend her lead to an unassailable nine minutes going into the final 13km loop before finishing in six hours and 25 minutes.

See full coverage of the Otway Odyssey.

New Zealand crowns national champions

New Zealand crowned its national mountain bike champions this past weekend in Wellington. Pre-race favourite Stuart Houltham (Palmerston North) led from the start of the elite men's cross country race to claim the national championship while Commonwealth Games representative Sonia Hill (nee Foote) of Rotorua scored a comprehensive victory in the elite women's race.

Houltham, who opened a two minute lead after three laps and eventually finished four minutes clear of runner-up Mike Northcott (Mangakino), winning in 2:04:06, was ecstatic with his win. "I really wanted to win here today. This has been my main focus of the season. It was a course that really suited me with lots of short, sharp climbs," Houltham said.

Hill took her win by four minutes to finish in 2:06:05 with Brenda Clapp in second.

Glenn Haden captured the national downhill men's championships by just two seconds ahead of Cameron Cole, while Wyn Masters came home in third. Meanwhile, Sheryl McLeod firmly announced her return to the elite women's national scene after a few years break with a comprehensive win. Harriet Harper was in second ahead of defending champion Scarlett Hagen who lost her tyre part way down the track.

A new addition to the championships schedule was the short track event. Held in the lunch break from the downhill, riders took on the dirt criterium and provided spectators with a thrilling finish in the open men's class with Mike Northcott and Jack Bauer fighting throughout for the lead. A sprint finish up the final climb saw Commonwealth Games representative Northcott narrowly take the win. Under 19 rider Monique Avery finished off a successful weekend with a win in the open women's class ahead of Sara McDonald and Sara Taylor.

Elite riders from New Zealand and Australia will next contest the Oceania Championships March 14 - 16 in Nelson, New Zealand.

See full coverage of the New Zealand National Mountain Bike Championships.

Canada sets national calendar

Marie-Helene Premont racing at the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

The Canadian Cycling Association announced its 2008 National Mountain Bike Calendar with seven sites hosting nine Olympic cross-country events, six downhill events and two four-cross events.

The season will start in Baie-St-Paul on May 11 where requisite UCI points will be on offer for athletes trying to qualify to race a World Cup event. Since 2007, riders need a minimum of 20 UCI points in order to enter a World Cup event.

Canada will host two World Cups in 2008 with the first at Mont-Sainte-Anne for the 17th time. Mont-Sainte-Anne has hosted a World Cup every year since the beginning of the series in 1991, except for 1998 when it hosted the world championships.

Bromont will host the second World Cup, which returns after almost a decade. It last hosted a World Cup in 1999. This year's new site will get a test run with the opening round of the Canada Cup on May 17-18. The Canadian National Championships are scheduled for July 12-13 (downhill) and July 19-20 (cross country) - both are in Mont-Sainte-Anne.

The Canada Cup finale in Sun Peaks, British Columbia, will wrap up the season with a downhill specific event on August 24.

2008 Canadian National Mountain Bike Calendar
May 11: Coupe du Québec, Baie-St-Paul, Quebec (XCO) (2)
May 17-18: Canada Cup Bromont, Quebec (XCO)(1) / (DHI) (2)
May 24-25: Canada Cup, Mont Tremblant, Quebec (XCO)(1) / (DHI)(2)
June 1: Canada Cup, Hardwood Hills, Ontario (XCO)(1)
June 29: Canada Cup, Kamloops, British Columbia (XCO)(2)
July 5: Canada Cup, Canmore, Alberta (XCO)(1)
July 12-13: Canadian National Championships, Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec (DHI)(CN)
July 19-20: Canadian National Championships, Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec (XCO)(CN)
July 26-27: World Cup, Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec (XCO/4X/DHI)(CDM)
August 2-3: World Cup, Bromont, Quebec (XCO/4X/DHI)(CDM)
August 24: Canada Cui, Sun Peaks, British Columbia (DHI)(2)

For more information, visit www.canadian-cycling.com.

Road world champions help out school mountain biking

Some lucky cycling fans got to dine with former and current world champions Tom Boonen and Paolo Bettini last week during the Tour of California. Following the stage one finish in Santa Rosa on Monday, February 18, the Quick Step road riders joined in a benefit dinner at Risibisi Restaurant for the NorCal High School mountain bike league. Bettini and Boonen met with diners and talked about their experiences racing in California.

The NorCal season opens this weekend per the following schedule:

March 2: Central Coast Invitational (Fort Ord)
March 9: Granite Bay Invitational (Folsom)
March 30: Grants Ranch Invitational (Santa Clara)
April 13: Iron Angels (Angels Camp)
May 4: Carrera del Toro (Salinas)
May 18: State Championship (North of Calistoga)

24 hours of Moab goes galactic

Martin and Ross
Photo ©: Xavier Fane
Click for larger image

Granny Gear Productions is taking the 24 hours of Moab to the next level - more like a World Championship. Although there already exists a 24 hours of Adrenalin World Championships, no 24 hour event is formally sanctioned as a World Championship by the UCI.

"Call it what you like - world, global, galactic championships, it doesn't really matter what the race is called. The fact is that if it draws the top pros from all over to a legendary course, then it's the de facto world championships regardless," said Laird Knight of Granny Gear.

When asked why he's putting one of his races into the championship ring, Knight said, "It's by popular demand. I've been asked by many pro racers and industry people, and basically been told, 'You should be running the world championships.' This request is something I've heard increasingly over the past two years. This year it built to a point where the call to action was clear, I felt compelled to deliver that for people. I'm happy to oblige. I realize how important it is, how much pros want a quality event to represent the best-of-the-best.

"I'm not really interested in getting into a shouting match about whether ours is the real 'world championship' or not," said Knight. "That's why we're calling it the Galactic Championship. Galaxies are bigger than worlds and this race will be bigger in every way that any world championship, to date. Plus, it's just more fun to call it The Galactic Championships and that's in keeping with what this sport is all about."

The 2008 event will be held at the Behind the Rocks venue on October 11-12. The 14.9 mile (24km) Moab course is known for its desert scenery and challenging terrain, and has drawn some top racers annually for its 14 years.

"[Moab] is one of the largest races in the US, it's a truly world-famous destination...," Knight explained why he picked Moab. "Also it is one of the best venues for the pros to be seen. You've got hard-core mountain bikers there from all over the country and all over the world. Pros will get a lot of exposure there and a lot of support. Also because it's one of the largest events we produce with one of the largest pro turnouts, the cash purses have been the largest in the world for a number of years."

Pointing to Granny Gear's long history of 24 hour racing, Knight indicated he wasn't afraid of stepping on the toes of the 24 hours of Adrenalin World Championship or any other promoter. "This sport is about competition and if there can't be some fun competition among race promoters then we all lose. Ultimately, it's the racers who decide by their attendance, which are the truly important, must-go races, and they are going to attend the races of race promoters that work the hardest for them."

Over time, Granny Gear intends to sanction the Galactic Championships to events in other countries. "I like that idea a lot and I look forward to having that, but first there's a lot of work to be done to get us all to this point," said Knight.

In addition to the racing, a rider's forum will be held Friday night before the event to discuss possibilities for the future of 24-hour racing, at both the national and international levels. Granny Gear Productions is accepting suggestions for agenda items in the meantime.

"I would go just because it's Moab," said 2006 Moab champion and Cyclingnews diarist Nat Ross, of the Gary Fisher - Tokyo Joe's team. "European riders like the mystique of Moab, they'll come over for it, I'm sure," he added.

Dusk to Dawn 12 hour challenge still on

Organizers of the Dusk to Dawn 12 hour challenge may have to change their slogan from "Beat the Heat" to "Beat the Rain". However, they confirmed that despite recent rains, the event, already postponed once due to torrential rains, is still on for March 1 in the bushland surrounding Kooralbyn Hotel Resort. Riders are advised to bring some form of shelter and a change of clothes. For more information, visit www.twowheelpromotions.com.au.

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