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MTB news & racing round-up for July 31, 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

Premont solos to win at home

Canadians excel at Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup

By Sue George in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec

Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain) wins
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Racing near her home, Canadian Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain) rode away from her competition on the first lap and never looked back on her way to victory in the cross country at the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup. She was followed by Catherine Pendrel (Luna Women's MTB Team), another Canadian riding solo to a second place. Norwegian Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory Racing) rode steadily to a strong third place finish.

"It was really crazy to win here at home," said Premont. "The crowd was here for me and it really helped." Premont's popularity drew many spectators – it appeared there were more out to watch the women's race than the men's race. Cheers followed her around the course; it was easy to tell when Premont was coming by the reactions of her fans, many of whom were carrying and waving signs with Premont's photo.

The local heroine got a good start, but she also looked strong throughout the race. "My strategy was to be fast at the beginning and try to get that gap and to be careful after that," she said. In a clean ride finished up in 2:06:30, she had no mechanicals or crashes and her solid technical skills enabled her to ride everything.

Going into the first technical section on the initial lap, Premont led, followed by Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) and Pendrel. The latter eventually passed the Norwegian Dahle Flesjaa who dropped back to finish fifth. American Georgia Gould (Luna MTB Women's Team) finished fourth.

"I had the best World Cup start I've ever had in my life," said fellow Canadian Pendrel. "We were all close at the top of the first climb, but I wasn't aggressive enough and I went into the woods third wheel instead of on Marie's. That allowed a gap to form between us, and Marie started to pull away in the first woods section."

Pendrel said it was helpful for the two Canadians to have raced the same course one week ago for their national championships. "Both of us love this course and we were out there having fun. Mentally, we know we can do well here and that works to our advantage."

French national champion Julien Absalon (Orbea) takes the victory
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

In the men's race Julien Absalon (Orbea) displayed fine form and well-honed technical skills as he dominated the elite men's cross country at the World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne. On the very first lap, he attacked his competition and left them behind to race for second.

Absalon wasn't originally planning on racing at Mont-Sainte-Anne. "After my bad race at worlds [where he DNF'ed - ed.], I changed my mind. I decided that it'd be better to do the World Cup here to keep racing on an international level and boost my confidence."

"I'm happy to win here - it's good for the mind with the Olympics in four weeks," said Absalon, who was wearing the French National Champion's jersey after winning the title again last weekend.

Some surged early and some took the long, steady approach on six laps of a demandingly technical course with plenty of steep climbing, but in the end it was Canadian Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) taking a solid second place after a largely solo ride throughout the race. U23 Racer Burry Stander (GT Bicycles) raced to a third place finish, picking off riders on his way.

Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida) went from being in second to third to wondering whether he would finish the race after he crashed on the third lap. "It was the crash of my life. I went flying and my bike landed far away. It had no seat afterward - it broke in the crash. My helmet was lost, too. I just sat for a few minutes or more, and they gave me water."

"I really thought I would have to quit the race. I've crashed in my life many times, but that was definitely one of the scariest ones - I just started flying and hit my head," said Hermida, still shaken after the finish. Following his crash, during which he lost more than a dozen spots, he worked his way back up to 11th.

World Champion Christoph Sauser (Swisspower) did not start the race after being injured in a crash the day before the race. A trip to the hospital afterward got him five stitches in his leg.

"It would have been interesting to have Sauser in the race," said Absalon, "but it was a bad crash for him yesterday. I hope we will race in Bromont next weekend." That's where the next round of the World Cup will head August 1-3.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite men's and elite women's cross country World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne.

World champions win at Mont-Sainte-Anne 4X

By Sue George in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec

Melissa Buhl (KHS) was happy
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Clad in their rainbow striped jerseys, world champions Melissa Buhl (KHS) Rafael Alvarez de Lara Lu marched through qualifying and finals to win the World Cup 4X in Mont-Sainte-Anne in Canada.

Buhl defeated Mio Suemasa (MS-Intense Factory Racing), Fionn Griffiths (Norco World Team) and Anneke Beerten in the big final. Beerten crashed in the final, but managed to get up and ride to the finish.

"I had an outside lane choice which gave me a disadvantage from the start," said the American winner Buhl. "I had a lot of track to make up there. Anneke had a good start but then she slid out." The turn in question one was the only turn with two options, according to Buhl.

"If you stayed below the lower rock," said Buhl, "you could get on the inside. Problem was we ran out of real estate, and I almost missed the blue gate. It was a bit of a scramble, but I'm glad I didn't miss it and was able to get out." On that turn, where Beerten crashed, Buhl came underneath to make a pass. "I was in front of her when she crashed. I'm not sure what happened."

World Champion Rafael Alvarez De Lara Lu
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

In the men's race, Alvarez de Lara Lu beat Romain Saladini (Team Sunn), Guido Tschugg and Cedric Gracia in the Big Final.

"It was an easy race as I was first through each round," said Saladini through a translator after his final run. Saladini was all smiles after his race and he said he was not nervous for his first World Cup appearance since winning the World Championships just over one month ago. "I tried to race as if it was the same as any other race. It wasn't any different."

Behind Alvarez de Lara Lu was a chasing Romain Saladini (Team Sunn). The Frenchman was content after his race, his first back after breaking a finger at the Fort William round of the World Cup in early June. "It was smooth for me," said Frenchman Saladini. "I didn't see the crash."

Neither he nor Alvarez de Lara Lu knew what was going on in their wake, where Tschugg and Gracia tangled.

The weather caused the 4X qualifications to be postponed from Friday evening until Saturday and they were sandwiched between the downhill finals and the 4X finals. Plenty of rain in the days previous had super saturated the course with water, which caused damage like ruts and mud holes and soft approaches to jumps. Some of the jumps' approaches were covered with plywood for a more solid take-off.

"We were all kind of thinking that we weren't going to race 4X, but I'm glad we did," said Buhl, who had expressed doubt about competing earlier in the day along with concerns about safety on the damaged course. Organizers had deployed an army of personnel working all day Saturday to make emergency repairs.

"For the level of water they got, they did a good job with what they had," said Buhl. "The changes they made were really smart - they listened to the riders. It was good racing.

"The track in the days before was challenging due to the rain, but today it was perfect," said Alvarez de Lara Lu.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite men's and elite women's four cross. See also elite men's and elite women's downhill coverage.

A second Olympic quest for Craig

By Sue George

Adam Craig (Giant)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Just two weeks after being named to represent the United States at the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing in August, Adam Craig successfully defended his US national cross country and Super D titles in Mount Snow, Vermont. Last weekend, at the Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, World Cup, Craig logged an impressive fourth place podium place. Craig spoke about his preparation for the Olympic Games and the effect the Games have had on his season.

It's not the first time Adam Craig has built a season around the Olympic Games. In 2004, Craig was one of four contenders for two positions on the US Olympic team. After a season-long, global quest for the UCI points needed to make the team, Craig was not selected. However, in 2008, things have worked out quite differently.

"It is a lot better this time around - in part because the [selection] criteria is not absolutely ridiculous," said Craig when asked how his two experiences of trying to make it to the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games compared. "But I'm also four years older and four years faster, and I know what I need to do now." Craig will turn 27 just one week before the Olympic race.

"It - the effort to make the Olympic team - has been pleasant and pretty easy as far as hard things go," said a joking Craig as he looked back on his spring campaign.

Four years has brought Craig more maturity, perspective, confidence and experience travelling in Europe. "I know as long as I'm riding decent that I can always be top 15 top 20 World Cup. I'm comfortable with myself racing now."

He also credited his Team Giant for providing a mechanic and a soigneur this time around. "I have better support. We have a good set up. Knowing that's necessary and being able to put my foot down makes a difference. I said, 'You know last time my bike broke a bunch and I didn't make the Olympic team - let's try to avoid that.'"

USA Cycling named Craig to the US Olympic team in early July along with Todd Wells, who also went to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Wells started off the 2008 season with a bang, sending the message to the others that he really wanted one of the two Olympic berths.

"Todd's got a leg up on me for sure. He's been riding out of his skin. I've been riding fairly average." said Craig about a month before winning two national titles at Mount Snow, Vermont.

Read the complete interview with Adam Craig.

Team-mates Sornson and Schalk victorious in Pennsylvania

By Harlan Price in Coburn, Pennsylvania

Stop number five of the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series arrived outside of State College in Coburn, Pennsylvania, last Saturday, with over 300 racers filling up the small city park for the 7:00 am start. A lack of substantial rainfall the night before was a detour from the norm from the previous series races, which all experienced enough rain to significantly affect the courses. Even though racers for the Wilderness 101 were met with moderate temperatures and good trail conditions, the heat of the competition determined there would be a shortage of comfort for all vying for podium spots.

Sornson's new form rears back and strikes

Cheryl Sornson crosses a bridge
Photo ©: Bob Popovich
(Click for larger image)

Twenty two women on the start line marked a new record for attendance in the overall women's division. In the line up was hometown favorite Michelle Stopper (Visit PA), 2006 and 2007 winner Betsy Shogren (Sobe Cannondale), 2007 series winner Carey Lowery (Outdoor Store) and second at the Lumberjack 100 Karen Potter (mtbmind.com). Cheryl Sornson (Trek VW East Coast) looked at the competition and decided to race her own pace to a victory over the stacked field. En route, she shored up her overall first place in the series' standings.

"I had a great start and got in a pack with the guys. I was able to get on some good trains (in the opening road sections)." She managed to lead up through mile 40 but was caught by Stopper on one of the descents soon after. The two rode together briefly, but as the climbs began, Stopper pulled away.

"When she (Stopper) passed me," said Sornson, "I got a little gloomy, but when my friend Tom gave me some encouraging words, I just put it out of my head and tried to stay in my target heart rate zone."

Stopper managed to hold onto her lead until about mile 85 where the Sornson "came blowing by" on the flat, rolling dual track. At the finish line Sornson came in just one minute behind the course record, but more importantly 10 minutes ahead of Stopper. Lowery was 23 minutes back, while Potter finished another five minutes back. Last year's winner Shogren was suffering an injured wrist and decided to ride her singlespeed for the day, but still managed a fifth place finish.

Schalk racks up win number 4 while Eatough and Price play cat and mouse

Jeff Schalk
Photo ©: Chris Scott
(Click for larger image)

Jeff Schalk (Trek / VW East Coast) arrived in Coburn with a hammer and one more nail to put in the coffin in which to bury the rest of his competitors fighting for the top spot on the NUE series podium. On another unfamiliar course with some of the most technical singletrack in the series, Schalk broke away earlier than usual at the 40 mile mark to win with a six minute lead over previous race winners Chris Eatough (Trek / VW) and Harlan Price (IFracing.org), who were left to a game of jockeying for second wheel for a sprint finish.

After aid station one, Schalk got away and while some tried to hold his pace and to chase him back, no one pulled it off. "Since the other races had come down to the end, I was hoping to get this one over with earlier," said Schalk about his tactics after the race. "I felt like I had hung myself out to dry when I attacked, but once I committed I had to pull on. I was in total panic mode for the rest of the race."

Harlan Price and Chris Eatough dropped back on
Photo ©: Chris Scott
(Click for larger image)

Eatough and Price dropped the other riders on the singletrack climb after aid station three and pursued Schalk with a consistent gap of four to five minutes for most of the rest of the way. Christian Tanguy tried to chase them down, but wasn't successful.

Near the end, Eatough attacked but Price always closed. "I realized that Chris had some reserves, and I wasn't in a position to lay down a five mile time trial, so I started imagining a sprint finish," said Price. "Stage 18 and 19 of the Tour [de France] were fresh in my head as well as some spirited group rides I had been on lately, so I thought there was a good possibility of a win if I came in with a good position."

In the final tunnel, where only the outlines of the rocks were visible, Price heard the unmistakable sound of Stan's sealant spewing out of a tire puncture. It stopped spewing and was presumably sealed, but Eatough took advantage and went to the front.

A game of cat and mouse ensued, but by the final corner with a hundred feet to go, Price's front tire had lost enough air to make it impossible to negotiate the turn and Eatough sprinted away to second.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Wilderness 101.

Aussies blitz solo 24-hour worlds

By John Stevenson

In a staggering show of domination, Australian riders grabbed the top four places of the men's race at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin World Solo Championships mountain bike race in Canmore, Canada, this past weekend. The women's event was won by reigning world champion Rebecca Rusch (Specialized).

New South Wales rider James Williamson (Giant/Ritchey) took the overall title in fine style, clocking up 16 laps in less than 23 hours and taking an early finish when it became clear that second-placed Jason English (BMC/Ritchey) couldn't catch him.

Williamson took the early lead ahead of evergreen enduro star Tinker Juarez but at about the eight-hour mark, Juarez pulled away from Williamson, only to later drop out with vision problems caused by mud from the wet Canmore course.

"It was bloody hard early and I didn't think I could hold it," Williamson said at the finish.

Like Williamson, Rusch remarked on the toughness of the hilly Canmore course. "That was the hardest course I have ever done," she said after the finish. "Add in the rain and the cold and it's ten times harder."

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the 24 Hours of Adrenaline.

Siber and Rucknagel win round two in Canzei

Andreas Seiber
Photo ©: Thomas Dietze
(Click for larger image)
Germany's Andreas Sieber and Harriet Rucknagel won the iXS European Downhill Cup's second race. The European tour stop brought the gravity community to the Dolomites. In Italy's Canazei, riders from many different countries from all over Europe rolled to the start of the 3.2km long course.

None of the participants knew what to expect from Canazei's first showing as a race venue so getting accustomed to the conditions at hand was the first thing to do. The course was a high-speed track, which supported the race's motto "release the brakes and give it a go". As with this series' first stop, the weather conditions were unsettled.

Rain set in just in time for Saturday's lunch break. So many riders had to race their seeding run on a wet track without having had the chance to practice under the tricky conditions. Andreas Sieber (Solid A-Class Factory Team) handled the extremely slippery course best, winning the seeding run and thus securing himself the last starting spot on Sunday on his way to a fastest time in the final, too. Marco Bugnone (Ancillotti Team) and Marcel Beer (Ixs Sports Division Racing Team) finished second and third.

In the women's race Scuol's third-place finisher Harriet Rücknagel (Team Zonenschein) stood up to her competitors, winning ahead of Swiss racers Silya Stadler (RMC Kerns) and Miriam Ruchti (Sport Promotion). After having won the seeding run, German Sandra Rübesam (Rad Art) had a crash in her final run, knocking her out of contention for the victory.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Drop Down iXS round.

No Olympics for doper Riis Andersen

Danish National Champion Peter Riis Andersen tested positive for the banned substance EPO in an anti-doping control conducted on June 25. Riis Anderson, 28, was fired from his team after both his "A" and "B" samples came back positive. He will not be allowed to represent his country at the Olympics next month.

"I am sorry for what I have done," Andersen said in a news conference according to the Associated Press. "Until Tuesday last week, I had the idea that I had done nothing wrong. I (then) realized how gross a violation it was. I got it through criminal channels because this cannot be provided legally without a receipt. I joined the club of sinners." After poor results early in the year, Riis Andersen said he was afraid of not making the Olympic team when explaining his motives for doping.

"I can not explain," said Team Manager Robert Dorn in a statement by the team. "We have never put pressure on the racer and his contract for next year was safe. He had no need to dope. Common sense does not explain his actions. What hurts even more is the personal disappointment."

"We want to make way for a clean sport going forward, even if this situation is very difficult," said Dorn after firing Anderson.

Sponsor ALB-Gold issued a statement expressing its shock at the news, but continued support for the rest of the team. "Performance enhancement through illicit means does not agree with our company philosophy. But we are aware of our responsibilities to the rest of the team," said company chief Klaus Freidler. "We will continue our contract until the end of the year. We still believe in the team and the honest work of team manager Dorn." The sponsor will not renew the team's contract after the end of the season.

Atherton returns to the downhill circuit

By Sue George in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Québec, Canada

Dan Atherton
Photo ©: Steve Thomas / Cyclingnews
(Click for larger image)

Dan Atherton (Animal Commencal) was back in action racing downhill last Saturday at the UCI mountain bike World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne in Québec, Canada, for the first time after breaking his right collarbone during training just before the World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy, in mid-June.

"My run was pretty tough. Mont-Sainte-Anne is always the hardest track on the circuit anyway, and coming back from a broken collarbone is always tough, but I just tried to survive, take my line smoothly and not pull any hero manoeuvres," said Atherton, whose sister Rachel, also a World Champion, won the elite women's downhill held just before the men's race. "I was trying to get down in one piece."

Atherton did just that and finished a respectable 23rd place in the race won by Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate). Sam Hill (Monster Energy) finished second followed by Atherton's brother and current World Champion, Gee.

"It was scary. It would have been good if my shoulder was hurting me because it would have reminded me to slow down, but it didn't hurt, and I had to keep telling myself to slow down because I'm not yet up to speed. I knew that if something had gone wrong, it was going to go wrong spectacularly."

After his crash in Italy, Atherton returned to England for surgery. He underwent a procedure using a laser to knit the broken bone back together and did not have any hardware installed.

"I'm not hurt; I'm happy," said Atherton, smiling after his final run.

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