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MTB news & racing round-up for March 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

Marathon opens UCI World Cup season

Thomas Dietsch (Gewiss Bianchi) racing at La Ruta
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

Frenchman Thomas Dietsch (Gewiss-Bianchi) and Finn Pia Sundstedt won the opening round of the UCI World Cup Marathon in Manavgat, Turkey on Sunday.

Last year's top-ranked marathoner Dietsch, who finished in a time of three hours, 38 minutes and 54 seconds, faced a challenge from former Olympic Champion Miguel Martinez, who was back from retirement, which he had begun in 2006. No doubt a flat tire slowed the former champion, who eventually finished 33rd after his bad luck. Martinez was at one point in the lead and had dropped Dietsch, who passed Martinez when he got his flat on a downhill and went on to win solo.

"I'm very happy, relieved. I'm going to take a holiday now. I'm the new World Cup leader," said Dietsch according to the UCI's website.

Austrian Alban Lakata (Dolphin-Trek Mountainbike Racing Team) finished second, just 21 seconds off the lead, with German Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm, both of Team Bulls, in third and fourth at 2'19" and 2'20" respectively.

Finn Pia Sundstedt won the women's race after a tight battle with Italy's Annabella Stropparo, who was fresh off last weekend's Italian Cup win in Brescia. Sundstedt took her win in three hours, 28 minutes and 16 seconds, by just five seconds over Stropparo. Swiss Esther Süss finished in third at 7'23".

The next and final round of the marathon World Cup is scheduled for October 4-5 in Ornans, France.

Hermida "satisfied" with Spanish Cup debut

Jose Antonio Hermida
Photo ©: Sergio Suarez
(Click for larger image)

Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida) finished fourth in the first race of the Open de España in Albeda de Iregua, Spain on Sunday. Ruben Ruzafa Cueto (Orbea) won by 58 seconds over Martí Gispert Labarta (ECP-Tau Ceramica) and Ivan Alvarez Gutiérrez (KTM) placed third.

Hermida, who was contesting his first cross country race of the season, said he felt very comfortable on his new "ninety-six" bike. Throughout the race, he stayed near Ivan Álvarez, with the pair riding a constant pace, but it was Álvarez who won the sprint for third.

"I am satisfied with my fourth position of today," said Hermida on his website. "It was the first race of the season and [I] could not go to the maximum. It has been a race in which I have gone with a constant and soft pace. The important thing is to have good feelings, and I have had them." Hermida has planned a step by step increase in his fitness as he gears up for the World Cups and Olympic Games.

Kugler & Henzi collect overall Sunshine Cup

Team-mates Petra Henzi and Andreas Kugler (Fisher BMC) celebrate
Photo ©: Armin M. Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)

The wins of Austrian Christoph Soukup and Swiss Petra Henzi offered no surprises at Limassol-Yermasogia for round five of the Sunshine Cup. For Henzi, her win, ahead of Adelheid Morath and Tereza Hurikovas meant she also claimed Sunshine Cup overall title. Henzi's Fischer-BMC team-mate Andreas Kugler finished second in the men's race and claimed the overall men's title while Sweden's Magnus Darvell placed third.

Soukoup used his climbing prowess to his advantage in the men's race and eventually rode away from Kugler after an attack that got him a gap. "Soukup for sure was stronger in the ascent. The locomotive took two gears higher and then he was away. But at least I'm happy with the overall title as well as with the complete four weeks racing and training in Cyprus. It couldn't have been better," Kugler said.

Soukup was afraid of Kugler catching him on the descent. The Swiss indeed did make up some ground, but Soukup's first season victory was safe, and he took the win by 1'14" over Kugler. "I'm happy with the victory. It was a successful end of a good training camp," Soukup said.

The first decisive action in the women's race happened in the first lap. After just three kilometers Adelheid Morath, Petra Henzi and Tereza Hurikova went into a downhill section. Hurikova tried to pass, took an alternative line and rolled over a stone which caused her a flat and more than six minutes.

On the start loop of the men's race
Photo ©: Armin M. Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)

The flat was demoralizing for the Czech racer, who had a long run to get to the tech zone for help with her repair. "That made my legs very hard, and I needed to recover from running. Mentally it was hard to motivate myself knowing that I have no chance to take the win," said eventual third-placed Hurikova.

Henzi made it her race on the downhill parts and the marathon world champion got away to complete most of four laps solo before finishing first ahead of the 23 year-old German Morath.

"My first goal today was to secure the overall. But I had a lot of fun, especially in the winding downhill," said Henzi. On the final day of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup the sun shined twice for her.

Considering her overall title, Henzi was happy with a good start for Fischer-BMC. "It's very positive for the team winning both [men's and women's] overall titles. Our goal was to have a good training camp on Cyprus. The races were a plus to get the race rhythm and it worked out.

Muddy Mundy defends South African title

Heymans wins men's race, but Stewart named national champion

Team Jeep’s Amy-Jane Mundy rode the perfect race
Photo ©: SA MTB
(Click for larger image)

Team Jeep's Amy-Jane Mundy took advantage of muddy conditions to successfully defend her cross country elite women's title at the South African national mountain bike championships in Pietermaritzburg. Going into the championships as a dark horse, with only an outside chance of toppling African champion Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing), the 2007 national champion was motivated to put in a great performance and won by more than four minutes.

"I love racing in muddy conditions and so for me, the rain was actually a good thing," said the 26 year-old. "The course was only about 80 percent rideable on the first lap and I managed to get the early lead on the first climb and just built on it from there."

Speedy was slowed by a snapped chain with two kilometres of the first lap remaining. "It was mostly all downhill from where my chain snapped to the technical zone at the start/finish area so I thought I'd just run with my bike down to where I could wash the chain and repair it," explained Speedy. "But the broken chain fell out of my pocket at some point so I had to find a new chain which took up even more valuable time."

Going into lap two, Speedy had lost a few positions and was 13 minutes down on Mundy, an eternity in a two-hour event. Speedy chased hard on the remaining three laps, moving up to second place and gradually closed the gap to Mundy, who by contrast, was having a perfect race. But ultimately it was Mundy's day and she gave a broad, muddy-faced grin to the crowd as she crossed the finish line in 2:18:12.

"I did feel pressure going into the race and am so happy to have been able to defend my title," smiled an elated Mundy, who conceded that Speedy's technical problems did take the pressure off somewhat, before adding: "But I did put all my focus on this race and it's very satisfying that it paid off."

In the elite men's cross country race Brandon Stewart (USN), inspired by enthusiastic hometown support, charged into an early lead at a very quick pace. But as he started lap four for the second half of the race, Mannie Heymans (MTN Energade), caught and passed him and went on to claim the victory. However, as Heymans hails from Namibia, Stewart was awarded the national title.

"I've been training for cross-country racing as well as marathon racing this year, so I was very prepared for this race," said Stewart afterwards. "I'm riding full time now which makes a big difference. It feels really good to win a national title!"

For Heymans, the overall victory was important as it confirmed his selection to represent Namibia at the Beijing Olympics, the veteran's third Olympics. "I didn't have a great year last year and I told the Namibian Federation that if I didn't prove myself at the South African Champs., I would happily step aside from the Olympic team. But I showed today that I've still got what it takes and feel my selection is justified," smiled Heymans.

Burry Stander (Mr Price GT) won the U23 men's cross country title, and Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) and Gina Nixon won the elite men's and women's downhill.

The 26 year-old Minnaar had only been back on his bike three weeks following surgery to repair his shoulder. "To be honest, it was quite a relief to win today," smiled Minnaar. "I'm always expected to win in South Africa and when I'm home, I'm not super focused on racing so went into the race a bit under-prepared. But it all worked out okay and my shoulder never bothered me at all, although I was a bit stiff from practising in the mud on Saturday."

See full coverage of the South African National Championships.

Australia & New Zealand take turns dominating at Oceanias

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

The Australians and New Zealanders took turns dominating the cross country and downhill competition at the UCI Oceania Mountain bike Championships in Nelson, New Zealand. The Australians came out on top in the cross country while New Zealanders took top championship honors in the downhill.

In the cross country, both Australian national champions won their respective races with Adelaide's Chris Jongewaard and Melbourne's Dellys Starr reconfirming their current positions as two of only four Australian riders on the shadow team for the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

Jongewaard had to fight for the lead which was taken by former Athens Olympian, Sid Taberlay from Tasmania. Multi-Australian titleholder Taberlay, who finished sixth at the Commonwealth Games, led convincingly during the first four of six laps of the 8.4 km course - eventually opening up a 20 second lead. Jongewaard later closed the gap and reclaimed the lead to win in a a record 2:00:19. Taberlay could not answer and placed second at 1:18 with Victorian Dan McConnell in third nearly four minutes down. All three riders are on Australia's shadow team for the Olympics.

Australian Dellys Starr, the only female rider to qualify for the Australian shadow team, was in a class of her own in the elite women's race. The 31 year-old spread-eagled the field to win her four lap race in 1:37:43, with New Zealand's Kaytee Boyd impressing with her second place, ahead of Australian Rowena Fry.

"I pushed up the climbs and pulled away and lead from the start," said the women's winner. "I always go out as hard as I can. I was happy with the win because my preparation and training is heading in the right direction." Starr said she had done some threshold training before this event however with a long season of World Cups ahead, Starr says she will return to strength training.

In the downhill, it was New Zealand's turn to stand on top of the podiums. In the men's race, a hometown rider Kieran Bennett gave the locals plenty to cheer about when he took out the downhill title. It proved a New Zealand double with Queenstown's Scarlett Hagen claiming the Oceania elite women's honours, although she finished a close second behind visiting Great Britain rider Tracy Moseley, who was ineligible for the title.

Bennett, third in yesterday's seeding run, upstaged his rivals to scorch down the course in 2'57"06. The 2007 national champion finished 14 seconds ahead of the in-form Christchurch professional Justin Leov, who won the South Island Cup round on the same course in January. Experienced Levin rider Nathan Rankin was third, 42 seconds behind the winner, while top seed Sam Blenkinsop completed a disappointing competition when he crashed out and finished well down in the finishing order.

English professional Moseley, the 2006 World Cup downhill series champion and runner-up last year, enjoyed a superb weekend to clock the fastest time in the downhill, after second place in the dual slalom and a win in the four cross. Hagen, who headed the seeding run, was happy to finish so close to Moseley and claim the Oceania title. Her margin was just 3.8 seconds. Hagen had little time to celebrate as she headed directly back to resume her university studies at Otago University tomorrow.

"I was pretty happy. Obviously it was good to top the seeding run but I am pleased with the performance today to finish so close to Tracy, who is world class," Hagen said. "I am looking forward to competing in some World Cup races later this year," she added.

See full coverage of all events at the UCI Oceania Mountainbike Championships.

La Ruta winner gets nod for Beijing

Federico Ramirez at La Ruta 2007
Photo ©: Luis A. Rueda Fonseca
(Click for larger image)

Federico "Lico" Ramírez has earned the chance to represent Costa Rica in the Olympic Cross Country race in Beijing, China, in August. He was selected by the Technical Board of the Costa Rican Cycling Federation (FECOCI) for his achievements over the past year including winning the 2007 National XCO Cup, the 2007 XCO National Championship, placing fourth at the TransAlp race in Europe, placing second at the TransRockies in Canada and also for winning the overall at the 2007 La Ruta de los Conquistadores.

"I'm very happy about this opportunity. This is what every cyclist dreams about. I hope to do the best for my country and will now work thinking on that single goal," said the 31 year-old Costa Rican cyclist.

Lico's team-mate Henry Raabe was also chosen to represent Cost Rica, but on the road team, thanks to his two consecutive victories in La Vuelta a Costa Rica, the country's most important road race (ranked 2.1 on the UCI's American Tour).

Both racers will take part in the Sea Otter Classic next month. "We will support them to enter the Sea Otter Classic as a first stop on their long trip to Beijing," said La Ruta's Marketing Manager Luis Rueda. Ramírez and Raabe will also travel to Europe two months before the Olympics in order to complete their preparation. The Costa Rican Cycling Federation and the BCR-Pizza Hut Cycling Team will sponsor their journey to Europe.

Schultz brothers break away together

Team Kenda Titus Hayes' Andy Schultz took his team's first solo win this past weekend at the Gardner Canyon Grind in Sonoita, Arizona. Racing along side his brother Sam for the first time since both turned pro, they took an early lead on the first lap along with two other riders. By the end of the lap, the pair had dropped their companions and was working together as they rolled along the hilly fire roads into a strong headwind. When they entered the singletrack descent, Sam flatted and Andy soloed for the rest of the day, cruising to the win.

After the event, Andy spent time with many of the junior racers taking part in the race. He invited them to spend more time with the team at the NOVA Desert Classic in early April. Schultz and his team head next to the first National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) event in Fontana, California at the end of March.

Gunn-Rita diary: Last day in Stavanger

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå riding
Photo ©: Multivan Merida Biking Team
(Click for larger image)

On Thursday morning we bid a final farewell to our apartment in Stavanger. Next time we come home again, we'll be moving straight into our new house designed by KleppHus. We have packed our suitcases for half a year.

And here we are at Maser, close by Montebelluna in Treviso, in the north of Italy. We'll be living and training here for the rest of the month in familiar surroundings. We left Stavanger early Thursday morning and were fetched at the airport in Zurich. Oliver from Team Multivan Merida fetched us and drove us to Brescia, north of Milan, and a short half hour's drive from Verona.

Our plan was to start the cycling season on Saturday morning in the Italian Cup. I was out cycling 'round the course on Friday, a rough and demanding track circling around the castle in the town of Brescia, but my body felt weak and not up to it. So Kenneth and I made a joint decision to not take part in the race on Saturday morning. We're not taking any chances with my health these days. I was naturally looking forward to competing again, but it wouldn't have been a good experience anyway when my body clearly wasn't up to it.

Read the complete diary entry.

Alpine Bikes Winter Series continues with round three

Coming up this Easter weekend, March 22 and 23 is round three of the Alpine Winter Bike Series at Innerleithen, Scotland. The race will take place on a new track and is drawing top racers like Marc Beaumont, Dan Atherton, Gee Atherton, Rachael Atherton, Helen Gaskell, Matt Simmonds, Tom Braitwaite, Julien Camellini, Neil Donoghue, Si Paton and Nigel Page.

Saturday is for practice and a trials team display. Practice resumes Sunday morning with racing starting after lunch. For more information, visit www.alpinebikes.co.uk or www.npsdh.com

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