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MTB news & racing round-up for May 1, 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

Legendary Cactus Cup returns

By Sue George

The desert in bloom at one of the former sites of the Cactus Cup in Fountain Hills, Arizona
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Remember the Cactus Cup? Well, it's back, but this time at a new venue at Mountain's Edge in Las Vegas, Nevada, and to a new time on the calendar from September 19 to 21, just prior to the Interbike Trade Show.

The famous event, which began in 1991 as an early season tune-up race in the Arizona desert, grew to be one of world's biggest mountain bike race festivals and traveled to Australia, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Brazil, and across the United States as the sport of mountain biking swelled in the 1990s.

Ravi Rajcoomar and his partner in their Swagger company are promoting the revitalized Cactus Cup, and in fact, it was Rajcoomar who directed the original event when his then-employer Specialized sponsored the event. "Specialized got out of it in the mid-90s. They wanted to be in production, not event promotion," said Rajcoomar to Cyclingnews.

As for the "new" Cactus Cup, Rajcoomar said, "We will have a stage race with a time trial Friday, and cross country, Super D and fat boy crit throughout the rest of the weekend. Anyone can compete in just one stage or the entire race. We'll also have a marathon, too, as a stand-alone event." The date for the marathon is still being finalized, but will likely occur one week after the stage race. The courses for the various events will be altered to suit the competition and experience level of racers in different categories.

Rajcoomar said he's gotten a good response from many of the legends of the sport who were Cactus Cup regulars, and we may well see some of them back for the race. Past participants and champions of the event include Ned Overend, John Tomac, Steve Tilford, Bart Brentjens, Tinker Juarez, Thomas Frischknecht, Travis Brown, Greg Herbold, Dave Weins, Andreas Hester, Seamus McGrath, Alison Sydor, Juliana Furtado, Paola Pezzo, Gunn Rita-Dahle, Alison Dunlap, Marla Streb, Susan DeMattei, and Tara Llanes.

Racing in the desert
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Former multiple-time Cactus Cup Champion and fat tire criterium specialist Tilford said that he is "extremely excited and looking forward to racing in the epic terrain in Las Vegas".

Swagger is also responsible for promoting the USA Crits series, which will host its finals in Las Vegas in conjunction with Interbike. Swagger is bringing the Cactus Cup to a master planned community called Mountain's Edge, about 15 minutes to the west of downtown Las Vegas.

Rajcoomar said the Cactus Cup is part of his company's effort to give support to mountain biking, which has seen a recent rise in popularity across the US and locally in the Las Vegas Valley. The events will be conducted on Mountain's Edge as well as on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trails at Cottonwood.

The last two editions of the Cactus Cup were held in Fountain Hills, Arizona, a regular site visited by the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS). "In fact, the trail used by the NMBS was built for the former Cactus Cup race. It was the result of a public / private venture and remains a legacy from the event," said Rajcoomar.

Commenting on the new venue, he added, "Las Vegas has some of the best mountain biking terrain and trail systems in the country for riding and I am excited that the event can help showcase it."

For more information, visit www.cactuscuplasvegas.com.

NMBS finals relocate to Brian Head

A group of racers at an NMBS in Brian Head, Utah in 2006
Photo ©: Susan Candee
(Click for larger image)

The National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) finals have moved to Brian Head, Utah. The organizers, Blue Wolf Events, had announced they were searching for a replacement venue after the Tamarack Resort in Idaho had to pull out from their roll as hosts. The dates of the finals, August 30-September 1, remain the same.

"I am really delighted that we have been able to resolve this crisis so quickly and cleanly. We've only crossed one state line, and we don't even have to change our date," said series director Jeff Frost. "And it is great to be returning to Brian Head. We were very impressed with this venue when holding a series round there two years ago."

"We are very excited to have the NMBS back, not only from the sporting side, but also it's so great to have America's top mountain bike pros come play in our back yard," said Traci Brown, the director of the mountain bike park at Brian Head. "What better opportunity to showcase the caliber of our venue?"

Brian Head Mountain Bike Park rises from a base elevation of 9,600 feet and rises to 11,000 feet, so altitude will play a role in the competition. The finals are conveniently scheduled one week after the American Mountain Classic stage race from August 21-24, also in Brian Head.

The finals will include cross country, short track, dual slalom, downhill, super D, and marathon competitions. For more information, visit www.mtbnationals.com.

Kalentieva and Absalon win in Offenburg

By Luke Webber in Offenburg, Germany

Kalentieva celebrates her first win of the season
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

Irina Kalentieva, World Champion showed she is back on top of the UCI's World Cup following an emphatic victory Sunday in Offenburg, Germany, for round two. In the men's race, Julien Absalon rode away from the field without effort - underlying his class and dominance when it comes to men's cross country racing.

In the women's race, America's Georgia Gould led out from the start. Soon a group of four emerged, containing Marga Fullana, Kalentieva, Marie Helene Premont and Ying Liu. Gould would pay the price for her early effort followed by Liu then Fullana coming off the leaders' pace.

That left Premont and Kalentieva to do battle and the World Champion got a slight gap from which she attacked to open a lead through the fifth and final lap. She won by 33 seconds over Premont who was pleasantly surprised with her form. With her win, Kalentieva took over the series lead from Chenguyan, who crashed hard, but still finished the race.

In the men's race, a long queue of riders formed before the first singletrack. An additional start loop was not enough to spread the 230-strong field and for the first lap at least a group of twenty riders headed the race, including all of the favourites.

The start was not Absalon's strongest, but by halfway through the first full 5km lap he was back taking control of the race. Here the main challengers emerged, along with a few less familiar faces that soon paid for their early exertions. After three laps it was easy to see what sort of race was shaping up.

A lead group containing Absalon, Hermida, Nino Schurter, Florian Vogel and Christoph Sauser controlled the race while behind Adam Craig was flying just moments away from the top spots. Just as he was about to bridge however, Absalon put his plans forward and such was his pace, nobody could give any more. In less than two hours Absalon had managed to put a minute into the chasers as he went onto a solo victory with a margin of 51 seconds.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the men's, women's and juniors' races as the Offenburg World Cup.

Unlucky weekend for the Multivan Merida

Jose Hermida led the chase until he broke his chain
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

The Multivan Merida Biking Team had nothing but bad luck at the Offenburg round of the World Cup last weekend in Germany. Although the team was fortunate not to have its bikes stolen as they were in Houffalize, abandons, illnesses and mechanical problems posed different challenges.

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå, Nina Wrobel and Ralph Näf all had to abandon their races due to health problems, and Robert Gehbauer decided not to start at all for the same reason. Dahle Flesjå pulled out of her race in the second lap in order to save power for next weekend's World Cup race in Madrid. Wrobel faced a similar situation - deciding to call it quits after half of the race. Näf's abandon came just after one lap in the men's race as he could not breathe freely due to a cold.

A determined Moritz Milatz went into the race afflicted with health problems as well, but he managed to finish a 28th nonetheless.

That left the team's main hopes pinned on José Hermida. The Spaniard chased eventual winner Julien Absalon hard in attempt to follow his decisive attack, but suffered bad luck himself when his chain broke on the final lap. Hermida ended up dropping to 24th place after his mechanical.

"I had to walk for quite a long distance which made me lose an incredible lot of positions," said the Spaniard after the finish. "I felt very good and therefore everything would have been possible today. But when your chain breaks in the final lap you hardly get a chance to chase back.

A World of potential for Wells

By Luke Webber

Todd Wells (GT Bicycles) claimed his strongest result
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Todd Wells turned in his best ever international cross country result in Houffalize, Belgium, finishing 11th and riding as high as seventh, within seconds of the greatest names in mountain bike racing. The American pro talked about BMX, golf and living the European lifestyle as well as his new role as one of the favorites for the race for a spot on the American Olympic Games team.

If you don't succeed at first, try again. This is a phrase that GT-Mongoose mountain bike and cyclo-cross racer Todd Wells must be all too familiar with, considering his story so far in bike racing - and probably golf, too. Finally after six years on the European World Cup circuit, something which by his own admission is the toughest around, Wells realised a lifelong dream. Getting there has been anything but the traditional route however and can only be explained as a labour of love.

From the age of five, Wells raced BMX locally and then nationally during an 11-year period, but never reached the top grade. Disillusioned with the racing scene, the usual teenage distractions of parties, girls and cars took over, and BMX was left behind for two years. After his break mountain biking was starting to boom and Wells was back on two wheels having fun, wondering why he had stopped his involvement with cycling.

"Originally I thought I'd race dual slalom because a lot of the BMX guys were making that switch back then, like Brian Lopes and Eric Carter," said Wells. "But then all my friends started to race cross country and I lived in the woods where there were a lot of mountain bike trails, so I followed them to the first race in New Jersey."

Like everyone's first race it was a baptism of fire after the starting stampede. "It was so rocky and back then I rode a rigid bike," said Wells. "Looking back it's amazing I actually kept going after that experience. Since I was an Expert in BMX I thought I would enter the expert class in cross country , which was a bad move. I started out fast and I faded even faster, finishing dead last. [I] laid down on the grass and when I got home I slept for 16 hours straight."

This would be enough to discourage most novice mountain bikers for life, but for Wells it was the turning point from mountain biking for fun to aspirations for the podium. "I was still having fun and every day I rode I got stronger," said Wells. "Even when I finished dead last it was faster than I ever rode before."

Read the complete interview.

Hannah stays "home" for 2008

Tracey Hannah
Photo ©: Evan Jeffery
(Click for larger image)

2006 Junior World Champion and Current Australian National Downhill Champion Tracey Hannah made up her mind to sit out the 2008 World Cup Season. "This year I have decided not to attend the World Cup Series," said Hannah in a statement. "To clear up some things..., it is not because I do not love riding. I am not quitting. I am not finished with this sport."

"I arrived home from the 2007 racing season in September, with a large credit card bill and with perhaps the false expectation that after doing as well as I did I would be getting a better deal from sponsors - a deal that might cover my living expenses whilst I train 100%... This didn't happen."

"To the people that are working every day, and struggling to pay for bikes and gear and just want to ride, the offers I have received are awesome. To most people, I would be considered so lucky. I have had offers of all expenses paid to race World Cups, gear, bikes, accommodation, training facilities, etc. That's great! But it still costs me to race and I have less than no money."

"I have made the difficult decision to not travel this season because I am a professional. I want to be the best and if every effort is not getting put toward that then I must refuse these great offers. At the moment that is how it is, the sponsorship and support that is getting offered to female mountain bikers is less than what I need to be competitive."

Hannah started racing BMX when she was younger, including her first nationals at age 4.5. She commenced downhill mountain biking when she was about 12, following in the footsteps of her brother. "When I was 14, I raced my first MTB [Australian] National Championships. I finished with a second place in elite women. From that year on, [I] have been National Champion five times."

She started racing in the US four years ago, but stayed home for the 2005 season because she "couldn't fund two years in a row of overseas racing and the sponsors didn't offer the support that I needed." Instead, she focused on the Australian National Series and the Australian Championships.

Tracey Hannah
Photo ©: Evan Jeffery
(Click for larger image)

2006 saw her back in America winning the NMBS. At the World Championships in New Zealand as a junior, she took home the gold medal and the right to wear rainbow bands for life. 2007 was her first year racing as an elite rider on the World Cup circuit and she won one round and took third overall plus earned third at the World Championships in Fort William, Scotland.

"There is not the support for the hard work and time spent training in the off-season. I am at home working everyday still paying off my credit card bill from racing overseas last season. Whilst still putting every effort, and time, that I have into training. It isn't working. Going at it like this is going half-hearted. If I am racing at a World Class level, then I must put every effort into working hard toward the top, because there is no time to waste when competing in a high class."

"To be the best in the world is a full time job. I don't want to go back overseas and come home with a second place knowing that I could have done more toward being number one. To race to my full and best potential it takes professionalism."

While she is off the World Cup circuit for 2008, she will keep busy, with an eye toward her future. "I am planning to do a Business Marketing course to learn how to sell brand 'Tracey Hannah', thus making me a better prospect to potential sponsors. I am continuing to put a lot of effort into training and working to pay my bills."

Hannah's candid announcement puts into light just how hard it can be financially to make a successful professional career off-road. "Athletes need the funds to support themselves in the off-season, just like it would be a job. I want to be overseas racing having put all my effort and hard work into being number one. I want to train and race to my full and best potential, and at this time it is not possible.

Wheeler and O'Dea win 24-hour NPS opener

Chuck Wheeler
Photo ©: Paul Skilbeck
(Click for larger image)

Chuck Wheeler and Namrita O'Dea emerged as the solo winners, and series leaders, at round one of the 2008 Suzuki 24 Hour National Point Series, the 24 Hours of Vail Lake, which was raced and won over a scorching weekend on April 26-27 at Vail Lake Mountain Resort in Temecula, California. This was the first win in a Suzuki 24 Hour National Point Series for both Wheeler and O'Dea.

Wheeler, a seasoned 24 hour racer, of Scottsdale, Arizona, overcame defending champion Rob Lichtenwalner, of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. to score his first victory on a scenic and hilly 10.22 mile course with 1,498 feet of climbing.

A heatwave drove temperatures well into the 90s [degrees Fahrenheit], and after pushing hard through the afternoon many riders welcomed the nightfall, but then began to feel how much extra they had put out in keeping cool during the heat of the day. Wheeler, who has a history of coming from behind, proved more consistent during the night than 2007 series champion Rob Lichtenwalner, who finished second. Wheeler completed 17 laps, compared to Lichtenwalner's 15. Eddie O'Dea finished third with 13 laps.

"I don't really have a strategy," said Wheeler, "I just go out and ride and try to stay constant. It works less frequently now that a lot of riders are getting so good."

Namrita O'Dea led the women's solo field
Photo ©: Paul Skilbeck
(Click for larger image)

Namrita O'Dea, Eddie's wife, won the women's solo race with 11 laps, ahead of Terri Wahlberg on Liz Baumgardt-Keys, who finished third with eight laps. 2006 Race Across America winner, Shanna Armstrong, was in contention with O'Dea for much of the first day, and looked to be the stronger climber, but after two painful falls on her left femur during the early night, Armstrong - who is using this race as training for her Badwater Ultramarathon attempt this July - decided to call herself done.

"It was very challenging with the heat. But I monitored my pace and my nutrition and hydration, and was able to remain constant through the night," said the women's winner. "Even though it was not a high mileage race, there was a lot of climbing, and with the heat it was very tough." Cyclingnews' diarist O'Dea is a nutrition student, who is planning to compete in four of the series races. "I think I have a chance for the series overall. I'm not sure who else is doing the series, but I think I have a chance," she said.

See full coverage of the 24 hours of Vail Lake.

Canada boasts another stage race

Kamloops to host Intermontane Challenge

Canada can count itself another cross country stage race with The Intermontane Challenge, a 450km race spanning five days from July 27-31, 2008. Unlike many races, this one will stay based out of one location, Kamloops. A singletrack, cloverleaf design means that every day racers will tackle a different course, and every night the competitors will end up back in Kamloops.

"The networks of single track in Kamloops are endless and exciting," said Dustin Adams, course designer, World Cup racer and winner of back to back Canadian National Championships. "The Intermontane Challenge will give riders worldwide a small taste of the outstanding riding available in Kamloops."

Local race organizers and creators, Chuck Brennan, Kelly Servinski and Adams, are looking forward to hosting the race in their own backyard. Servinski, who has participated in staged mountain bike races around the world, says he sees unlimited potential for the event, which will host solo and two-rider categories for men and women. Registration for the first-year event will be limited to 300 riders. The lucrative event will feature a prize list of CAN$60,000.

For more information: www.intermontanechallenge.com.

IMBA contest calls for short films

IMBA is soliciting films from around the world for its first-ever "Celebrate Singletrack" short-format film contest. Send in your three to five minute film or video celebrating the spirit of mountain biking. Submissions should feature riding footage "that highlights the people, places and trails that inspire knobby-tire enthusiasts" with bonus points going to those who showing IMBA clubs and volunteers and success stories.

The top ten entries will be featured on the "Celebrate Singletrack" DVD to be shown and judged during the IMBA World Summit in Park City, Utah, on June 20.

For more information on how to submit your film, visit www.imba.com. The deadline for submission is June 10.

O'Dea diary: Testing the new bikes

The new bikes are finished and ready to race! We decided to build them up and do a "test race" on them immediately (as in the next day). We would say that they passed!

Eddie and Namrita O'Dea
Photo ©: Trish Albert
(Click for larger image)

The race was Cohutta 100, the first race of the NUE series, but with the 24 hours of Vail Lake following one week later, we decided to race the shorter versions–the 65 mile race (Eddie) and the 35 mile race (Namrita) to shorten the recovery time. While it isn't ideal to race with brand new equipment, we didn't have a choice. We did get in a pre-ride of a small piece of the race course on Friday.

The weather was 70 degrees (Fahrenheit) and sunny, and the trails were in perfect shape. However, I felt horrible! I was really nervous because my legs couldn't climb, and I just generally didn't feel prepared to race. I had never raced any length of time under six hours, so the 35 mile race was definitely an unknown for me. Eddie said to not worry, though, because the "worse you feel the day before the race, the better you feel during the race". I'm not sure if that is true or not, but I decided to go with those words of wisdom anyway. Fast forward to race day...

Read the complete diary entry.

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