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MTB news & racing round-up for May 8, 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

Dahle Flesjå back to the beginning

By Luke Webber

Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

One year ago the most dominant woman in cross country was sidelined with a virus that kept her out of competition for the rest of the 2007 season. Through a mix of complacency, urgency and a passion to ride came her biggest downfall. Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå talked to Cyclingnews after the Offenburg, Germany World Cup as she orchestrated her slow, but steady comeback. Little did she know at the time of the interview that she'd win the third round of the World Cup in Madrid just days later.

If you were to ask any mountain bike afficionado the odds of Gunn-Rita Dahle pulling out of a World Cup held in the home country of title sponsor Merida, at a time when she was at the head of the race after only two laps without any mechanical difficulty, everyone would have deemed it impossible.

A dominance stretching over four years and an ability to race and win even when not in peak condition had led to a previously unseen level of respect from other athletes. A tireless schedule of racing, training and media work never detracted from her results, but in May 2007 that all changed.

"I should definitely not have raced - that's why I say to everyone on the team now, 'Don't make the same mistake that I did'," said Dahle Flesjå. "When we arrived here in Offenburg last year I had already been sick for three weeks, but I was in such good shape because I was in a peak. So I felt like I could compete and do OK."

Former World Champion Dahle Flesjaa goes to the front early
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

What followed was the onset of a virus that would ravage cross country's premier rider of any energy and deny her chances of racing for another rainbow jersey last September. Even before the race it was evident that this was more than a small illness, but Dahle Flesjå admits that both she and her husband/trainer, Kenneth, got carried away in the moment.

"Looking back in the last five and a half years, we have been pushing the body to the absolute limit and you are on the edge where it can be bad for your health in the long term," she said. "After the first World Cup we were in such good shape when we had planned no peak so we were working so hard to get the maximum when we did peak. But we felt so strong. We only lost Houffalize by a couple metres.

"The body was on the limit for sure but we wanted to push the hardest ever," she said. "But in that period we got too excited and forgot. We got complacent, we missed the sign pointing of resting, but feeling more tired. And we didn't listen, we were not awake enough. If I hadn't felt the pressure we would have been more honest with ourselves. It was a German race with a German-based sponsor. If I was less pressured I would have not raced. But the pressure only came from within."

Read the complete feature.

Three in a row for Absalon

By Luke Webber in Madrid, Spain

Julien Absalon (Orbea) got away
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

In Madrid last weekend, Julien Absalon captured his third World Cup in succession - all in three consecutive weeks. The Frenchman finished in 2:12:30 and beat Spaniard José Antonio Hermida by 12 seconds and compatriot Jean-Christophe Peraud by 52 seconds.

His win was far more of a challenge than in either Houffalize, Belgium, or Offenburg, Germany, thanks to a fast course. A lead group split and reformed during the early laps. In the initial stages, American Todd Wells even led it out - his first experience and one he will not forget.

At one point, the lead group consisted of 20-30 riders, but as some made attempts at getting away, Absalon was aware that this move would not be successful. "With groups so big, never would one man or even a pair be able to ride to the win. It would be impossible," the savvy winner said after the race.

Absalon ended up duelling with José Antonio Hermida by the end. The latter's wheel washed out on the descent just as Absalon made a decisive attack that would stick until the end of the race. "On the steep climb, I knew I had the speed over Jose, so I entered the descent first and attacked hard in the final two kilometres," said Absalon. "Once you had a small gap, there was not enough time in the closing stages to make it back."

Commenting on the race after brief stint at the front, Wells said, "The course in Madrid hasn't changed much since the first time I raced here back in 2002. It's fast with short one-minute climbs, super hard pack with ball bearing type pebbles on top which make for slick corners. There are also tons of spectators packed on the course's six main climbs. Last weekend in Offenburg the race was only 35kms–this weekend we did about 56kms, so that gives you an idea of how fast this course is."

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite men's World Cup race in Madrid.

Premont and Dahle do battle in Madrid

By Luke Webber in Madrid, Spain

Gunn Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) is elated with her first major victory
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Just three races since returning to competition, Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjå underlined why she is still considered the best female mountain biker in the world by coming to Madrid and winning under less than perfect circumstances. The Norwegian former World Champion outsprinted Canadian Marie-Helene Premont in a near photo finish to take victory with at time of 1:48:14. Marga Fullana, racing in her home country, finished third at 1:13. Sabine Spitz and Georgia Gould rounded out the top five.

Just one year ago Dahle Flesjå was forced to stop riding after a long period of over racing and training led to a virus breaking her body down. It was only in Houffalize, Belgium, at the opening round of the cross country World Cup three weeks ago that Dahle Flesjå could return to racing at the top level. Then one week later in Offenburg, she withdrew from the race due to ill health. Nobody expected the result - least of all Dahle Flesjå herself.

Her husband and coach, Kenneth Flesjå was equally shocked, but said after his wife's win, "Here we had a diamond and you can never crack one of those. Gunn Rita was scratched and now we have polished that diamond back into shape."

Dahle Flesjå escaped with Premont, who's had a strong World Cup Season so far with a second and a third in the previous weeks. The Canadian was probably the favorite based on performances this year, but Dahle Flesjå could draw from plenty of experience and a strong motivation upon her return to the front of the peloton, and it was Dahle Flesjå who won out in an almost-sprint finish.

"During the first few laps, I was riding at my very limit, but I managed to keep my position in the leading group," said the Norwegian winner. "In the end, it came down to just Premont and me, so I told myself: Now I can win. This self-confidence combined with all of my experience and passion were the basis of my victory here in Madrid."

The World Cup takes a few weeks off for cross country riders before reconvening in Andorra for round four on May 31 - June 1. In the meantime, the opening round of the Gravity World Cup will take place May 10-11 in Maribor, Slovenia.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite women's World Cup race in Madrid.

Kenda and Tomac launch new downhill team

Filip Polc
Photo ©: Team Kenda Tomac
(Click for larger image)

Tire manufacturer Kenda and bicycle manufacturer Tomac have teamed up to sponsor the new Kenda Tomac Mountain Bike Racing squad, an international downhill and four cross team featuring Filip Polc (Slovakia) and Mitch Delfs (Australia).

"To have Filip Polc and Mitch Delfs in our squad is a perfect mix," said Team Manager Peter Siulczynski. Polc is a proven talent while Delfs is working his way up and will have a chance to learn from the more experienced Polc.

"I'm happy to join the Kenda Tomac team. New season, new bike and new team-mate… I can say it's going to be a great year. I am focusing especially on downhill where I want to step up and show what is in me!" said Polc enthusiastically.

Mitch Delfs
Photo ©: Team Kenda Tomac
(Click for larger image)

Delfs is looking forward to his first chance to do a full World Cup season. "I can concentrate on racing and achieving my goals of making an impact at a World Cup level. Its awesome opportunity to ride with Filip who has such a good experience at racing. I am looking forward to hitting the season hard."

The racers will be crewed by Peter Siulczynski (Team Manager), Michal Kozak (Assistant Team Manager), Jean-Philippe Simard (Team Mechanic), Gary Perkin (Team Photographer) and John Lawlor (Team Videographer).

The team has a busy race schedule planned including all the World Cups, the World Championships and several major European and American events.

Ghost picks up healthy sponsorship

By Bjorn Haake in Offenburg, Germany

Sabine Spitz (Central Ghost Pro Team) gets the hole shot
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Central health insurance, based in Cologne, Germany is the main sponsor for the 2008 Ghost Team. Marketing manager Oliver Suhre told Cyclingnews that multiple reasons were weighed in the decision to sign the new sponsor, including "the health aspect of sports and having an athlete like Sabine [Spitz], who stands for a clean sport."

The health insurance company, founded in 1913, is concerned about the current trend toward people being overweight, even children. Suhre cited causes like "a lack of exercise and bad nutrition habits". So he is hoping that supporting a mountain bike team will encourage people to become more active. The motto of the insurer ­ "Health moves us" ­ expresses this concern about health issues as well as emphasizes the commitment to getting people moving.

Suhre sees one of the problems as a lack of information and intends the widespread sponsorship campaign to reach more people. "People need role models," he said, explaining that average sedentary people may draw motivation from seeing their heros in action.

The team's most famous rider is the 36 year-old Spitz, but she sees no end in sight for her career as she works into peak form for the upcoming Olympic Games in August. "I don't set myself a limit; as long as I am having fun I will continue."

But the team is also looking ahead to a future time when she does retire. Besides Spitz, there are currently U23 riders Anja Gradl and Nicola Rohrbach, who hails from Switzerland, as part of the formation, but the team is aiming to grow to nine riders in the future. Spitz could evolve her role into becoming a mentor and coach for the young riders over time.

Central has committed through 2010, but the team is hoping for a long term investment to build the next generation of elite mountain bikers.

Juarez and Sawicki win Dirt Sweat & Gears

By Ron Sawicki in Fayetteville, Tennessee

The third round of the USA Cycling Ultra Endurance Mountain Bike National Calendar (MBNC) drew some of the most talented male and female competition for the second consecutive year to Fayetteville, Tennessee, for the Dirt Sweat & Gears 12 hour race.

The weather forecast called for rain the night before and continuing into the morning and that is exactly what the racers experienced. As soon as they hit the singletrack into the woods, the mud-fest began. Bikes clogged up, derailleurs and chains broke for many during the first 20 minutes of what would prove to be a very long lap for most.

Tinker Juarez won the men's race with 11 laps. Brandon Draugelis finished second with the same number of laps while Josh Tostado completed 10 laps for third place. In the women's race, Pua Sawicki defeated Rebecca Rusch for the win although both racers had nine laps. Carey Lowery finished in third with eight laps. Dejay Birtch won the men's singlespeed elite race ahead of John Mylne and Greg Martin.

Juarez only brought one bike and it was a hardtail. Before the race, he thought this might not be a wise choice due to the rocky and bumpy course, but it would ultimately pay off given the muddy conditions. While others were messing with there bikes in the mud during the race, Juarez was way out front and able to keep pedaling. Singlespeed racers such as Dejay Birch and John "Fuzzy" Mylne also had an advantage over the geared racers. Less was definitely more and they were able to pedal their way through the muck and get out front, too.

Juarez kept himself out front and held on to his lead until the end. Draugelis was just six minutes back while Tostado made an impressive comeback after mechanicals and a huge deficit to round out the top three.

Sawicki opted for the suspension as most did and she also got caught in the muck, with stops required to remove the mud just to keep on pedaling. After the first lap she switched onto her hard-tail and she was able to move at a steady pace again.

The women's winner rode strongly to increase her lead over the second placed Rusch, who was about 19 minutes back after six hours. After the halfway point, Sawicki settled in for the next five hours on her way to the win. Rusch finished 16 minutes later on the same lap with Lowery one lap back.

See full results from Dirt Sweat & Gears and check out the latest Mountain Bike National Calendar (MBNC) Ultra Endurance standings after three events. In the men's category, Harvey Minton and Jason Sager are tied for the lead while Carol Clemens, Christina Smith and Pua Sawicki are tied for the women's lead.

USAC MBNC Ultra Endurance Standings 
1 Harvey Minton            60 pts
2 Jason Sager              60
3 Nat Ross                 41
4 Brandon Draugelis        40
5 David Wood               40

1 Carol Clemens            60 pts
2 Christina Smith          60
3 Pua Sawicki              60
4 Jennifer Wilson          40
5 Rebecca Rusch            40

MBNC Gravity standings

The second event on the USA Cycling Gravity Mountain Bike National Calendar (MBNC) happened at the Chalk Creek Stampede in Nathrop, Colorado this past weekend. Aaron Gwin and Joanna Petterson won the dual slalom while Petr Hanak and Petterson won the 4X race. In the non-gravity events, Jay Henry and Jennifer Smith won both the short track and the cross country races. See full results for all four disciplines at the Chalk Creek Stampede or check out full standings (briefs posted below) for the USAC National Gravity calendar.

USAC MBNC Gravity Standings
Elite men

1 Petr Hanak                                                    40 pts
2 Aaron Gwin                                                    36
3 Richard Houseman                                              32
4 Ross Milan                                                    32
5 Curtis Beavers                                                30
Elite women

1 Joanna Petterson                                              60 pts
2 Neven Steinmetz                                               30
3 Jessica Vogt                                                  24
4 Bobbi Watt                                                    20
5 Lisa Myklak                                                   20

MBNC Cross Country standings

After seven events, including the most recent Idyllwild Spring Challenge, Josh Kelley and Georgia Gould lead the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendar (MBNC) for cross country events. Trevor Walton and Carolyn Popovic won the elite men's and women's pro categories at the Idyllwild in California. See full results for the Idyllwild Spring Challenge and check out the MBNC cross country standings.

USAC MBNC Cross Country Standings
Elite men
1 Josh Kelley                                                    90 pts
2 Adam Craig                                                     70
3 Brad Stephenson                                                70
4 Anthony Manzella                                               60
5 Matthew Freeman                                                50
Elite women
1 Georgia Gould                                                  90 pts
2 Katerina Nash                                                  70
3 Heather Irmiger                                                30
4 Kelli Emmett                                                   30
5 Lea Davison                                                    27

Keith Bontrager diary: Warming up

Another tough training ride…
Photo ©: Keith Bontrager
(Click for larger image)

It's been a hectic winter and spring but I finally got on a bike with more than a test ride in mind a few weeks ago.

First things first – my friend Bruce Muhlfeld got hurt last year, pretty badly. You might remember me talking about him – he is 50 and still racing pro. He is on the way back now. Check it out and give him some encouragement (www.racingat50.blogspot.com).

Second - thanks to everyone who straightened me out about the deer skull mystery. Antlers. Guess you can tell I am not a seasoned hunter, other than fungal prey of course.

Onward. A few weeks ago the Sea Otter came to town and my friend Dror came over from Israel to race. Dror showed me Israel last spring and we rode all over the place there, so this was a chance to return the favor.

He'd had a rough spring too with surgery in the middle of training, but he seemed to be in good shape and was very happy to be racing again. We rode together on the road for the week before the event. He was just recovering from the flight and tapering for the race or I would never have really been close to him on the road. And, of course, if he dropped me he didn't know the way back...

I cooked for him too, which was a challenge. His step mother is an amazing chef - she prepared one of the best meals I've ever had with his family when I was there. He's a pro, and pros eat carefully so they don't have to haul too much baggage up hills. And they eat a lot. I don't cook entirely with fueling athletic performance in mind though I am not that heavy handed with the butter and cream of course. Making sure he was happy pushed me a bit farther though and it worked out well. I've always wanted to see Chef Willi – the chef who worked for the Postal and Disco teams in action to see how this is done. Maybe this year.

Read the complete diary entry.

Pro Bike: Todd Wells

By Luke Webber in Offenburg, Germany

The bike that may carry Todd Wells to the Olympic Games
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

To most onlookers at the opening UCI World Cup in Houffalize the GT factory team camp was operating as a well oiled machine, powering US Olympic hopeful Todd Wells to a career-best eleventh place finish on a brand-new GT Zaskar Carbon. However, for both Wells and his teammate, Burry Stander, these bikes were anything but part of the race day plan.

Both riders were originally supposed to race on their familiar aluminum bikes from late 2007 while the new carbon frames waited in the team van until time allowed for a proper build and shake-out period later in the season. However, Saturday morning brought an unpleasant surprise for the GT, Multivan Merida, Scott, and Hope crews as a rash of overnight thefts left many without bikes and other key equipment. Fortunately for GT those new carbon frames were left inexplicably untouched (others were not so lucky) and a manic building process ensued to salvage the weekend. Helped by some friends who had come to spectate for the weekend, team mechanic Mark Maurrisen set forth on a frantic mission sourcing parts from across the expo area.

Both bikes were ready to go by the evening but they were still something of an unknown quantity having never been ridden before. As any mechanic will tell you, this was far from an ideal scenario as cables stretch and new components bed in.

Nevertheless, the team's spirits were lifted just 18 hours later as both riders were racing in the top 20 and Wells later gushed that the untested bike rode "like a dream."

Read the complete Pro Bike Feature.

F1RST to Slovenia

By Sue George

F1RST, the Clay Porter move that premiered at the Sea Otter Classic, last month is making its way around the globe on a world tour. It's already been to Denver, Portugal, Montreal and Calgary.

The movie that followed the 2007 World Cup Downhill scene and its star athletes will make its next stop is Maribor, Slovenia on May 9, on the eve of the UCI World Cup. The movie will be shown in the Planet Tus Theatre, and will feature introductions of some of the stars of the movie, as well as an appearance by the fillmmaker, Clay Porter of the US.

F1RST follows downhill's biggest names to World Cup events all over the world and to the World Championships in Fort William, Scotland. Candid interviews mix with race footage showing some of the most skilled racers in the world negotiating all kinds of courses with roots, drops, rocks and other features. The movie captures the essence of the elite downhill scene. Those who downhill may learn a few things from watching the best. Those who don't will be in awe of the skills on display.

The movie takes a few meandering detours from the main plot. For example, Porter takes viewers to South Africa with Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar and to England to visit the Athertons as they set up a practice night-time downhill run. Those trips don't add directly to the storyline about the racing season, but gives fans of those riders a more comprehensive glimpse of the lives of their favorites.

Next stops on the tour include Budapest, Hungary on May 15 and Mackay, Australia on June 8. For more information, visit www.f1rstmovie.com.

Seasons premiers in Boston and Toronto

Seasons is showing in two East Coast cities in the next few days: Boston in the US and Toronto in Canada. Seasons is a film that follows seven of the world's top mountain bikers through the course of four seasons of one year. The film explores what it means to be a full time rider as told through the lives of downhill racers, slopestyle competitors, and big mountain freeriders. It stars racers like Thomas Vanderham, Matt Hunter, Andrew Shandro, Steve Peat, Steve Smith, Cam McCaul and Darren Berrecloth.

In celebration of Bike Week, The Cycle Loft will be hosting the movie at the Regent Theatre in Arlington Center on Thursday, May 15 at 7:00 pm. Tickets are US$10 and are available through the Regent Theatre website, www.regenttheatre.com, by telephone 781-646-4849, in person at the box office or at The Cycle Loft. The premiere will benefit the New England Mountain Bike Association (www.nemba.org) and World Bicycle Relief (www.worldbicyclerelief.org).

Those north of the border may catch Seasons in Toronto on May 8 at the No Regrets Restaurant and Lounge (42 Mowat Avenue). Doors open at 8:00 pm and tickets costs CAN$5.

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