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MTB news & racing round-up for May 14, 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

4X opens gravity World Cup season in Slovenia

By Luke Webber in Maribor, Slovenia

Alvares takes his first
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

As predicted, with team changes and some star riders missing at the opening round of the UCI World Cup 4X in Maribor, Slovenia last weekend, the world got a chance to learn some new names in the men's race with Spaniard Rafael Alvarez (Lu Rafael) taking the win. And with absence of Jill Kintner, who is focusing on a BMX Olympic bid this season, Dutchwoman Anneke Beerten (Ms-Intense Factory-Racing Factory-Racing) emerged atop the women's podium.

A dry, dusty and rock track produced a difficult surface for racing. With a lot of braking points, the track became cut up and looser as the race went on and for many, bad luck dictated an early exit from the competition. From the gate, the track went into a series of jumps, a left turn and then a right. It was this last opening turn that ended the hopes for many riders as everyone accelerated frantically to have any chance of making the triple that followed.

In practice, top qualifier Dan Atherton (Animal Commencal) looked fast as he dialled the outside line on one bend with immense speed. However, in heat one he had to come from dead last to squeak through into round two. Unfortunately, there would be no rerun in this heat and a bad first third of the race made any comeback impossible.

Brian Lopes got caught up in the gate on his first round, and then his skewer came loose and he was eliminated. Nathan Rennie (Santa Cruz Syndicate) who qualified 20th, commented on the trouble racers had out on the course. "These guys don't even know how to corner a bike," said Rennie, who was eliminated in his second heat. "It was just carnage everywhere. Two guys crashed in front of me and I had no choice but to hit them. One guy was hurt for sure and the other guy's bike was mangled."

It was left to Cedric Gracia (Commencal - Furious), Romain Saladini and Guido Tschugg in the two semi finals to hold the old guard strong, but only Tschugg could advance to the final leaving Gracia to claim the small event. Just as in every heat that came before, Rafael Alvarez dominated the finals to take a convincing win ahead of Tschugg. Johannes Fischback (Team Ghost International) was third and Tomas Slavik fourth.

In the women's races, three of the top four qualifiers made it to the final. Anneke Beerten became the woman to beat as she marched her way to a win. Second place was something of a surprise – Anita Molcik put in three solid rides and in the process confirmed second step on the box ahead of the far more experienced Fionn Griffiths (Norco World Team World Team) and Melissa Buhl (KHS).

See the full 4X World Cup race coverage.

Familiar stars reign in Slovenia World Cup downhill

By Luke Webber in Maribor, Slovenia

Sabrina Jonnier (Team Maxxis) was controlled
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

There were no surprises in the downhill finals at the 2008 World Cup, as dream team Sam Hill and Sabrina Jonnier opened the Monster Energy / Iron Horse account in the same fashion they ended 2007 – with two wins. The world champion pair took their wins in a very different ways.

For Hill it was nothing short of total domination when it mattered most. In training and then qualification the Aussie tried to play his cards close to his chest setting steady, if not unimpressive times. "I was pretty upset with how I rode in qualifying," said Hill. "I felt tight and rode on the brakes too much."

On a dry and dusty descent that weaved in and out of the woods through fast turns and a crowd's favourite rock garden there could be no tactics. The fastest rider would win. Hill was that man and just as he did last week in the World Championship test event, he beat a host of top names by an embarrassing margin – three seconds to Julien Cammelini (Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense) and four seconds to Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate).

In the race run, it was the rock garden at half-way that provided the most obvious place to spot differences in speed. Unfortunately this section also claimed its fair share of victims including Sam Blenkinsop (Yeti Fox Shox) and most spectacularly Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate) in an over the bars summersault crash from the bottom drop off.

The first rider to look truly fast through here was Greg Minnaar with a bruising run through the bumps. Although Peat looked well in control, too, his exit onto the fireroad was sluggish, surely costing him a vital second or so. In contrast, Hill mixed both skill and speed, careering through the rocks and showing superb fitness, sprinting the fireroad exit and gaining vital speed.

Steve Peat and Sam Hill congratulate Julien Cammelini,
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

"I knew I had a lot more in me after the qualifier, at least a few seconds," said eventual fifth place Minnaar, who was denied a trip to the podium after the UCI called only three finishers for the podium instead of the customary five places.

"I think I tried too hard at the top of the woods and overshot a few corners and didn't have much flow up top. Exiting the woods I didn't carry as much speed as I wanted through the middle and at the bottom I tried to make up time," said Minnaar. "The middle worked well, but the bottom I tried too hard and lost time. I'm happy with my result, but not with my race run."

"The track got a lot drier and I made some mistakes on the top," said third place finisher Peat, "then [I] settled into my run and picked up my pace, but it wasn't enough."

"In the final I just wanted to have fun and ride like I know I can. My run went pretty well," said winner Hill, "but I definitely want to improve on putting together a better run in Andorra (Round two of the World Cup). I'm looking forward to the rest of the season and hopefully I can get a few more wins."

For Hill's team-mate Jonnier however, the victory was much narrower. Just eighteen hundredths of a second separated her and hot favourite Rachel Atherton (Animal Commencal), who won the semi-finals by a massive five seconds.

After the race, Atherton was clearly unhappy that the result did not reflect the effort invested over the weekend and winter, citing a number of errors in key sections of the race. Even so, these two riders distanced themselves considerably from the chasers – Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Center) who took the final podium placing was seven seconds adrift of the leading two ladies.

The next round of the World Cup, featuring both gravity and cross country events, will take place in Vallnord, Andorra on May 30-June 1.

See the full Downhill World Cup race coverage.

Bryceland injured in spectacular crash

The day of the World Cup Downhill in Maribor, Slovenia, started well for Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate), but didn't end that way. Going into the competition, Bryceland was feeling confident and excited to race.

In the final, Bryceland pinned it into a rock garden and ended up flying through the air, superman style, before he crashed into the stumps below. After a few minutes, Bryceland got up and walked away, but his injuries didn't become apparent until later.

"He was four meters high (in the air), and flew so far, he was going so fast," said fellow competitor Cedric Gracia. "He slammed into the ground, I can't believe he didn't die."

Joined by his mom Luisa in the first aid area, Bryceland first appeared to be just badly bruised and with a chipped tooth, but otherwise ok. However, as he was about to leave the area, he became nauseous, and his smashed up helmet seemed clear evidence of a concussion. The rider was then taken to the hospital for observation where it was revealed that he suffered a leg injury - apparently a quad muscle torn from the bone. Bryceland was headed home to the UK where he was expected to undergo surgery to repair the damage.

World's best downhillers head to Lisboa Downtown

Alfama is getting ready to host the athletes who already confirmed their presence at Lisboa Downtown this weekend. With dirt trails replaced by Portuguese pavement, typically urban obstacles such as cars and trams are the challenge. Racers will start at the Castelo de São Jorge and ride down all the way down to the Largo do Terreiro do Trigo.

The ninth edition of the Lisboa Downtown arrives in its usual Alfama urban setting in Portugal on May 17. Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) will be there to try for his seventh consecutive win. He'll be joined by recent Maribor World Cup winner Samuel Hill (Iron Horse Mad Catz), Cédric Gracia (Oakley Commencal), Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), Filip Polc (Gravity Group), and Oscar Saiz (Off Session). Saiz holds the record with a fastest time of 1'25" in 2001.

Gunn-Rita diary: A return to the top

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

The [Madrid World Cup] race was a fight right up to the very last metre. Blood, sweat and tears are an integral part of our sport, but my comeback to the world elite last Sunday was an experience I will never forget, for quite different reasons. Many people deserve a part of my World Cup victory last Sunday. And the bet I made with Kenneth before my triumph is guaranteed to be a spectacular séance…

It's the European Championships in Zurich in 2002, our first gold medal in the European Championships and a real comeback after a lot of troubles in 2000-2001, which has always stood out as our most important victory throughout my whole career. It was also the first ever international title for Merida. This powerful experience now has a rival in what we managed to accomplish last Sunday [May 4] in Madrid. It felt like the shout of victory as I crossed the finish line came from very deep within me - a mixture of joy, euphoria, frustration, anger and passion. Kenneth described it as a heavy weight having been removed from his shoulders.

During the preceding week, the exercise program went as planned, and through the last days before the race my legs felt lighter and quicker than they had in a long time. As usual, I was nervous and excited. I was very much looking forward to the race in Madrid, since I have many good memories from exactly this race track, where I also won in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

I'm not going to write a long description of how I completed the race, all the mental preparation which lay behind what I accomplished and what tactics Kenneth and I had planned beforehand. My competitors are probably reading these lines too, so I'll have to save all that for the book I'll be writing this autumn. But in the end it was a totally fair duel between me and Canadian [Marie] Premont, which was decided in the final hundred metres in the stadium and at the finish line.

Read the complete diary entry.

Bikes Belong awards spring grants supporting recreation

Bikes Belong announced six recreation-focused grants to grassroots groups across the US including volunteer-driven projects supporting a riverfront path, a freeride trail, a BMX freestyle park, and backcountry singletrack.

US$10,000 grants were awarded to the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership for the Hop River/Airline Extension Bike Path in Willlimantic, Connecticut, and the California Off-Road Bicyclists Association for the Mount Hillyer Freeride Trail in Los Angeles County, California.

The Vermont Mountain Bike Association received $9,2000 for their Green Mountain National Forest Access Program to extend three sections of singletrack in the Green Mountain National Forest's Moosalamoo National Recreation Area - previously off-limits to mountain bikes.

$5,000 grant recipients include the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship for their completion of the final four miles of the North Yuba Trail Extension in Downieville, California; the Friends of Pathways for the Order of the Arrow Trail Construction Project in Jackson, Wyoming; and the Village of Mexico, New York for its Freedom Skate/BMX Park completion project.

Highland Fling MTB Marathon

The fourth Highland Fling Mountain Bike Marathon, which again will double as the Australian Marathon Championships, will take place in Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands of NSW on November 8-9. The event will include the Full Fling (approximately 110km), Half Fling (55km) and 100 Mile Fling (160km). New this year will be The Casual Fling, a 16km outing for those people keen to ride but not so sure of their ability to go the longer distances.

Last year's race was won by Shaun Lewis and Rowena Fry. Entries for this year's event, which have sold out every year, are limited to 1300 riders and registration will open on June 23. For more information or to register, visit www.wildhorizons.com.au.

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