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MTB news & racing round-up for May 16, 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

NMBS round three returns to California

By Dave McElwaine

The National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) resumes this coming weekend amidst the vineyards of the Chamberlain Ranch in Los Olivos, California. Without any conflicting World Cup cross country races, a full contingent of North American racers will be on hand to do battle on the steep, grassy, hills of the ranch. Notable exceptions will be US National Champions Adam Craig (Giant) and Mary McConneloug (Kenda / Seven) who both opted to stay in Europe to completely focus on the next World Cup in Andorra coming up on June 1.

Georgia Gould (Luna MTB Team) is undefeated
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Georgia Gould (Luna) is the favorite and she is expected to maintain her lead in the NMBS cross country series over team-mate Katerina Nash. Currently only 20 points separate them in the standings. Gould's streak of consecutive wins now spans back to the 2006 race season. This season so far, she has also finished fifth at the World Cups in Houffalize, Belgium and Madrid, Spain, and she appears to be riding at a level just slightly below World Champion Irina Kalentieva (Topeak / Ergon), and Canada's Marie-Helene Premont. In last year's NMBS round at Santa Ynez, Gould rode quickly off the front, and at one point had a three and a half minute lead over the chasers. Wendy Simms (Kona), who rode solid races at the three opening World Cups, is currently in third place in the NMBS series.

The Luna Women's Mountain Bike Team is presently ranked first in the world after winning the team competitions in all three World Cup races so far. The signing of Canada's Catherine Pendrel has allowed them to surpass even the impressive Chinese National Team. Pendrel, Gould, and Nash all placed in the top ten in Madrid. At Santa Ynez, Luna will also have on hand US National U23 and collegiate champion Chloe Forsman, who last season scored some top ten finishes. Former NMBS Champion Shonny Vanlandingham has been focusing on endurance events and will compete in the X-Terra race in Temecula, California this weekend.

Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) winning NMBS #2
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

While many of the top racers were at the three World Cup races, those who stayed home competed at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterrey, California. Both Sea Otter and the Madrid World Cup race courses have similarities with the cross country course at Santa Ynez. All three feature fast, hard packed, often dusty trails, along with mostly open terrain, plenty of cumulative climbing, and screaming descents. While Santa Ynez will not be that fast, speeds will be quite high on the 8.4 mile pro loop. Last year's chase groups could be seen trading pulls in pacelines as drafting was a critical part of the race. The course also features many off-camber singletrack sections on hillsides so steep that passing is virtually impossible. The initial climb that the riders face on the course will surely force many off their bikes. If one person puts a foot down, dozens of riders are behind them will be forced to tackle the hill on foot.

In the men's racing, Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) will be looking to extend his lead in the cross country series - especially given the absence of the second-place Craig. The competition should be quite high, however, as both Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (JHK) (Subaru/Gary Fisher), and Todd Wells (GT Bicycles) have bested Kabush on at least one occasion in Europe. All the racers are hoping that their form is still improving at this time of year and they will measure that by how they fare against those that they will face at the next World Cups.

Barry Wicks, who was ill in Madrid, currently holds third place in the NMBS and has looked strong this year. At the Houffalize World Cup, he passed 60 racers, a feat that nearly impossible given the high level of competition on the World Cup circuit.

The surprise racer from the 2007 Santa Ynez event was Max Plaxton (Rocky Mountain) who won the short track and was part of the lead group of four in the cross country. While he did not have good luck or form at the first three World Cups this year, he will no doubt be looking to get some results at Santa Ynez. Another racer to watch is Mathieu Toulouse (Maxxis) who finished fifth last year despite having no drafting help the entire race. The lead group of Plaxton, Wicks, JHK, and Kabush never opened a significant gap on Toulouse because of tactical in-fighting. Toulouse had commented after the race "I just rode steady while those guys would speed up and slow down."

Read the complete preview and stay tuned to Cyclingnews for complete coverage.

Fullana ready for European championships

Margarita Fullana (Massi)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

After a week off following three consecutive World Cup events, many top European racers will be heading to St. Wendel, Germany, this weekend for the cross country European Championship. Marga Fullana (Massi), who finished third at the most recent round of the World Cup in Madrid, Spain, will fight for the first international title of the season.

After a team relay on Friday, Fullana will race the cross country on Sunday. Although the European title is not one of Fullana's primary objectives for the season, she will still be aiming for the podium. The European Championships comes just one month before the World Championships in Val di Sole, so many top athletes are not preparing specifically for the continental championships, but are focusing more on the Worlds.

Last year, Fullana had to miss the European championships due to a fracture of the head of the radius bone; however, she won the title in 2006 in Chies d' Alpago, Italy.

Considering the World Cup results thus far, other favorites for the women's race are Russian Irina Kalentieva (Ergon / Topeak), Norway's Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) and Sabine Spitz (Team Central Ghost), although the latter played down her chances. "I am highly motivated, however, I am not yet in top form. I have not succeeded in fully recovering and compensating for a viral infection," said Spitz.

Seven races for elite, U23 and junior categories will held on the 7.9km course, with 270m elevation change, during three days.

Great Britain selects team for European XC Championships

British Cycling has selected its riders for the European Cross Country Championships in St. Wendel, Germany from May 16 to 18. Included in the 11-person line up are Commonwealth Gold medallist Liam Killeen, World Championship bronze medallist David Fletcher, brothers Ross and Hamish Creber as well as a crop of youngsters who have risen through British Cycling's rider development programmes.

Great Britain for European Cross Country Championships
Elite: Jenny Copnall, Liam Killeen, Ian Wilkinson
Under 23: Ian Bibby, Ross Creber, David Fletcher
Junior: Seb Batchelor, Hamish Creber, Annie Last, Alex Paton, Annie Simpson

O'Deas ready for "home" 24 hr race in Conyers, Georgia

Namrita O'Dea pushes through the sand on her way to a round one NPS win
Photo ©: Vassago Cycles
(Click for larger image)

Round two of the Suzuki 24 Hour National Points Series (NPS) will head to the 1996 Olympic venue at the International horse Park of Conyers, Georgia, on May 17-18. Cyclingnews' diarists Eddie and Namrita O'Dea will be among those aiming for wins.

"You always feel a little extra pressure racing on your home course," said Eddie O'Dea. "I set this out as the race I wanted to win at the start of my 24 [hour] career, and I haven't done that yet. This is actually my fifth time racing at Conyers-some with success, others with spectacular failure. Last year I had a series of mechanicals, I lost my rear derailleur on lap one, then chasing back onto the front I lost too much energy.

"The first race I did here, back in 2004, was the best I've done, completing 23 or 24 laps," he recalled fondly. "It's pretty much the same course as back then."

In the men's solo category, Eddie O'Dea will race against 2007 NPS champion, Rob Lichtenwalner, who finished one place ahead of him at the opener at the 2008 season opener 24 Hours of Vail Lake.

Namrita O'Dea who won round one at Vail Lake is aiming again for the top spot on the podium. "That's my goal, that's what I'm going there for. But there's always a few strong women that show up for the Conyers race, so we'll just have to see."

The course may lack lung-searing climbs at altitude, but with fast doubletrack interspersed with rolling, technical singletrack sections, Conyers is far from a stroll through the park for the racers. "It's a surprisingly challenging course," said promoter Laird Knight of Granny Gear Productions. "The climbs are few, but over on the granite at the back end of the course, they're short and steep. You're always on the gas and the course keeps your heart rate pegged, it definitely favors sprinters but they’ll have to keep it up lap after lap."

After Conyers, the series will head to Big Bear, West Virginia on June 7-8; Killington, Vermont on July 26-27, Landahl, Missouri on September 20-21 and Moab Utah on October 11-12.

For more information on the Conyers event or the series, visit www.grannygear.com.

New stage race for Australia

Australia's high country will become a mountain biking mecca when hundreds of riders descend on the Snowies for the inaugural Alps Epic stage race scheduled for March 2009. The event will cover eight stages in five days, moving from town to town each day. The tracks will include new and existing trails and fireroad in the Kosciuszko National Park and surrounding areas. The area is famous for its mountains, rivers, lakes and scenery.

Stages in the Snowy Mountain region will range from short 8km time trails to longer 60km marathon legs. Stages and host towns will be announced six months before the event. More details will be available at www.alpsepic.com.au after the formal launch on May 30.

Doubleheader of 4X racing to Bridgnorth

Round two of the British National 4X Series will head to the Edge - Bridgnorth on Saturday, May 17. It will be immediately followed by the 4X British National Championship on Sunday, May 18.

The track has been cut deep into the hillside to make a fast track with massive berms and big jumps. Dale Holmes is flying in from the US to defend his title and he'll be up against current 4X Series Champion Scott Beaumont, 2006 National Champion Will Longden and 2006 Series Champion Martin Ogden. The winner of the elite men's race will be selected to represent Britain at the UCI World Championships at Val Di Sole in Italy on June 19.

For more information, visit www.nps4x.com

Speedy and Muhl in national series duel

Olympic hopeful Yolande Speedy will head up the women's field for the final round of the South African Mazda MTN National Cross-Country Series at the new Mankele Mountain Bike Park at Nelspruit, Mpumalanga this weekend May 17-18.

In the absence of the South African champion and National Series leader Amy Jane Mundy (Jeep) who is recovering from a viral infection, Speedy (IMC Racing Activeworx) will be doing battle with Sara Muhl (Jeep) for the 2008 title in the elite women's category.

Muhl, who won round four in George last month, has 960 points to Speedy's 910, setting the scene for a close finish since Mundy's points stand at 1100. A win is worth 200 points and second place worth 150. Muhl has also completed four rounds while Speedy has raced three. The final points are taken on a rider's four best finishes.

"It would be nice to win the National Series title, but right now my main focus is on preparing for the Olympics," said Speedy. "I will be at Mankele for a few days as part of a training camp. Saturday's race will be part of my Games build-up as I need as much racing in my legs as possible to improve my general conditioning and my speed."

Speedy recently returned from Europe where she raced in three World Cups, finishing a little lower down the field than she did last year when she impressed with some strong results which pushed her up to 25th in the world rankings.

"I wasn't in peak form for these World Cups because I had been ill just before I left, but I did find out where I am and where I need to be and every race I can fit in now will be valuable," said Speedy, adding that she is looking forward to the new challenge the Mankele course will provide.

Mike & Mary diary: On the road again for the spring European campaign

Mary on the start line
Photo ©: Mike Broderick & Mary McConneloug
(Click for larger image)

The anticipation of travelling in Europe for several months on end to race bikes is always a bit daunting, and this year proved to be no exception. After returning from a two-week season opening race trip in Puerto Rico and Venezuela, Mary and I spent a BUSY week at our East Coast home base sorting papers, contacting friends/ sponsors, and equipping our bikes with the latest '08 gear. We really had to touch on a bit of everything including some serious training all aimed at getting everything in line for the World Cup races and another significant travel event. In the end we did all that was humanly possible before assembling a jumble of critical things into our huge overweight bike bags and paying dearly to lug them onto the plane.

This is our fifth year of renting an RV for an extended bout of European racing and this time it actually felt a bit like returning home. Our friends from the RV rental company (www.rv-rental-germany.com) meet us at the Munich airport to help out with the incredible mass of gear and once again get us started on the right foot for another Euro journey. Moving into any car for two-plus months is always a bit claustrophobic at first, but the convenience of having everything you need – cooking facilities, bathroom, bike storage, etc, all at arms reach makes it pretty convenient. Still its pretty realistic to say that with two people living in a car you are always somehow in the way of the another other unless you are outside. Still, for better or worse, this is our chosen style, it works out really well for attending and traveling to the European races and is something that we really enjoy, most of the time.

Mary and I have often found ourselves at our best while on the go and living without the distractions and the sweet, yet somehow cumbersome comforts of the real world. The simplicity of a vehicle to live in, and just enough equipment and gear to handle the job seems to be our most effective strategy for attending races . We tested this theory once again on our most current leg of the journey, competing in three World Cups in as many weeks. We began in Houffalize, Belgium, for the season opener, then on to nearby Offenburg, Germany, and most recently in the not so near by Madrid, Spain.

Read the complete diary entry.

NorCal fundraiser to educate cyclists about mental fitness

As a fundraiser for the NorCal High School Mountain Bike League, sports psychologist Marvin Zauderer will give a talk called "The 5 Core Skills of Mentally Fit Athletes" on Thursday, June 5 in San Rafeal, California. In a sport where mental fitness often sets apart winners from the rest, Zauderer will offer tools useful to competitive athletes, recreational athletes, coaches, and parents of athletes.

The talk is free for Marin Cyclists and NorCal League members. A donation of US$10 (or more) is suggested for all others. It will begin at 7:00 pm, with Q&A beginning at 8:00 pm and will be held at the San Rafael Corporate Center, Tamalpais Room, at 750 Lindaro Street, just off Highway 101 at the Central San Rafael exit.

For more information, visit www.norcalmtb.org.

Freeride rookies given chance at Adidas Slopestyle

The Sponsoree Ticket2Style contest will give five up and coming freeriders a chance to qualify for the Adidas Slopestyle competition. Held just one day before the main competition, aspiring pro freeriders who have not yet competed internationally will get to demonstrate their skills before a vast audience and qualify for the next day's main event with the pros.

"Assisting young mountain bike talents is close to our hearts. Therefore, we are delighted to host an international rookie event in the scope of the Adidas Slopestyle," said Markus Flossmann, managing director of Sponsoree Germany GmbH. "It is our goal to provide athletes who have a lot of talent but virtually no contacts in the industry with a platform to present themselves.".

The five best newcomers of the Sponsoree Ticket2Style contest, that takes place in Saalbach Hinterglemm one day prior to the Adidas Slopestyle 2008, on Thursday 31 July, will win an entry for the invitational contest to which only the forty best freeriders in the world are invited.

To apply for the contest, visit www.adidas-slopestyle.com. Of all applicants 16 years of age or older, the best 100 rookies will be selected and invited to Saalbach Hinterglemm.

Aussie racing schedule changes

Some changes have been made to the Australian Mountain X and Dual Slalom series running from May through August. The revised schedule is listed below. Australian cross country racers will also get their chance at action with the all-new Mountain Bike Grand Prix 2008, set for October 4-5 in Yellomundee, Lower Blue Mountains. It will kick off the spring cross country racing season down under. For more information on the MTB Grand Prix 2008, visit www.rockytrailentertainment.com.

Australian Mountain X Series 2008 (remaining events)
May 18: Round 2 – Goulburn, NSW (hostedy by CORC)
June 15: Round 3 – Ebenezer, NSW (hosted by WSMTB)
August 3: Round 4 - Stromlo, ACT (hostedy by CORC)
August 24: NSW/ACT Championships – Kurrajong, NSW (hosted by WSMTB)

Australian Dual Slalom Series 2008 (remaining events)
August 2: Round 4 - Stromlo, ACT - (hostedy by CORC)
August 23: NSW/ACT Championships – Kurrajong, NSW (hosted by WSMTB)

Auction to raise funds for injured Murray

An auction of an autographed, size large Steve Peat's personalized race kit will happen next week to benefit Stephen Murray, a professional dirt jumper and BMXer who crashed in June 2007 during a double back flip at the AST Dew Tour BMX Dirt Finals in Baltimore, Maryland. The 27 year-old Murray, a husband and father of two young children, sustained career-ending injuries to his spinal cord and vertebrae and is presently paralyzed.

For more information on the auction or to contribute to a fund supporting him, visit www.stephenmurray.org.

Roc du Littoral

Some racers not otherwise engaged at the European Championships may find themselves racing at the next Watch Valley Cup, the Roc du Littoral, on Sunday, May 18. The 16 edition of the race starts and finishes in Hauterive, France, with distances varying by category from 14 to 32 km. For more information, visit http://www.cclittoral.ch.

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