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MTB news & racing round-up for September 18, 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

The Cactus Cup is back but in Vegas

By Dave McElwaine

Most of the racing will take place here
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The mere mention of the Cactus Cup brings smiles to thousands of mountain bikers who remember the grand-daddy of stage races back in the 1990s. At its peak, it drew 10,000 racers and 75,000 spectators to Arizona's Pinnacle Peak Park, and later to McDowell State Park. Races were also held at other venues in the United States, and in foreign countries as far away as Japan.

The Mountain's Edge Cactus Cup is set to premier this weekend within 20 minutes of "The Strip" in Las Vegas, Nevada, with over US$25,000 in prize money. It is timed to piggyback onto the hugely successful Interbike trade show which draws in excess of 50,000 bicycle industry retailers and sponsored racers to Las Vegas. The event will feature four stages over three days; The Exploration Peak Time Trial, Super D, Fat Tire Criterium, and Cross Country race sponsored by Titus Bicycles.

One of the driving forces behind the rebirth of the Cactus Cup is Ravi Rajcamoor who is the Managing Director of Swagger, the Georgia-based company who is producing the race. Swagger is one of the largest organizers of road criteriums in the United States. Rajcamoor had also been the Promotions Director at Specialized for some of their Cactus Cup's in Arizona.

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Rajcamoor commented on the new Cactus Cup "We have a long history in cycling and our commitment is to grow mountain bike racing. Our intent, 100% is to have the race in Vegas for the next several years. Our goal is to grow the race."

Desert flowers
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Many legends in the sport of mountain biking raced in the Cactus Cup when it was the largest mountain bike race in the world. John Tomac, Ned Overend, Tinker Jaurez, Shawn Palmer, Thomas Frischknecht, Cadel Evans, Missy Giove, Juli Furtado, and Alison Dunlap are among those who battled in the Arizona desert every spring.

Tinker Juarez (Mona Vie / Cannondale), 47 years-old, is still actively racing and will compete in the cross country race on Sunday. Juarez, a former US National Champion, Pan Am Games Gold medalist, member of the US Olympic team to Atlanta (1996), member of the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame and 2007 24-Hour Solo Mountain Bike Champion has fond memories of the race.

"The best thing about the Cactus Cup is that it was a well organized and big event. It started the path to develop bigger and better events and happened before the Norba Nationals...they did a great job bringing in a lot of international riders and everybody in the US that wanted to get good recognition. It is definitely one of those races no one wanted to miss."

He added "If the (new) Cactus Cup can do what it did in the past, which is to bring in the international racers…it will bring back international recognition to the American mountain bike racing scene. It would be great if we could bring in the racers, media, international attention, and sponsors back onto US soil. There are several road races now that are doing this and I'd like to see it happen for mountain bike racing, too."

It appears that Juarez will have his wish, as World Champion Christopher Sauser has been confirmed for the race. Sauser, a Swiss national, won the World Cup race at Vallnord, Andorra this season, then went on to win the World Championship at Val di Sol, Italy. He finished second overall in the World Cup standings after last weekend's race in Schladming, Austria.

Christoph Sauser (Specialized)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

It is a game-changer whenever Sauser is in the race, as the Swisspower duo of Florian Vogel and Nino Schurter found out at the Fort William World Cup earlier in the year. Sauser dragged them around the course for two hours, nearly but not quite breaking the elastic many times. Vogel won a sprint finish but was quick to praise his countryman, "Nino and I were pretty much on the limit on the climbs; Sauser was so fast on the climbs but he could not quite drop us."

Two Americans will likely test Sauser's skill on American singletrack. Carl Decker (Giant) recently won the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) Super D Championship. Decker has also been highly competitive in the cross country and short track events, appearing on many podiums this season. He races rally cars in the off-season with team-mate Adam Craig, and is likely to put any cash winnings into their race car according to Craig.

Ross Schnell (Trek/VW) is making quite a name for himself as an all-around mountain bike racer. Even Craig has admitted he admires Schnell's ability to shred singletrack. Schnell won the brutal Downieville Classic All-Mountain race this season, then capped things off with a victory at the NMBS Finals on 11,000-foot Brian Head Mountain.

Decker's team-mate Kelli Emmett will head up the women's field. Emmett has won at Sea Otter this season as well as on the NMBS circuit. At the Santa Ynez NMBS race, she got her first ever cross country victory. In addition, she has several lifetime Super D wins and is considered one of America's elite in that event. Emmett was also the 2007 World Single Speed Champion, and will forever have the requisite large tattoo to prove it.

Read the complete preview.

Sauser and Wloszczowska win cross country World Cup finale

By Luke Webber in Schladming

Sauser crosses the line
Photo ©: Luke Weber
(Click for larger image)

Christoph Sauser (Specialized Factory Racing) ended his most successful season to date with a win last weekend in Schladming, Austria, at the World Cup finals, beating a resurgent Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) and earning second place in the overall standings to go with his rainbow jersey. Olympic champion Julien Absalon (Orbea) claimed the overall World Cup title.

Sauser and Hermida ended up at the front battling with Adam Craig (Giant), Roel Paulissen (Cannondale-Vredestein) and Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez (Giant Italia). Craig eventually fell off the pace while Paulissen feel off a bridge on the course, catapulting over the bars and sustaining a concussion which resulted in an overnight stay in hospital.

That left Sauser and Hermida away to do battle along with Alvarez Gutierrez. Hermida was on the attack all day, but Sauser waited patiently executed his single, winning attack. He then took advantage of the resulting 10 second gap to go for it.

"I really wanted to win today and it feels so good to end the season on top," said Sauser.

For Hermida, it was more about salvaging something from a lacklusture year in which he has suffered bad luck with mechanicals and illness. Only in Madrid did he show a glimpse of his talent translated into a top result, but this has only served as motivation for him for the coming 2009 season.

"Only in the last month have I started to come back to my normal self - but maybe that is a good thing!" said Hermida. "Battles like today take years off your life! But I am still having fun on the bike and this is the most important thing."

Two-time Olympic champion Absalon did not finish the race, but was happy with his overall title.

"It was just so fun here, I have won the overall already so there was no pressure. Today was just for fun and it was fun to ride just as much as I wanted, nothing more."

Wloszczowska was surprised at her win
Photo ©: Luke Weber
(Click for larger image)

In the women's race, Maja Wloszczowska (Halls Professional MTB Team) surprised everyone by taking her first World Cup win over from behind.

Wloszczowska and Marga Fullana (Massi) ended up duelling for the final win, and in a race which was short at under one and a half hours, every second counted.

Wloszczowska who got the better of a weakening Fullana, who slipped to fourth behind Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) and Marie Helen Premont (Rocky Mountain).

Speaking after the race, Wloszczowska said she was happy with her first ever World Cup win, which came as much as a surprise to her as it did to her rivals. "Finally I come first!" she said.

"I was second here in 2004, but after the Olympics I did not expect to win here," said Wloszczowska. "I haven't trained as much as I would have liked and that showed in the start, I did not get away well. But from then I could get faster and faster, when I saw Marga it gave me the extra power to push on and win the race, it was a great motivation."

With her final performance, Premont assured herself the overall World Cup win.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite men's and elite women's World Cup cross country race, including final standings.

Blenkinsop makes history

By Luke Webber in Schladming

Sam Blenkinsop was on the edge all day and loving it.
Photo ©: Luke Weber
(Click for larger image)

Sam Blenkinsop made history by recording New Zealand's first ever World Cup victory, in Schladming, Austria, last weekend. After consistent results in the top ten throughout the year the Yeti Cycles rider clearly enjoyed the steep Schladming downhill track that rewarded a loose style of riding.

Blenkinsop qualified in the number one position but most expected the finals to be dominated by the race for the overall World Cup title, between Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) and Sam Hill (Monster Energy). Finishing fourth and sixth meant the pressure was on the final run and when Minnaar made it to the top of the hill, it was clear the strain was showing.

First down the hill was Minnaar and despite a small mistake in the top section he inherited the hotseat from Justin Leov. Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate), however, made sure that Minnaar's reign was short-lived and in theory could have ended his teammates hope of the overall win by bumping him down the rankings.

Greg Minnaar took the series
Photo ©: Luke Weber
(Click for larger image)

As it came to Hill's turn, it was obvious that the Australian phenomenon had saved everything in reserve for his final run. Up at the split and gaining constantly Hill then had a huge moment, the bike tankslapping across the infamous rutted Schaldming hillside only to miraculously save it and get back on track. This cost around a second but the quality of the run was enough to take the hot-seat and a real opportunity of rescuing the season with the overall title.

Hill's teammate Brendan Fairclough was the penultimate rider on course, posting the best split of the race but he crashed on the final drop onto the Schladming slopes. He scrambled back up and rescued his bike before rolling over the line just outside the top 20.

Finally, Blenkinsop took to the descent - everyone expected a solid top ten finish but this was the Kiwi's kind of course, and he revelled in the wet. After several gasps from the crowd there was finally a shocked roar as he dropped into the arena clearly beating Hill's time despite a mistake en route.

This result handed the overall World Cup title to Minnaar, an accolade he did not expect but one which was accepted very happily as the whole Santa Cruz Syndicate celebrated on the podium.

Atherton completes sweep

And continued to ride flat out.
Photo ©: Luke Weber
(Click for larger image)

In the women's downhill race, World Champion Rachel Atherton (Animal Comencal) proved she was not only fast enough to blow away the competition, but could do so with consistency - much to the annoyance of her rivals. Producing a run reminiscent of her scintillating performance at the World Championships, Atherton managed to record another first today; her biggest ever winning margin in a senior event. But even with such domination, the young Brit still looks to improve to the next level in 2009.

"So far this year I've not made the qualifying mark for the men's race, which I'm pretty disappointed about. This is definitely the mark I'll set for 2009," said Atheron.

Setting standards against the opposite sex is not something alien for Atherton though, as she trains with her two brothers Dan and Gee constantly, gauging her progress against theirs and not other female riders.

Her series rivals Tracy Moseley (Kona) and Sabrina Jonnier (Team Maxxis) finished third and fourth respectively but with more rain hitting the course come early afternoon some expected a very different final. Frenchwoman Floriane Pugin (Playbiker - Iron Horse) surprised some by taking second for the day.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite men's and elite women's World Cup downhill race, including final standings.

World Cup 4X final marred by protest

By Luke Webber in Schladming

Anneke Beerten was crowned women's 4X World Cup champion.
Photo ©: Luke Weber
(Click for larger image)

Under heavy rains and in the most bizarre circumstances, the four cross World Cup Finals will not be remembered for close racing or a battle to the final, but rather for Roger Rinderknecht's protests.

In the semi-finals, Rinderknecht claimed Romain Saladini (Team Sunn) cut a flag and was not penalised - dumping the Swiss rider from the finals. What followed was an official protest and then an unofficial one, which consisted of Rinderknecht walking up the start straight and refusing to let the final start.

After 15 minutes, the decision was finally taken that the original result would stand and Rinderknecht was to ride in the small final only - a race he ran away with, crossing the line with his hands over his eyes, still clearly angry about a decision which cost him a shot at the win.

More controversially, it was Saladini who went on to win the final in a thrilling race. Within the first 50 meters Jakub Hindak and Joost Wichman (Cannondale Factory Racing) collided, leaving Dan Atherton (Animcal Commencal) to pass Saladini on the first corner. The Frenchman Saladini, however, had in mind Atherton's weakness - a longer sweeping bend halfway down the track, on which Atherton had been struggling all night. Saladini made his move here and despite a desperate attempt on the lower reaches of the course, Atherton could not overtake him for the win.

The battle for the overall World Cup series was decided earlier in the evening. World Champion Rafa Alvarez exited the rounds in the quarter finals, but he still captured the World Cup series title.

In the women's race, Czech's Romana Loubounkova rode safely to secure the win ahead of favorite Anneke Beerten (MS Intense Factory Racing), but it was Dutchwoman Beerten who claimed the overall World Cup title, ending her season on a high note. Beerten's achievement capped off a a season-long campaign of wearing the leader's jersey, which she assumed in the very first round in Maribor.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite men's and elite women's World Cup downhill race, including final standings.

Armstrong & Team Livestrong wins Snowmass

By James Huang in Snowmass, Colorado

Lance Armstrong and his team dominated today.
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

Lance Armstrong, Max Taam and Len Zanni, riding as Team Livestrong, won the 12 Hours of Snowmass last Sunday, beating endurance racing juggernauts Dave Wiens, Mike Kloser and Jay Henry of Team Beaver Creek for the men's team title.

The 12 Hours of Snowmass was the next stop for Lance Armstrong's return to competitive cycling, over an unusual 12-hour race format that included no nighttime riding; the gun went off just after dawn at 7:00 am and competition wrapped up by 7:00 pm.

Race organizer Nat Ross couldn't have wished for better conditions. The morning brought crystal clear skies, a near-ideal forecast of 15°C (58°F) and the clean air and stunning views offered by the course's near-3,000m (10,000ft) high point. Not that any of the contenders had time to notice, though.

The course was just 11km (7miles) long but included over 450m (1500ft) of climbing, nearly all of which was in the first 5km (3miles). Even then, racers were afforded little respite on the technical middle third before bombing back down to the start/finish area.

Armstrong led off his team and looked comfortable in fourth position after the first major pitch. But Beaver Creek's Jay Henry was the first to the hand-off area, logging the day's fastest lap at just 38:57.

Though Armstrong is best known for his exploits on the road, he quickly showed that he was no slouch on the mountain bike either, finishing less than a minute back at 39:44.

"I think [our teams] match up pretty well," said Henry shortly after handing off to Kloser. "I know those guys pretty well and Lance was… I mean, at times I thought I'd dropped him and then I looked back and he was right there. I think he's ready to battle a little bit for sure and he did great on the technical stuff. I was riding it really aggressively and he kept the gap. He can ride a mountain bike, that’s for sure. It's awesome having him here."

As it turns out, Armstrong's teammates could ride a mountain bike, too.

Henry was soon to follow…
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

Zanni cut Beaver Creek's lead to a single second just one lap later then Taam, Armstrong's training partner for the Leadville 100, leapfrogged Leadville winner Wiens during lap number three. Livestrong continued to systematically add to its advantage from there and had built a ten-minute lead by mid-day.

In spite of the growing time gap, there was still a lot of racing to be done and Henry remained optimistic as he waited in the transition area for his fourth lap of the day. He said that the team's strategy was to "just keep ticking [laps] off. The hardest part of the race has not even begun yet. We're not too worried yet."

Henry might have been a bit more apprehensive had he realised that things were going exactly to the Livestrong plan.

"We wanted to start hard," said Armstrong's coach, Chris Carmichael. "With Lance we wanted to try to do around 40-minute laps and just kind of hold him there and he's been able to do that which is a good sign. And then once we got the gap it was like, let's just extend it."

"It's funny; much as this thing only came together two or three days ago, this could be the world championships for Lance. He's so focused. Any time it's bike racing, he wants to win. It doesn't matter if it's thing or anything else; he just wants to win."

The end of the day saw a last-ditch attempt by Beaver Creek to retake the lead but as the clock wound down, things weren't looking good. Beaver Creek needed Zanni to succumb to some sort of mechanical or other mishap and anchor man Kloser had to put in a sub-42:30 lap (his previous laps were 43:10 and 43:24). When all was said and done, Kloser kept his end of the bargain but Zanni came through the finish line unscathed (and looking fresh, no less).

Armstrong may have been the star of the event but he and Zanni were quick to acknowledge the team aspect of the win. "If it wasn't for these two guys, I wouldn't have been successful. I was certainly not the strongest guy in the race but these two guys made up the difference with the team."

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the 12 hours of Snowmass, including more on Armstrong's cyclo-cross racing season plans.

Page speeds to victory on new bike at Chequamegon

Jonathan Page won
Photo ©: Bruce Adelsman
(Click for larger image)

For Jonathon Page (Ridley/Planet Bike), the 2008 Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival was only the second ride on his new mountain bike, but he made the most of it. The 2007 world championship cyclo-cross silver medalist bridged across to Jeff Hall (Salsa) with eight miles to go and then powered away from Hall on the last climb to win the Chequamegon 40 by eight seconds. T.J. Woodruff (BMC) rolled in 40 seconds behind Page for third place.

Hall, the 1995 Chequamegon champion, attacked alone about halfway through the race, just before Martel's Pothole, and managed to pull away. "It knew it got skinny in there, more like a mountain bike race," he said. "It was muddy so that helped too." With thirteen miles to go, Hall had built his lead to 45 seconds over a chase group of a dozen riders. By the time he cleared the Seeley Firetower Climb, he'd increased his lead to one minute.

Woodruff led an eleven-man chase group up and over the Firetower Climb, sensing that Hall was slipping away. The group more or less stayed intact until Page launched his attack on the relentless climbs of the Birkebeiner Ski Trail and quickly bridged up to Hall. "I knew it (the course) got harder," Page said, after waiting until the closing miles of the race to make his move. Page had ridden the last miles of the course the night before, his first ride on his Ridley mountain bike, and knew those hills were coming. "He (Hall) was very strong. I just capitalized on the situation."

Hall, who had been alone at the front for nearly 15 miles, managed to stay with Page until the last climb up Telemark Hill, a mile from the finish. "I felt pretty good just to stay with him," Hall, who was only riding his second race of the year, said. "He just had a little more at the end."

Davison defeats Zander for women's win

Lea Davison won,
Photo ©: Bruce Adelsman
(Click for larger image)

In the women's race, Lea Davison (Trek/VW) moved up from her third place finish last year, beating by nearly three minutes the 2007 champion Jenna Zander (Cannodale/Sobe).

Zander forged ahead to an early lead when she got around a horrific crash on Railroad Avenue in Hayward, a half mile into the race. "I heard all these people going down behind me," Zander said. She found herself the only woman in a lead group of 40 riders as the race exited the pavement and entered the Birkie Trail at Rosie's Field. "I was dangling at the back of the lead group."

Davison quickly bridged the gap, though, and caught Zander a few miles later. "I felt phenomenal. I'm having the season of my life," she said. Davison attacked Zander and moved away in a small group and had a comfortable lead by Highway OO, 16 miles into the race.

By the Seeley Firetower, she had built her lead to three minutes. "I didn't know if she was on my wheel or not," Davison said. She didn't want a repeat of 2007, when Zander, Davison's Trek/VW teammate Sue Haywood and herself were together with 200 meters to go. Zander won that sprint.

But that was not to be, as Davison cruised in at 2:19:26 for a comfortable win, over two-and-a-half minutes ahead of Zander. Three-time champion Catherine Walberg took third, crossing the line in 2:31:06.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Chequamegon 40.

Van Houts injured

Dolphin-Trek rider Rudi van Houts got some bad news after finishing the final round of the World Cup in Schladming. He managed to finish the race despite a crash that injured his knee during the race.

After finishing in 23rd place, he was transported to the hospital after finishing the race in 23rd place. Upon examination, he was sent straight to surgery to repair the damage.

Van Houts' injury follows a string of others to his teammates. Chris Jongewaard fractured his upper left arm in a crash at the Canberra World Cup, and Bart Brentjens recently underwent surgery for his broken wrist. Jongewaard is taking a few weeks off and Brentjens will return to competition at the Hondsrugclassic and his own Bart Brentjens Challenge on October 5 and 12.

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