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MTB news & racing round-up for September 19, 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

Australia gets another mountain bike stage race

In 2008, Adrian Jackson won another popular Australian stage race, the Wildside
Photo ©: Rick Eaves
(Click for larger image)

Another mountain bike stage race has stepped up onto the international calendar. The inaugural Terra Australis - Great Southern Land Mountain Bike Epic will be staged from March 29 to April 4, 2009, in Australia.

The 600km event will start in the Alpine Resort of Falls Creek and finish seven days later on the banks of the Ovens River in Wangaratta. It will travel through the Alpine Villages of Dinner Plain, Bright and Beechworth and will be set against the majestic backdrop of Victoria's High Country.

"The event will set the benchmark in the Asia – Pacific region for endurance mountain bike events," predicted Iain Moore, Finish Line Events Director. "The event's timing is ideal as we work with our event partners to capitalise on the rise in popularity of recreational and endurance based Mountain Bike events."

"We have been very conscious of remaining true to the spirit of similar events in Europe, Canada and South Africa, which have set a very high standard and are iconic multi stage mountain bike events. Our ultimate goal is to establish Terra Australis as an international event showcasing the region and its attributes to mountain bikers from around the globe," said Moore.

"We are especially excited to have already gained the support of Tory Thomas and Kerry Ryan as event ambassadors. Tory is a passionate North East Victorian local and a highly credentialed endurance rider having previously claimed the 2005 Australian National Solo 24 Hour Championship, the Australian MTBA 100K Marathon Championship, and in the same year the Australian Cross Country Championship and MTBA National Series Championship .

Ryan is a former World Masters Champion and along with partner Craig Peacock won their 50+ age group category in the 2005 Trans Rockies challenge in Canada.

The event is scheduled just soon after another brand new Australian stage race, the BMC Mountains To Beach from March 1-7, 2009.

Estonia hosts biggest Baltic States marathon

The biggest mountain bike marathon in Baltic States, the SEB 11 Tartu Rattamaraton, will take place on Sunday, September 21 in South-Estonia. Organizers have prepared 89km and 40km tracks starting from Otepää, Tehvandi Sport Centre and finishing near Elva in Tartumaa Sport Centre.

According to the latest information 2,844 riders have registered for the 89km distance and 1,572 for the 40km distance which makes 4,416 starters in total. This year participants from 11 different countries have signed up.

Next to the best cyclists of Estonia like Allan Oras and Jaan Kirsipuu, many strong competitors are coming from Sweden. For example Alexander Wetterhall, who finished fifth in European Cross Country Championships 2008, and Niklas Gustavsson, who was voted rookie of the year, are set to make their debuts in Estonia. From Latvia more than 300 riders will participate including many professional racers.

The day before the marathon, on Saturday, a sprint event will be held in Tartu.

Club Tartu Maraton is hosting the event. They will also run the European Marathon Championship in 2009.

For more information, visit www.tartumaraton.ee.

Who says Lance can only win on pavement?

By James Huang in Snowmass, Colorado

Lance Armstrong got back to his winning ways
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong continued on his comeback trail by winning the 12 Hours of Snowmass mountain bike endurance event along with teammates Len Zanni and Max Taam, just about one month after coming in second to Dave Wiens at the epic Leadville 100. The Texan gave a good public display of off-road prowess prior to this season during that famous moment in Stage 9 of the 2003 Tour when he was forced across a rutted field to avoid a fallen Joseba Beloki. In addition to a previous sixth place appearance at the US Mountain Bike Nationals in Mount Snow, Vermont nearly ten years ago, his latest accomplishments only confirm that he's the real deal on a proper mountain bike, too.

Armstrong's weapon of choice for the Snowmass event was the new 2009 Trek Top Fuel. Much as Trek did with its current-generation Madone road platform, this latest Top Fuel is a far more daring design than the rather conservative one it replaced. The OCLV carbon main frame sports a semi-integrated seatpost more typically seen on the road, the bottom bracket bearings are directly inserted into a road-width shell, and the head tube now wears an integrated headset as well.

Out back, the rear end still sticks with a single-pivot axle path but a host of new features adapted from the Fuel EX trail bike cancel out many of the design's inherent drawbacks. Lighter ABP Race (Active Brake Pivot) pivots essentially provide a built-in floating disc mount for better traction and control under braking, Full Floater's dual dynamic shock mounts allow for more precise spring rate tuning throughout the travel range, and a stouter one-piece EVO Link helps to keep everything tied together.

In total, Trek estimates that the changes have also dropped about 431g (0.95lb) from the previous Top Fuel while also making it more predictable and faster at the same time, too.

The component spec continued the weight loss theme and, as one would expect, there was a healthy smattering of Bontrager-labeled gear such as the Race XXX Lite carbon riser bar, Race X Lite aluminum stem, XXX Lite carbon seatpost stub and InForm RL saddle. When it came to rolling stock though, Armstrong apparently decided to reach outside of the company toy box.

Read the complete feature.

Inaugural Crank the Shield draws racers to Ontario

Ontario's first point-to-point mountain bike stage race, Crank the Shield, will kick off on Friday. As an ultimate test of physical and mental endurance, Crank the Shield has attracted riders of all calibers, from Canadian National Team racers to weekend warriors, all in search of a personal triumph. The three stages, ranging from 70 to 85 km, are sure to put riders to the test.

The race will see approximately 280 riders make their way through the Muskoka Region, the Town of Minden, the Town of Haliburton, and finish in the beautiful Haliburton Highlands.

The three courses wind through rough ATV trails, secondary roadways, and cycling specific riding centres including Buckwallow Cycling Centre, and Haliburton Forest Wildlife Preserve. On the third day, racers will enjoy a police-escorted 17 km neutral ride. This epic adventure will be capped off with an awards banquet, at Haliburton Forest.

Crank the Shield 2008
Stage 1 - September 19: Buckwallow to Candalore, 80km
Stage 2 - September 20: Wilderness to Village , 90km
Stage 3 - September 21: Neutral Ride to Hills and Singletrack Thrills, 80km

USA Cycling changes mountain bike categories

Women's racing in the National Mountain Bike Series
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

USA Cycling announced a new mountain bike category system to take effect for the 2009 season. The national governing body and the National Off Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) Board of Trustees analyzed and improved the changes with the goal of strengthening professional fields and adding depth to amateur categories at the grass roots level.

The new categories, which closely resemble those used in other disciplines of competitive cycling, will take effect on December 1, 2008. The previous license categories will be replaced with a new system which include Category 1, 2, 3 and Pro designations.

The previous structure, which consisted of five categories – Beginner, Sport, Expert, Semi-Pro and Pro – has been condensed to include four categories. Like the categories they're replacing, Categories 1, 2 and 3 will also feature age groups classes.

"This change has been discussed, studied and considered in some form for the last two years," said Lisa Nye-Salladin, NORBA Board of Trustees President and race promoter for the Texas Mountain Bike Racing Association. "Ultimately, the NORBA Board of Trustees spearheaded this evolution in order to make racing more competitive and create a clear distinction between amateur and professional athletes. The names of the categories were also revised to better reflect the new levels of racing. The terms 'Beginner', 'Sport' and 'Expert' carry little relevance outside of the mountain bike community, which makes it difficult for sponsors and the public to relate. The simplicity of using numbered categories brings with it a universal understanding."

NORBA Board of Trustees member Gary Fisher was a major proponent of the change in order to create a more competitive environment domestically and improve the success of riders from the US globally.

"We want bigger pro fields in the National Calendar events so our racers can better prepare for international competition like World Cups and World Championships," said Fisher. "Our pro fields are tiny compared to our European counterparts. We have the numbers in terms of ridership, but we've been referring to them as Semi-Pros."

Olympian and four-time national cross country champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, who also sits on the USA Cycling Board of Directors as the NORBA athlete representative, sees the change as a positive step forward.

Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru/Gary Fisher) ready
Photo ©: Jamie Lau
(Click for larger image)

"Throughout the last several years, we've been discussing ways to improve the quality of races in the US and increase competition," said Horgan-Kobelski. "This change will result in deeper pro fields, but will also produce an extremely competitive atmosphere among amateurs. The category one designation itself becomes a more prestigious field with talent indicative of up-and-coming pros. The change also simplifies things for race organizers who can now offer fewer categories, while at the same time improving their event."

Marc Gullickson, USA Cycling's National Mountain Bike Development Director, said the change would be better for rider development. "The Semi-Pro category was originally created as a place for U23 athletes to compete before making the jump to the professional level," said Gullickson, "but now, the elimination of that category will help accelerate the progression of athletes who should theoretically be competing against stiffer competition on a more consistent basis. From a development standpoint, the Semi-Pro category became an unnecessary middle ground that made it difficult to assess talent."

Members currently categorized as Experts will automatically become a Category 1; Sport members will automatically be converted to a Category 2; and Beginners will automatically become a Category 3. Members currently categorized as Semi-Pro may choose either Category 1 or Pro designation for the 2009 racing season. When renewing their license, Semi-Pro members will be offered an automatic upgrade to Pro throughout the 2009 licensing period which runs from December 1, 2008 to November 30, 2009. If a current Semi-Pro member does not purchase a 2009 racing license, he will automatically default to Category 1 status beginning on December 1, 2009 for the 2010 racing season. At that point, regular upgrade procedures will apply.

To go along with the new system, USA Cycling has developed detailed Pro upgrade requirements and transition for Semi-Pro's in Endurance, Gravity and Ultra-Endurance disciplines.

Jeep 48STRAIGHT heads to Utah

Greg Minnaar will be at the Jeep 48Straight round two
Photo ©: Luke Weber
(Click for larger image)

Heading into the first race of the Jeep 48STRAIGHT Series last month in New Jersey, fellow Californians Cody Warren and Kathy Pruitt were not favorites to bring home the title. After taking down one renowned racer after another to earn wins, the pair will no longer have the element of surprise on their side heading into the second leg of the series on September 19-20 at The Canyons in Park City, Utah.

For Warren, the challengers will be arriving from near and far, led by Eric Carter and Rich Houseman, as well as 2008 Crankworx Champion J.D. Swanguen of San Diego. Also in the mix from the American contingent are Kyle Strait, a Sea Otter Classic titlist with several Red Bull cycling wins and a World Junior Downhill Championship podium under his belt, and Cam Zink, a member of the US National Team who has been racing for more than half his life and dominating for most of it, including a win at Crankworx. No one will be overlooking local favorite Chris Van Dine of Park City, a rider with over 20 titles spanning all disciplines of mountain bike racing.

The foreign contingent is equally as daunting, with commitments to attend from Great Britain's Steve Peat, Australia's Nathan Rennie and South Africa's Greg Minnaar. Peat is a three-time World Cup Champion, with 15 World Cup titles, eight British National Championships and two European Championships to his name. Rennie, the 2008 Australian National Champion, is a former overall World Cup Champion and Junior World Champion. Then there's Minnaar, with an astounding 35 World Cup titles, a World Championship and three World Cup Championships.

Pruitt will have her work cut out for her as well, led by reigning World Champion and US National Champion Melissa Buhl, who lost to Pruitt in the finals in New Jersey, but will be seeking to turn the tables in Utah. Another top name to keep an eye on is Fionn Griffiths of Great Britain, a three-time World Cup winner who can bring home a title on any given day.

As was the case during round one, Jeep 48STRAIGHT will hold an Open Qualifier for local professionals and semi-professionals, with the racers battling against the clock to try and earn a coveted spot in the dual slalom championship. The Open Qualifier, which will be capped at 75 men and 25 women, will take place on Friday, September 19.

The 48STRAIGHT Cyclo-cross, presented by Scott USA, has been added to the schedule for Utah. There will be two categories of racing, including the more advanced Group A with a 60-minute race and $400 guaranteed cash payout, and the more recreational Group B, with a 45-minute race and $250 guaranteed cash payout.

For more information, visit www.48straight.com.

British NPS Round #5 changes venue

Round five of the British downhill National Points Series (NPS) has found a new venue. Instead of being held at Carlton Bank, it will be held in Innerleithen in Scotland on Saturday and Sunday, September 20-21. With the North East seeing over a month's rainfall in one day, the finishing field at the original site was looking more like a lake than a race village.

The Innerleithen course is littered with rocks, exposed roots and ruts to challenge the best of the racers. Tighthly packed trees and steep, twisting corners only add to the mix.

Practice is open Saturday. Seeding is set for Sunday morning with final race runs on Sunday afternoon.

For more information, visit www.NPSDH.com.

Full house for El Reto

In only its second year, the El Reto del Quetzal stage race in Guatemala has found itself with a full house. With 100 teams already registered, the race is drawing riders from France, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, USA and of course, Guatemala.

In addition to beautiful scenery, the country boasts singletrack made by humans from the conquering period of over 500 years ago. The race will run from October 3 to 5 and include three stages.

For more information, visit www.elretodelquetzal.com.

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