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MTB news & racing round-up for September 26, 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

Reinvented American mountain bike series struggles into the future

By Sue George

Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) winning - a familiar sight at the NMBS races
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

With the demise of the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) held annually in the United States, North American mountain bikers were left wondering 'What's next?'. Going into the 2009 season, Team Sho-Air's Scott Tedro has stepped up to lead an effort to create a new national-level series: the US Cup. What remains to be seen is if Tedro and other advocates for the series can muster enough sponsorship to support the series. Although the members of the cycling industry have voiced general support for the new US Cup, sponsorship dollars have been slow to materialize.

The proposed US Cup would include races in Fontana, Laguna Seca and Los Olivos, California; Fountain Hills, Arizona; Angel Fire, New Mexico; Windham, New York; and Mt. Snow, Vermont, many of which were popular NMBS venues. Nearly all of the races, running from late March through early August, would award UCI points. Furthermore, the series would pay equal prize money to elite men and women and aim to provide a "very rewarding" experience for amateur racers.

Sponsorship woes

When Tedro put out the full series proposal and an initial call for sponsorship to monetarily support the new national-level series, a deafening silence followed.

"It is like beating my head against the wall. We are far away from our goal," said Tedro to Cyclingnews in early September. "Although everyone seems to want the series, not enough are stepping up."

Creating a series to replace the NMBS came with some baggage. Reading recent conversations on public forums, it's clear the NMBS has had its problems. In its later days, it seems not to have served the amateur racers as well as in past days, and many categories showed poor attendance at some venues.

"For the first 30 days [after proposing the US Cup], everyone could only say what was wrong with the NMBS," Tedro said. He wanted to move forward, taking what worked from the NMBS, discarding what didn't, and mixing in his own ideas.

After countless hours on the phone to industry players, Tedro won over Specialized, the first manufacturer to step up and sponsor the series. The company later increased is commitment and will now be the title sponsor of the series.

"It's great that Scott picked up the ball and worked to put together this series," said Ben Capron of Specialized to Cyclingnews. "We're really excited about the potential to build more momentum for domestic mountain bike racing. We think the series might be the vehicle to do just that.

"Our primary goal for being involved is to help support a series that can inspire people to come out and race and to give a platform for the best domestic and even international riders to compete."

Yet, Specialized's support alone wasn't enough to cover the budget for the series and Tedro continues to troll for additional sponsors.

Tedro hasn't given up hope. He extended his deadline for acquiring sponsorship from September 19 to October 3, after Interbike, a trade show where he is busy recruiting this week. Thus far, Hayes, Gary Fisher, Trek, ESI Grips are on board at various levels.

Now more optimistic that the series will go forward in one form or another, he admitted that he may have to scale down some of his ideas for the first year as the series becomes more established.

"It's at enough of a level of commitment level that I think we can pull it off," said Tedro earlier this week.

Read the complete feature and see the proposed US Cup Schedule.

UCI releases 2009 calendar

At the UCI Road World Championships, in Varese, Italy, the UCI Management Committee met and approved the UCI Mountain Bike Calendar for 2009. Major events, including World Cups, Continental Championships, and World Championships are listed below. A full schedule of UCI categorized events will be coming soon.

2009 UCI Major Events Calendar
March 20-22: American Continental Championships, Chile
March 21-22: Oceania Continental Championships, Threadbo, Australia
April 11-12: UCI World Cup XCO 1 / DHI/4X 1, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
April 25-26: UCI World Cup XCO 2, Offenburg, Germany
May 2-3: UCI World Cup XCO 3 / 4X 2, Houffalize, Belgium
May 16-17: UCI World Cup DHI/4X 3, Vallnord, Andorra
May 23-24: UCI World Cup XCO 4, Madrid Spain
June 6-7: UCI World Cup DHI/4X 4, Fort William, Great Britain
June 13-14: European Championships DHI, Kranjska Gora, Slovenia
June 20-21: UCI World Cup DHI/4X 5, Maribor, Slovenia
June 27-28: European Championships 4X, Ajdovscina, Slovenia
July 9-12: European Championships XCO, Zoetermeer, Netherlands 
July 10-12: African Continental Championships, Mankele, Nelsruit, South Africa
July 25-26: UCI World Cup XCO 5 / DHI/4X 6 
August 23: UCI Marathon World Championships, Graz-Stattegg, Austria
August 25-30: World Masters Championships, Praloup, France
September 1-6: UCI XCO/DHI/4X World Championships, Canberra, Australia
September 12-13: UCI World Cup XCO 7, Champéry, Switzerland
September 19-20: UCI World Cup XCO / DHI/4X 8, Schladming, Austria
September 20: European Championships XCM, Tartu, Estonia
November 5-8: Asian Continental Championships, Melaka, Malaysia

Wells & Stander to Specialized

Burry Stander (South Africa)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

For 2009, Specialized has signed American Todd Wells and South African Burry Stander, former teammates at GT Bicycles. The two riders will join cross country World Champion Christoph Sauser, who will remain with the team for 2009.

"We believe that in terms of young talent, Burry is the guy for the future," said Ben Capron of Specialized. "In terms of team chemistry, he and Christoph are close friends. They started the Cape Epic together last year and have trained together in South Africa."

The pair had to pull out of the Cape Epic before the finish due to a knee injury sustained by Stander. However, the injury didn't slow down Stander for long. He was runner-up at the U23 World Championships in June.

"Christoph was instrumental in the recommendation of Burry," said Capron. "And Burry and Todd are really close, and we've always respected Todd's abilities. He's had his best World Cup season ever and is getting faster every year." Wells also represented the US at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

On the women's side, Norwegian Lena Byberg will continue as a member of the team.

USA Cycling unveils 2009 Mountain Bike National Calendars

On Thursday, USA Cycling announced the 34 races that will comprise the third annual USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendars (MBNC) in the three disciplines of Cross Country, Gravity and Ultra-Endurance.

The calendars were intended to provide more accessible opportunity for top-level events in the United States that have not traditionally been part of the national series model. USA Cycling described the concept as "compatible with a variety of event models" and said it "provided professional and elite-level athletes with consistent, top-quality racing opportunities across all disciplines of mountain biking".

In 2009, the cross country calendar features a more logistics-friendly travel schedule and a higher cash purse minimum, meaning fewer total events. The calendar includes the new, proposed US Cup and more UCI races.

Consisting of 19 events across 13 states, the cross country calendar will kick off with the Fontana round of the US Cup in Fontana, California on March 20 and will once again stretch seven months until the last weekend in October when the Piney Hills Classic in Ruston, Louisiana. Over the course of the season-long calendar, athletes will accrue ranking points as they pursue overall titles in men's and women's individual and team categories - much like USA Cycling's National Racing Calendar model in road cycling.

Each of the 29 events on the cross country calendar is categorized according to the amount of overall ranking points available. Three category-1 events offer the most points - the Sea Otter United States Cup in Monterey, California, the US National Championships in Granby, Colorado, and the Mount Snow round of the US Cup in West Dover, Vermont. The cross country calendar includes two category-2 events, three category-3 races and 11 category-4 events.

The eight-event gravity calendar, which features downhill, 4X, super D and dual slalom events, will span five states, with similar category designations. There is one category-1 event and three category-2 events on the 2009 calendar. The category-1 event will be the National Championships, July 16-19, and the category-2 events include the Chile Challenge in Angel Fire, New Mexico, May 23-25, the Blast the Mass in Snowmass, Colorado, June 27-28 and the Whiteface 5K Downhill on August 30.

The ultra endurance calendar will consist of 62-mile races, marathons, eight, 12- and 24-hour races. The seven-race calendar will again kick off with the Mas O Menos 100K in Terlingua, Texas on February 4 and wrap up at the National Mountain Bike Oktoberfest in Davison, North Carolina on October 24-25.

As with the cross country calendar, the gravity calendar and ultra endurance calendar will also crown overall champions at season's end.

Thus far only one of the 2008 Mountain Bike National Calendars is complete. Melissa Buhl and Aaron Gwin took top honors in the Gravity Calendar.

For more information on the calendars, visit www.usacycling.org or stay tuned to Cyclingnews for a complete 2009 calendar, including MBNC and UCI events, coming soon.

Team Monster Energy reflects on 2008

As the 2008 season comes to an end, Team Monster Energy's riders and manager reflected on their final performances in 2008 and the upcoming 2009 season.

While the team's biggest star rider Sam Hill didn't take home the World Cup title, he remains philosophical about the season and that last race.

"I wasn't too happy with my result in qualifying at the World Cup finals," said Australian Hill. "I found myself riding tight and slow which was disappointing because I was really trying to get maximum points for the series overall."

"I was really stoked though that (teammate) Brendan (Fairclough) qualified in second. He has more speed and skill than pretty much everybody out there so it was cool that he put it together. My race run just didn't really feel right at all. I was riding too cautious and then when I did try to go a bit faster I just kept making mistakes. I had four big saves during my race run and that has never happened to me before. I was pleased to finish second with the run that I had and this season has motivated me a lot for next year."

Looking at the season as a whole, Hill said, "Overall with my season I have mixed feelings. Some races have been good and then there are a lot I would rather forget about. I think I have learned a lot this year and hopefully I can turn the negatives into positives for next year."

Meanwhile, teammate Brendan Fairclough had a season of highs and lows, ranging from injury at the Andorra World Cup to some great moments at the Bromont World Cup and a second-placed run in qualifying at the Schladming World Cup. Unfortunately, his wheel then washed out in finals and spat him down the track just moments after what would likely have been a career-best result.

"It felt good to be up there after the semi but it didn't really feel that good beating Sam," said Great Britain's Fairclough. "It meant that his points were down so I felt a bit bad for that. I knew that my run was really chilled in the semi and knew I could go faster in the final quite comfortably. It really sucks watching my first possible World Cup win go down the drain, but I've had time to think about it and it's all good now. Only me to blame really for not been strong enough to hold on. So another learning experience for next year."

Overall, Fairclough called the season "disappointing". "I've got a lot to work on in the winter and have never felt so keen and inspired to do it. Having Sam as a teammate has been really good not only for the riding but having a good friend on the circuit is so cool. I feel I've got on with the team really well and really look forward to getting back on the road next year fitter and faster than ever. Just need to put in a few road miles and I feel I could be fighting for a top threes next year, rather than these top tens which are really starting to piss me off!"

Hill to Specialized and Beaumont to GT

By Callum Jelley, BikeRadar

Sam Hill (Monster Energy)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

'Tis the season for rider transfer news, and this week it comes from Sam Hill and Marc Beaumont.

Australian downhill star Hill will join the Specialized team next season as confirmed by BikeRadar at the Interbike tradeshow in Las Vegas.

The Aussie will be riding a Demo to start with but Specialized is planning to develop a new bike with Hill in the not-too-distant future. This marks Specialized's full return to World Cup downhill racing, and with Trek promising to sign new riders to race the Session '88, it promises to be an exciting year for gravity racers.

In addition, Marc Beaumont will ride with GT for 2009. The Steve Peat prodigy and current Team Santa Cruz-Bikeradar rider has always been a prominent force on the World Cup circuit as well as being a brilliant ambassador for the sport. With a new full carbon downhill bike in the prototype stages, GT needed the best to test and develop this machine and get it up to World Cup racing standards; Beaumont was their choice.

On the other hand, GT is losing two of their other top gravity riders: Australian Bryn Atkinson and American Jill Kintner. Their next destinations have yet to be confirmed.

Interbike Tech Coverage: Felt unveils a new arsenal for 2009

By James Huang in Boulder City, Nevada

The carbon hardtail lives

Felt will add a 26" carbon hardtail to its 2009 lineup
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

For whatever reason, carbon hardtails seem to be making a comeback and Felt throw its hat into the ring with the new Six Team. Based on the Nine Carbon introduced at last year's show, this new 26" version shares many of its features but delves even further into the full-on race bike category.

The frame uses Felt's Ultra High Modulus carbon fiber blend and one-piece seat stay and chain stay assemblies along with beefy head tube and bottom bracket areas for precise handling and drivetrain rigidity. Claimed frame weight for complete bikes is just 1200g while the higher-end frame-only configuration is said to knock off another 150g. Complete top-end bikes reportedly weigh less than 9.5kg (21lb).

The frame tube profiles scream ‘fast and rigid' to us and the parts spec similarly makes no illusions as to the bike's intentions. The RockShox SID fork is set to just 80mm of travel, the carbon handlebar is both flat and narrow, and the Sun Ringle Black Flag wheelset certainly strikes us as better suited to flying uphill than bombing rock-strewn scree fields.

The new Six Team might not be a versatile trail bike but if racing is your gig, this might be a good tool for the job.

Substantial changes to Virtue and Compulsion platforms

Lower-end Virtues now receive an aluminum rear end
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

Speaking of trail bikes, the 130mm-travel Virtue and 150mm-travel Compulsion platforms both get major updates for '09. Stiffer front triangles improve handling precision, especially in rougher conditions, while a more compact Equilink suspension layout with beefier linkages offers similar benefits out back. Slacker head tube angles all around make for a more stable feel, too.

Both also get semi-interrupted seat tubes similar to that used on the burlier Redemption which allows the use of a more conventional high-clamp front derailleur (last year's bikes used E-type mounts).

Last but certainly not least, suspension pivot hardware has been completely redesigned meaning you can stop carrying that bottle of Loctite in your hydration pack. The new pivots now use through-bolts at all points and tweaks to the alloy dust caps have supposedly eliminated loosening under hard use.

All of these changes should make the Virtue and Redemption more capable but interestingly, it also moves the former away from the pseudo-race category and further into trail bike territory, thus leaving a notable gap in the line. Never fear though, as Felt reportedly has a short-travel Equilink bike in the works that will be specifically aimed at racing. Select teams and riders will apparently have access to it for '09 but production versions won't be offered until 2010. Sit tight.

Read the complete tech feature or see Cyclingnews' other tech coverage from the Interbike Trade Show.

O'Dea Diary: Fool's Gold behind the scenes, Sponsor change, and Racing again

Namrita and Eddie O'Dea
Photo ©: Ronnie Fields
(Click for larger image)

The second ever Fool's Gold MTB Races and Festival was an amazing success. We were just beginning to recover from our trip to the US 24 Hour Nationals when it was time to start the final preparations for the event. Namrita & I went up to Dahlonega, Georgia, on Wednesday with a truck load each of prizes, a PA system and various other supplies. We then spent some time planning out how to mark the 50 mile course and set up the start/finish venue. We ran out of daylight quickly and headed for downtown Dahlonega to have a few beers with Jason Mead of Pivot Cycles.

On Thursday, Namrita drove and marked the first 12 miles of the course while Dave Muse, our course designer, marked the Bull Mountain section and Jason & I marked the finishing singletrack sections. I borrowed a demo Pivot Mach 4 for the ride and really pushed it hard (when I was not dropping course marking arrows all over the place). Two hours into the ride, we saw a large black bear just 20 yards to the side. All three of us (Jason, I, and the bear) stopped and stared for a brief moment, each contemplating our next move.

The 50 mile race
Photo ©: Andrew Kornylak
(Click for larger image)

The bear exited noisily into the brush to our left, but only 30 feet or so. I was not about to continue until he was far enough away that I could not see or hear him. I began yelling to scare him away, "That's right and don't come back!" Smack talking the bear seemed the most appropriate thing to do for some reason. We continued this display of false confidence for a few minutes and heard the bear move further and further away. Finally, we rode on, still yelling as we went. The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, but I ended the day with about nine hours of riding and at least three more hours of other manual labor.

The participants started rolling in early on Friday afternoon, some just to check in, and others to stay for the weekend. My brother finally arrived with his two sons and that was huge relief. They put in so much work over the weekend, taking a huge load off of Namrita & me. The 9:00 pm check-in cut off finally came and went. Namrita was still planning to race the 100 mile race but I was feeling really nervous. We had 125 racers in 2007, and this year we were up to 350+ people including racers and festival participants. I was going to need help to pull the event off without disaster. I had to ask her not to race and she kindly, if not reluctantly, agreed. We retired to the party surrounding the kegs of Terrapin and Sweetwater.

Read the complete diary entry.

Trail Tune-up grants awarded

Six recipients of the 2008 USA Cycling-International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) Trail Tune-Up Grants were announced Thursday. A total of US $3,500 was awarded to groups displaying the highest need for trail improvement projects with an emphasis on trails used for racing.

Recipient clubs, who had to be members of USA Cycling and IMBA, were chosen from Alabama, California, Massachussets, New York and Virginia.

The New York Mountain Bike Association, based in New York, New York, was awarded $1,000 to be directed toward trail signage, the building of new trails and maintenance of old. The funds will also help complete a permanent race loop within the Highbridge trail system.

Five $500 grants were also awarded, including two to Virginia. The Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition will use their funds for trail improvements and maintenance on the western slopes of Massanutten Resort in order to raise trial quality and ensure better racing conditions. The funds awarded to Page Valley Cycling will help the Page County-based organization purchase hand tools for construction and maintenance on the Big Gem Mountain Bike Trail System and a BMX pump track.

In Massachussets, the North Atlantic Velo/NEMBA will rebuild bridges and add signage along race courses.

In Alabama, the grant went to the Lake Howard Trail project in Greater Sylacuga.

Finally, Roaring Mouse Cycles in California will begin construction of a small pump track as well as upgrade and realign the trail system in San Francisco's McLaren Park.

The grants were funded by USA Cycling members who donated funds to land-access uses when renewing their memberships.

US Forest Service issues guidance pertaining to mountain bikers

The US Forest Service issued an agency memo that could benefit mountain biking in American National Forests. The memo, written by Deputy Chief Joel Holtrop, "clearly defines mountain biking as similar to hiking and equestrian use, and activity to be managed separately from motorized travel," according to IMBA. Previous studies have shown similar impact among hikers and mountain bikers and both user groups share many common objectives.

Forest Service director for recreation, heritage and volunteers Jim Bedwell, made the announcement at the IMBA World Summit and said the document has been distributed to agency staff regionally and locally.

"I want to emphasize that mountain biking is a non-motorized use of National Forest System trails, along with hiking and horseback riding. In our planning and policy documents, a distinction between mountain biking and motorized uses...should be made," said Holtrop in the memo. This guidance could aid the efforts of mountain bike advocates involved in National Forest planning and management processes.

According to an IMBA statement, "Bedwell's announcement comes at a time when some national forests have applied similar restrictions to bicycles and motor vehicles. IMBA believes most Forest Service staff understand bicycling is a quiet, non-motorized, low-impact activity, and hopes the letter provides the guidance necessary for consistent treatment of mountain biking on every national forest."

The memo also recognized the importance of the partnership between IMBA and the US Forest Service. The two parties work together under a Memorandum of Understanding that has been renewed three times thus far.

SoCal Interscholastic League gets off to flying start

The cycling community and industry has been quick to back the fledgling Southern California Interscholastic Cycling League (SoCal League), which has made rapid progress since the announcement of its formation on August 4.

Matt Fritzinger, founder and director of the NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing League, and now also director of the SoCal League, said, "It's amazing what has happened since our original announcement and launch of the SoCal website. So many teachers, potential coaches, parents, and students have contacted us. Because of the newly formed and enthusiastic founding committee, and receptive bloggers, the word has spread fast. Last week while scouting venues for camps and races, we kept running into mountain bikers of all ages that already knew about it. With this kind of growth potential we are grateful to have so much industry support."

Easton Sports Development Foundation II provided the seed money for the new league, and other companies, including Clif Bar, Specialized, Trek Bikes, Wilderness Trail Bikes and Crank Brothers, have not hesitated to come to the party.

"It's very exciting to see the cycling community come together so quickly and so generously, so that high school students from Southern California have an opportunity to compete in a school-based sport that has been so successful in Northern California," said Jim Easton, head of the Easton Sports Development Foundation II. "Future competition, not only between the schools but between the best riders in Northern and Southern California, can only increase the interest and growth of high school cycling."

Working closely with Fritzinger, the SoCal League president, Quintin Easton, has already gathered a founding committee, and identified 15 prospective teams, including the Rim of the World High School, which already existed and had been preparing to join the NorCal League.

"There's a lot of singletrack right out the back of our school, so it made sense for me to start teaching mountain biking," said Rim of the World PE teacher, Scott Craft, who actually teaches mountain biking as a PE class, using a pool of 50 mountain bikes. Craft says he will soon approach the school board to change the team's status from a club to a school sporting team. Located at Lake Arrowhead, the Rim of the World High School team has 25 members.

Craft and a former masters national cross country champion, Jon Tanklage, are heading the effort at Rim of the World school. Both are members of the new League's founding committee along with Easton, Dorothy Wong, Tonya Bray, Robert Herber, Stephanie Gaudreau, Anna Lang, Cici Arenas, Matt Gunnell and Patrick O’Kane. This team will help the SoCal League get off the ground with its inaugural five-race cross-country series slated to begin in January 2009.

“The SoCal League has the potential to provide access to cycling for young people who need a hand getting involved," said Christina Orlandella of Crank Brothers, explain why industry has so quickly come on board. "This is a benefit to the students, to the schools, to the community and to the sport itself. The SoCal League will bring new people into the sport, and many will become avid racers or recreational cyclists for life. SoCal League members represent the future of our sport."

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