MTB news & racing round-up for April 11, 2009
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Edited by Sue George
South Africa hosting Africa's first triple World Cup
By Rob Jones in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Even the flat parts of the course require attention.
Photo ©: Rob Jones
For 2009, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is proving to truly be a "World" Cup, with the season-opener taking place in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa - the capital of the Zulu Nation, and home to 2008 Downhill World Cup champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz). This weekend's event boasts a couple of firsts: first Olympic cross country World Cup in Africa, and first World Cup "Triple" in Africa.
The vast majority of the top pros have made the long trek down here, with the defending World Cup titleholders in four of the six classes of competition are here to wear the number one plates on the start line. In total, seven medalists from the Beijing Olympics are in attendance, including cross country gold medalists Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Sabine Spitz (Ghost).
Photo ©: Rob Jones
Many of the Olympic riders are describing the circuit here as having similarities to Beijing - fast and relentless. From the start line, the circuit radiates out in two loops, each with a long climb. However, the descent doesn't offer much chance to rest, with tight and narrow switchbacks requiring complete attention from the riders.
"The climbs are longer than Beijing," said Absalon, "but the heat and the hard, dusty track are very much like China."
Besides Absalon - who is also the defending World Cup champion - the men's favourites have to include world champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized), Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan-Merida), Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and South African favourite Burry Stander (Specialized). Americans Adam Craig (Giant) and Todd Wells (Specialized) will also start on the front row.
World champion Christoph Sauser
Photo ©: Rob Jones
Missing from the men's roster are Jakob Fuglsang (moved to the road), Ralph Näf (Multivan-Merida) who is sick and 2000 Olympic champion Miguel Martinez who, earlier in the week, was fired by his team - Felt - after being convicted of assault against his wife in a French court.
On the women's side, the number one and number two ranked Canadian riders Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Catharine Pendrel (Luna), are both absent - Premont decided to not make the long trip to South Africa to defend her title and will focus on individual race wins this season, while Pendrel, along with teammates Georgia Gould and Katrina Nash have stayed in California for the Sea Otter Classic next week, a very important event to their sponsor. However, Spitz will face tough competition from world champion Marga Fullana (Massi), and Olympic silver and bronze medalists Maja Wloszczowska (CCC Polkowice) and Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon). Wloszczowska won the test event on the circuit last week.
The course is the longest ever for a World Cup, at 850 metres, so fitness will be a factor. Last year's breakthrough rider, Rafael Alvarez de Lara Lucas (Specialized), took both the World and World Cup titles in the four cross, so it will be interesting to see if Guido Tschugg (Ghost ATG) and Dan Atherton (Animal Commencal) can mount a challenge to the Spaniard. All of the top-10 ranked men are here; it is a strong field.
Women's defending champion Anneke Beerten (Suspension Centre) will go up against two strong challengers - world champion Melissa Buhl (USA) and Jill Kintner (Red Bull-Intense), a former World and World Cup champion returning to the sport after leaving for a year to go and win the Olympic bronze medal in BMX, and now hungry to win again. Second and third ranked Anita Molcik (Cze) and Mio Suemasa (Jpn) are not here - victims of the shrinking sponsorship pie and the cost to come all the way here.
World Cup downhill action already underway
By Rob Jones in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Photo ©: Sven Martin
The South African World Cup downhill course has not inspired wild enthusiasm from the riders. At nearly four minutes long, not especially technical, and with a flat section in the middle, to do well requires a strong and fit rider who can pedal. The top portion sends the riders through sweeping turns amid rocks, before they hit bumps that should see some substantial air action. From here they enter the flat section before dropping into the final descent that spills them out onto the four cross course.
On the women's side, world champion and defending World Cup champion Rachel Atherton (Animal Commencal) is out due to injury, which leaves the opportunity for former champions Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Tracy Moseley (Trek) to battle it out for victory. Both are on new teams.
Moseley won the first round, in qualifying on Friday, with Jonnier well back in eighth place. Jonnier crashed heavily in training, which may have slowed her down in qualifying. Former junior champion Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Center) took second to Mosely in qualifying, over nine seconds back, while Canada's Claire Buchar (Chain Reaction-Intense) could score her first ever podium at a World Cup, after finishing third in qualifying.
Hometown favorite Greg Minnaar
Photo ©: Sven Martin
The men's downhill is the final event of the weekend, and the one most likely to hold the interest of local fans, with hometown hero Greg Minnaar under immense pressure to deliver a victory. Defending World Cup titleholder Minnaar has the ability; however, he will face strong competition from perennial favourite Sam Hill (Specialized), as well as world champion Gee Atherton (Animal Commencal) and another former World Cup champion Steve Peat (Santa Cruz). Other potential spoilers include fellow South African Andrew Neethling (Trek) and Chris Kovarik (Chain Reaction-Intense), who won last week's test event on the course.
In qualifying, Minnaar made it clear that he is here to win - first out of the gate, he delivered a stunning 3:50.31, six seconds faster than Kovarik's winning time the week before. Kovarik was the only one among the top contenders to come close to Minnaar at 3:53.49, with Steve Peat (Santa Cruz) at 3:56.09 . It appeared that Minnaar had qualifying all sewn up, until Mick Hannah (GT) took over a second and a half off of Minnaar's time. Hannah is a former top contender, but took the previous season off. Clearly, it has not hurt his form.
Canada's Steve Smith (Evil) qualified 39th, after going off course part way through his run. "It was a spot where I had hit a pointed rock in two training runs, flatting both times. So I think I was focussed too much on missing the rock, and ended up off the course."
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup opener in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Discuss the opening World Cup on the Cyclingnews forum.
Mountain Bike World Cup: 10 must-know cross country racers
By Sue George, Mountain Bike Editor
South African champion Burry Stander
Photo ©: MTN National Series
The 2009 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in South Africa, with cross country, downhill and four cross disciplines is the first event of 2009 to draw all the favorites to once place to race head-to-head. While the stars have been quietly logging training time and making race appearances to test their fitness in rounds of the various national series, they have yet to see how they stack up against each other this season.
It's been a long winter; the last World Cup was held in September of 2008 in Schladming, Austria, so Cyclingnews has picked out 10 cross country riders - five men and five women - to watch as the World Cup season gets under way.
We predict you'll see their names again and again this season.
10 - Nino Schurter (Swi) Scott-Swisspower MTB-Team
Switzerland's Nino Schurter
Photo ©: Greg Chang
Nino Schurter is one of the youngest members of the enduring, talented Swiss mountain bike empire.
Schurter, who will turn 23 years old in May, won the Under 23 World Championships in Italy last summer.
He joined the powerhouse Swisspower Mountain Bike team of Thomas Frischknecht in 2003, and he turned professional in 2007.
Despite his young age, Schurter boasts 11 World Cup medals. He also impressed the world last summer when he won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
He has won two golds and a silver medal at the Under 23 World Championship and was regularly mixing it up with the elite men at international races last year. He finished eighth overall in the 2008 World Cup standings.
Schurter has spent his early season training in Stellenbosch, South Africa, where many elite European riders have set up training camp during the winter months in the northern hemisphere.
Expect Schurter to start his season in good form and continue his upward trajectory toward continued success in the elite ranks.
9 - Georgia Gould (USA) Luna Women's Team
Georgia Gould (Luna Women's MTB)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
Georgia Gould is competitive at the World Cup level not only for mountain biking, but also for cyclo-cross. In 2008, she displayed her versatility by finishing fifth overall in the mountain bike World Cup and by taking third in the Nommay cyclo-cross World Cup months after finishing a long and challenging Olympic mountain bike season.
The American visited the World Cup mountain bike podium several times in 2008 with three fifth-place finishes and one fourth place finish.
At the World Championships in Italy, she ended up ninth, as the top American finisher. She earned one of two spots on the US Olympic team and raced to eighth place in Beijing, China.
Gould is a perennial winner at North American races. Last year, for example, she won the overall National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) title for the cross country.
Last fall, she won North American Cyclo-cross Trophy overall, taking four wins along the way. In addition, she won three rounds of the US Grand Prix of cyclo-cross.
Gould showed excellent form when she kicked off her racing season with a win at the opening round of the USProXCT in Fontana, California, in late March.
In 2009, Gould will again contest a full season of mountain bike races before switching to cyclo-cross for the autumn.
Read the complete feature.
TransAlp to visit two new towns
Racing the TransAlp
Photo ©: TransAlp
The 12th edition of the TransAlp stage race, from July 18 to 25, will see two new towns hosting stages. For the first time ever, the South Tyrol villages St. Christina and Sarnthein will welcome the pros and amateurs on their way south in direction of Lake Garda. The 1,100 participants can look forward to experiencing a brand new route setting in many places.
In 2009, 550 teams of two will tackle the 630 kilometres and more than 22,000 metres of elevation gain from Mittenwald, Germany via Austria to Riva del Garda which marks the traditional finish in Italy.
A new course will run from Brixen via St. Christina im Groednertal and thereafter via Sarnthein to Kaltern. According to race director Uli Stanciu, it is a "mix of dreamlike mountain panorama and super trails." On day four, the racers will cross the Kreuzkofeljoch and Groednerjoch on the stage from Brixen to St. Christina on as well as the Seiseralm and the Gasteigersattel the day after in direction to Sarnthein. The sixth stage to Kaltern when the Transalp circus will pedal the Eppaner Hoehenweg and provide provides a "fantastic view on the whole lowlands of South Tyrol".
In addition, the new stage challenges also bring some other highlights for which the Transalp is famous and well-known for. On the leg St. Christina – Sarnthein, "We will have to manage the longest-ever ascent in the Transalp history – 1,679 metres of elevation gain straight from Waidbruck up to Rittner Horn and Gasteigersattel. I hope everyone will be able to enjoy the trail descent thereafter down to Sarnthein."
There will be one walking section in this year's route. It will happen on day six shortly before the Eppaner Hoehenweg, as "there is no other possible connection. It's only about one kilometre, but the path is peppered with a lot of boulders and gravel and turns very steep at the end." After the Kreuzjoch, racers will take a long trail through Alpine pastures to the Auener Joechl, up to the "Stoanane Mandl" and down to the Moeltener Kaser via singletrack.
American wins Indian MTB race
By Gary Boulanger, BikeRadar
Harlan Price is a regular contender in the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series
American mountain bike endurance racer Harlan Price won the nine-day second annual International Khachendzonga MTB Expedition in India on March 30, beating 47 international competitors, despite lacklustre lodgings, food and delayed prize money.
Photo ©: Trent Lundberg / Guru Graphix
Dodging chickens, dogs, cars and other riders through the Himalaya foothills, Price managed to build a commanding lead throughout the 18 demanding stages.
According to Price, due to shoddy organisational management, the race ended up being more like a season of Survivor with food deficiencies, tent shortages and poor medical services for the first four days.
"Despite those problems the race ended up being a lot of fun," Price said. "There were two stages a day, one an uphill and the other a descent; each being anywhere between five- and 25-kilometres long."
According to a report in the Sikkim Express, racers initially saw their prize money cut in half, with many not even receiving trophies. Each participant paid US$500.
Price said the prize money was later paid. "We got our full prize money after the people and the media of the state of Sikkim stood up for us. It was a collective effort by a non-governmental tourist organization and the media that brought to light the treatment we were receiving. After two days of being in the newspaper and the TV, the tourism department made good on the prize money and promised to learn from the mistakes to make next year's race greatly improved."
"I was denied the trophy," British veteran racer Peter C. Smith told reporters after the event. "If at least I did not get the prize money I could have gone home happy with the trophy to show to my grandchildren.
"Even this was denied. I have organised at least 10 national mountain biking championships while based in Chennai over the last few years but this experience was totally bad."
Price, sponsored by Independent Fabrications and WTB and the US National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series correspondent for Cyclingnews, chose a 29er to race.
"As it turned out that was the perfect set up since half of the downhills were mixed pavement and gravel," he said. "Some of it was really rough jeep road but my equipment choices hooked up a lot better than I expected at speeds around 40 to 60 kilometers/hour. Plus it felt like butter on the climbs."
Price survived the lengthy stage race without a single flat or crash.
"It's the second long stage race in a row without a flat," Price said. La Ruta de los Conquistadores was the other race, where Price was the first-placed American in 10th overall.
World Mountain Bike Conference cancelled
The World Mountain Bike Conference, scheduled for May 12-15 in Dumfries, Scotland, has been cancelled due to lack of interest. Organizers were hoping for 400 attendees, but only 40 were pre-registered as of early April.
"This is a major disappointment and a huge loss to the area," said Councillor John Martin to the Dumfries Standard.
The conference was one of the events of the Original Bicycle Festival, which will otherwise still happen in May. The conference's objective was to discuss sustainable growth of the sport of cycling around the world.
The world's economic downturn is one reason cited for the lack of interest among its target audience, public land managers.
A spokesman for the conference organisers said to the Dumfries Standard. "Actually we are not canceling the event but rather looking to reschedule to 2010 when we hope global economic conditions will have improved.
Australian juniors for 2009 worlds
Cycling Australia announced its automatic nominations for the junior team headed to the world championships in Canberra, Australia from September 1 to 6.
The elite and U23 riders for all disciplines, along with the remaining Under 19 riders to qualify, will be announced in August per the selection policy.
Australian juniors for the 2009World Championship
Junior Men: Michael Baker (XC), Trenton Day (XC), William Gower (DH), Tamryn Murrell (DH), Shaun O'Connor (DH), James Peacock (XC), Rhys Willemse (DH)
Junior Women: Holly Baarspul (DH), Shelly Flood (XC), Rebecca Henderson (XC)
British downhill series gearing up
The MSC Bikes/Descent-Gear British National Points Series (NPS) will kick off at the end of the month with the opening round in Ae Forest on April 25-26. Five total rounds of racing will include three UCI Category 2 events.
In the past, the series has served as a stepping stone to elite international competition for riders like Steve Peat, the Atherton family, Tracey Moseley, Josh Bryceland and others.
Each even will be held over a weekend with practice on Saturday and more practice and racing on Sunday.
British National Downhill Series 2009
April 25-26: Round 1 - Ae Forest - (UCI Cat 2)
May 30-31: Round 2 - Llangollen - (UCI Cat 2)
June 27-28: Round 3 - Fort William - (UCI Cat 2)
August 15-16: Round 4 - Carlton Bank
September 26-27: Round 5 - Caersws
For more information, visit www.npsdh.com.
Terra Australis a success
Luke Fetch was one of the winners
Photo ©: Russell Baker
The Torq Allstar pair of Luke Fetch and Beijing Olympian Dan McConnell won the inaugural Terra Australia, which wrapped up last weekend. Seventy riders covered a total of 550km of the Victorian High Country starting at Falls Creek and finishing in Wangaratta seven days later.
The Victorian pair of McConnell and Fetch found themselves in second place for most of the seven stages after a disastrous first stage which involved multiple punctures. The Total Rush team of Mark Fenner and Sam Bach secured a 33-minute advantage over the Torq Allstars. To their credit, the Total Rush team managed to ride strongly and held the overall lead for the first four stages keeping the strong Torq Allstar team at bay. Riding in the yellow jersey was a new experience for Sam Bach.
"The jersey gives you strength," said Bach. "We are competitive beasts and we wanted this win so bad. The young guys (McConnell and Fetch) were just too fast in the end."
The Torq Allstar team finally took the overall lead on the fifth stage and finished just 20 minutes in front of Total Rush with the BMC team of Troy Bailey and Joel Donney placing third overall.
The talking point of the week was what bike to bring back for next year as the course was as its name implied - an epic journey. For all riders it was one of the hardest weeks of riding they have ever done. Bikes were subject to a brutal examination, particularly in the High Country as the riders traversed and descended through alpine meadows and ridge lines that would be lucky to see any traffic whether it be car, bike or hikers.
With the end result beyond doubt, the leading teams arranged for the final stage between Beechworth and Wangaratta to be a neutral or non-competitive stage with all riders coming through the finish line together.
"I was riding up a hill with an Olympian on my left and a World Champion on my right and we were having a chat about mountain biking," said Stuart McIntosh, a local rider from Beechworth. "It was a great experience and highlighted the fact that we had all been on the same journey, just at different speeds!"
The seven day stage event was a resounding success with competitors describing the stages as brutal, breathtaking and brilliant.
"It was a tough week of riding," said Zoe King, one of Australia's best female racers. King's team placed a creditable fourth overall and won the mixed pairs category.
"It was hard but a good hit out. It's definitely been good training," said Dan McConnell after winning as he boarded a plane to travel to the World Cup in South Africa.
Team Torq Diary: "Racing" the inaugural Terra Australis
By Tory Thomas
Katherine O'Shea and Dean Clark are treated to stunning views
Photo ©: Gen Clark
It feels a little weird for me to be writing about the Terra Australis – although I was in a team of three with Dean and Katherine, and one of the event Ambassadors, I have to confess straight-up that I didn't actually ride any of the stages. I was, boringly, too sick to race, so I spent my days wandering between bed, the Mount Beauty medical Centre, and enviously watching the event from outside the bunting.
I can't pretend to have insight in to the experience of racing this event, therefore I've borrowed a few words from the rest of the Torq team – these are included towards the bottom of the entry. Happy reading!
Terra Australis: the Vision
Sunrise at the start of Stage 2,
Photo ©: Russ Baker
The Terra Australis Epic was master-minded by Finishline Events, an event management company which comprises three guys from the local area – Iain Moore from Mount Beauty, and Clayton Neil and Paul Fitzgerald from Beechworth. Their vision for the event was for a race "in the true spirit of the Trans Alp, Trans Rockies and Cape Epic". Put simply, they wanted to create a race that was as tough, as challenging, and most importantly as rewarding as the best mountain bike stage races in the world. How hard could that be?
Read the complete diary entry.
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