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MTB news & racing round-up for April 15, 2009

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

Minnaar maximises home soil advantage

By Rob Jones in Pietermaritzburg

Cruz control: Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)
The opening round of the 2009 Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup concluded on Sunday with a storybook ending that couldn't have been scripted any better, as local hero Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) won the downhill in front of family and friends in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

"It is a huge, huge win for me," said Minnaar, who lives less than a mile from the downhill track. "With my family here, and all the people supporting and cheering for me it was very special to win here. In some ways it was nice that Mick [Hannah] qualified first, because that took a little pressure off. My run was very good, quite clean, with only little mistakes. I'm very happy that I was able to get this win and keep the [World Cup] leader's jersey."

The three-kilometre course favoured fitness as much as technical prowess, with long sections of pedalling interspersed with sharp drop-offs and jumps. Spectators came out in droves to cheer on Minnaar, pushing total attendance beyond 16,000, which far exceeded organizer's expectations.

The men's race was expected to be a real battle, and that is what happened. In qualifying, the top 10 riders went under four minutes, but in the final there were 28 who cracked that barrier.

When it was Minnaar's turn to race, he rode so smoothly he appeared almost effortless. He sailed over the jumps and pedaled furiously through the flatter sections. The noise from the partisan crowd was almost deafening, and when Minnaar crossed the finish line, knocking almost six seconds off his teammate Steve Peat's time, the cheers could be heard back up to the start line.

However there was still one rider to go - top qualifier Australian Mick Hannah (GT Bicycles). The spectators were quiet as Hannah came past, respectful of his skill, but quietly hoping for a South African victory. Their hopes were answered when Hannah posted a time of 3:45.69 - fast enough for second, but not fast enough to displace Minnaar.

Hannah's back

Michael Hannah (GT Bicycles)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

Mick Hannah stunned the world's best when he posted the fastest time in downhill qualifying. The 25-year-old Australian, racing for Team GT, was ranked 103rd in the world going into the weekend's racing.

"I was a little surprised with my result but it feels good to come out in my first big race in more than a year and beat all the world's top riders," smiled Hannah, who won the Australian championships in January in his first competitive outing after taking a racing sabbatical in 2008.

"This course requires a good balance of skill and fitness and yeah, it's quite pedally in the middle. But this is bicycle racing, so pedalling is part of the deal," added Hannah.

A year off for the former World No. 1 had resulted in him dropping outside the top 100 in the world rankings.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite men's downhill at the UCI World Cup in South Africa.

A perfect birthday for Moseley

By Rob Jones in Pietermaritzburg

Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)
Great Britain's Tracy Moseley (Trek World Team) took the women's downhill title at the opening round of the downhill UCI World Cup in South Africa last weekend, celebrating her 30th birthday in style. Moseley was clearly the rider to beat in the women's field after qualifying first.

"It was totally wicked," said Moseley. "It was tough up towards the top, really technical. I would've preferred the whole course to be like that, because I thought it would never end - none of us like pedalling, we're downhillers!

"The length took a bit out of me, but I knew I had to be flat out the whole way," she said. "It's the best 30th birthday present a girl could wish for."

France's Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) set the early fast time in the final of 4:28.61, the first rider to go under four and a half minutes. Her time stood up until the second from last rider came down, Emmeline Ragot (Suspension), also of France, who knocked two seconds from Jonnier's time to move into the Hot Seat.

However Ragot's time in the Hot Seat was brief, as Moseley was far faster at every time check, eventually winning by over six seconds.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite women's downhill at the UCI World Cup in South Africa.

Osl surprises in South Africa

Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost Pro Team)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)
An incredulous Elisabeth Osl couldn't believe her own performance in South Africa last weekend when she won her first cross country UCI World Cup at age 23. Osl had a break-out race in which she defeated more established and older champions like former World Champion Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) in second and Norwegian Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory Racing) in third.

"Is this really true? I cannot believe it," said an emotional Osl, with tears in her eyes and a faltering voice. "I knew that I'm in good shape, but I never would have thought in my life that I could win here."

"I believed she had a top five in her," said team manager Ralf Schäuble of his Austrian rider. "Though if you're at the front, a good day can happen."

"Normally, I have problems with the start, but suddenly I was in the lead," said Osl, who had a 20-second gap on lap one. "Then I just rode my own pace and no one else was there.

After a frustrating race the UCI World Cup cross country opener in South Africa, Olympic champion and Osl's teammate Sabine Spitz was working to keep her own spirits up. She finished 11th place after suffering stomach problems throughout the race and while still recovering from recent respiratory infections.

The Central Ghost racer had been riding in seventh place, but on the final lap, she dropped four more places.

"I am very disappointed, because I'm obviously not come here to be eleventh. That was my worst race since I started doing the World Cup," said the German Spitz.

"But I will not put my head in the sand. The season is long, and I am looking forward. I am sure that in Offenburg, I will be better off."

The Offenburg World Cup will be run in Germany the final weekend of April.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the women's cross country World Cup in South Africa.

Hermida ends World Cup drought

By Rob Jones and Sue George

Spanish rider José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Multivan Merida Biking Team)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

Spain's José Hermida (Multivan Merida Biking Team) took the season opener and his fourth World Cup cross country victory ahead of Julian Absalon (Orbea), while local favourite Burry Stander (Specialized Factory Racing) was third. Hermida was the obvious strongman in the 32.9 km, seven-lap race, and came out of the blocks with an explosive 16-minute first lap, never easing up his pace.

"Two years without a World Cup win is a long time," said Hermida on the team's website, "but now I'm back in business, and that sure feels good."

During the race, the experienced Hermida, who has stood on a World Cup podium 20 times thus far, repeatedly increased the pace until he saw a chance to get away on his own.

"I could feel my legs were very good, after last week's race on this course," said Hermida. "I think I made a very good plan with my training to prepare for this race, and came here more rested than some of the other riders. For me this is a fantastic result, it is only my fourth World Cup victory in 12 years! I will try now to keep the jersey through the next races."

World Champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized Factory Racing) finished fourth while Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon Racing Team), who won the previous weekend's test event on the same course, finished fifth, his career-best World Cup placing.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the men's cross country World Cup in South Africa.

Aussie 24-hour solo championship comes down to the wire

By Dan McKay in Canberra

With current 24 hours of Adrenaline World Championships runner-up Jason English (BMC) and Katrin Van Der Spiegel (Clarence St Cyclery) present to race a strong field, the 24-hour Australian national solo championships were set for some fireworks this past weekend.

2008 Scott 24-hour winner Jess Douglas (Giant & TCF) and 2008 Australian national championship's third placed Clair Graydon (Mal Adjusted) were among the women to watch. In the men's field, English was the man with the biggest target on his back as the current Australian National Champion and winner of the Scott 24-hour solo (2008). The runner up at last year's Australian championships John Claxton (Giant & Skins), third place finisher Daniel Mackay (Giant) and forth place finisher Mark Fenner (Specialized) also returned to contest this year's event.

A fast and flowing 9.5km track linked up the best of the Majura pines in Canberra. With a rocky and root strewn track, the competitors were collectively holding their breath that the forecasted rain would hold off and track conditions would stay reasonable; however, mother nature had other ideas, and torrential downpours made for some challenging conditions that motivated several racers to withdraw.

English and Mackay battled until the very end. With five hours to go and the sun well over the horizon, Mackay got the gap to leader English down to under three and a half minutes, but both men were digging into their last reserves to maintain the pace. Eventually, the charging Mackay started to fall off, and English regained precious time. In the dying minutes of the race, eyes were on Mackay to see if he could squeeze in a final lap and force English out for one more. As the twenty four hours ticked over, the question of whether one or both riders would survive another lap was left unanswered as neither rider went out again. English took a well-deserved win over McKay with a six-minute gap.

In the women's race start, Jess Douglas (Giant & TCF) jumped perennial favourite Katrin Van Der Spiegel and rode a hot pace to build a small lead. The two traded places as Canberra local Clair Graydon sat a further two and half minutes back in third place.

Douglas had closed the gap to the then-leading Van Der Spiegel to 3:30, although the pressure was clearly starting to show on the pained face of the leader. In the closing hours of the race, a magnificent surge by Douglas saw her catch the fading Van Der Spiegel and take the win.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Australian 24-hour solo national championships.

Titletown Flyers team kicks off first season

After riding under the names of a few different shops over the past 12 seasons, the Titletown Flyers of Green Bay, Wisconsin, are set to hit the dirt with a new look and much larger roster. Just under 60 cyclists will wear the Flyers' primarily black kit, with white and green trim, as the 2009 season begins locally in less than one month.

"We have every class covered, from the citizen thru the elite races. Expect to see a lot of Titletown Flyers jerseys on the race courses throughout the Midwest. We're a big team that continues to grow," said Team Manager/Racer Shawn Hauser.

Seth Lenss and Dallas Fowler, consistent top-ten performers in the Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) will toe the line for the Flyers in the elite and category one races.

"It was really key to get the both of them on the team, they are great riders with great family and team support behind them," said Hauser, who predicted, "It will be nice to have the Flyers jersey running up in the front of the main event each weekend."

The team started with the idea of bringing together 15 to 20 riders to form a small team, but the team soon grew to a bigger size than expected. "Everyone on the team gets along and loves to hang out. It's a great group of people that drive me to manage the team and do what needs to be done to make everyone's season a success," said Hauser.

The Flyers will race predominantly in the Wisconsin Off-Road Series and other Midwest races. For more information on the team, visit www.titletownflyers.blogspot.com.

Cycle Epic registration open

Registration for one of Australia's most popular amateur mountain bike events, the Flight Centre Cycle Epic, is now open. The seventh edition of the mountain bike marathon will be held over the weekend of August 22-23, with a number of distance and category options. Past contenders include current national champion and Olympian Chris Jongewaard, winner of the 2008 event.

Held each year in the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane, the Epic option travels a 100km course along the Bicentennial National Trail traversing the four valleys, following historic Ma Ma Creek and crossing Laidley and Edwards Gaps to finish at Old Hidden Vale.

Besides the main 100km Epic Classic, there are four other events including a short, off-road race for children. Event Director Peter Creagh, of Tailwind Promotions, said the popularity of the event in recent years shows no signs of slowing down. "We already received 100 entries on the very first day first day, and if previous years are any indicator, registration will fill even faster than last year's event," he said.

Flight Centre has partnered with Australian manufacturer Netti to supply the first 1,000 entrants in the 50km Pursuit and 100km Epic Classic events with a free Flight Centre Cycle Epic jersey. 1,500 entrants are expected.

This year's Cycle Epic events including the following:
August 22: The Merida Chaser 20km
August 22-23: The Peppers Mega Epic also adds in a a 50km enduro conducted on the Old Hidden Vale property
August 23: Flight Centre Cycle Epic 100km Classic marathon
August 23: The Merida Pursuit 50km
August 23: The Colour Chiefs Mini and Minor Epics, 7km and 12km (ideal for kids)

For more information, visit www.cycleepic.com.au.

BikeRadar Live: Bryceland to race in MBUK Eliminator slalom

By BikeRadar

Josh Bryceland (Great Britain)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)
Santa Cruz Syndicate downhill racer Josh Bryceland has signed up to ride in the Mountain Biking UK Eliminator at BikeRadar Live.

Bryceland is the latest in a list of big name riders who'll be taking part in the dual slalom race. Others include current world downhill champion and fellow Syndicate member Greg Minnaar, Australian downhill legend Chris Kovarik, 2007 downhill junior World Champ Ruaridh Cunningham, World Cup 4X rider Lucas Mechura and UK downhill and four-cross star Nigel Page.

Bryceland came to international prominence riding for Steve Peat's Royal Racing team in 2007, when he was the junior World Cup champion and came ninth overall at the World Cup round in Maribor, Slovenia.

He has had a good start to the year, winning his first race as a professional rider at the recent Innerleithen Winter Series in Scotland. Having ridden dual slalom before, at last year's SeaOtter Classic, Bryceland will be looking at taking on the big guns at BikeRadar Live.

"I'm really looking forward to the Mountain Biking UK Eliminator dual slalom event. I have only raced dual once before but I had such a good time. I heard the track is going to be pretty good to spectate, so I'm sure there will be some action packed racing."

For more information about BikeRadar Live, the biggest ever mass-participation cycling event to hit the UK on the weekend of May 30-31, click here.

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