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MTB news & racing round-up for January 10, 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

Defending NUE champions Schalk and Sornson face uncertain futures

By Sue George, Mountain Bike Editor

Jeff Schalk
Photo ©: Chris Scott
(Click for larger image)

Defending National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series champions Jeff Schalk and Cheryl Sornson are re-evaluating their 2009 season plans after losing their sponsors when Trek and Volkswagen terminated its partnership and ended the longstanding Trek / VW team which had backed both riders in previous years.

Men's overall winner Schalk is still working on sponsorship possibilities for 2009. Nonetheless, he is planning to defend his title. The NUE, in the United States, kicks off April 25 with the Cohutta 100 in Tennessee and stops in Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Virginia on its way to a September 12 finale in California.

"My focus will be more or less the same as last year," said Schalk from his residence in Maryland. "My priority is the NUE series and the BC Bike Race, assuming I can go race with [former teammate] Chris [Eatough] again this year. The NUEs are what I've made my name in, so I'll continue to focus on them."

In 2008, Schalk won the Cohutta 100, Mohican 100, Lumberjack 100, Wilderness 101 and the Tahoe Sierra 100.

"In between, I'll do a few national series races like the Pro Cross Country Tour. In the past I've liked to do as many of those as I can," said Schalk to Cyclingnews. "Or maybe I'll just do the US Cup East. It largely depends on what support I get."

As for the 100 mile NUE series, Schalk learned a valuable lesson racing last year. "Last year - I felt kind of invincible when I started winning. Then I went to the BC Bike Race, and I gave a ton of energy to overcome mechanicals. It all caught up with me soon after. I won the Wilderness 101, but then I was completely exhausted.

"I had gone too hard – thinking I could win everything. I will save myself this year for the 100 milers." He aims to race six or seven of them at a minimum, and maybe even all eight. "I'll focus on the ones with more climbing like Cohutta and Shenandoah because that's what I'm good at, but all have equal importance in the series and a win is a win in the overall," he said, before adding, "I think the chances of winning any of them are fair."

To make ends meet while he figures out future sponsorship, Schalk, a former full-time structural engineer, has been picking up some non-cycling professional contract work this fall and early winter. "As of now I'm training full time. I've done a little side work in engineering like I used to do – structural engineering like building design. If I don't get enough sponsorship, I'll have to start doing more of that."

Cheryl Sornson
Photo ©: Jonathan Bruck
(Click for larger image)

As a school counselor, women's winner Sornson never relied on her Trek / VW sponsorship to pay the bills, but it helped her with race equipment and travel expenses. Without the support, she's unsure about her future racing the series.

"It's kinda of a bummer. I had just gotten into a groove," said the Pennsylvania-based Sornson, a former cross country racing pro before her more recent endurance racing endeavors. "I don't know what to expect without any sponsors. With last year's sponsorship on the factory team and with my winnings, I about broke even."

Her wins came at the Lumberjack 100, the Wilderness 101, the Shenandoah Mountain 100 and the Tahoe Sierra 100.

Sornson, a wife and mother, is reluctant to bankroll full participation in the series. "It's hard, having a family, to take to major money out of the budget to go race."

She has inquired about other sponsorship options, but found out that those making the decisions are interested in younger riders, nearer to the beginning of their career and with more long term potential. "I don't know what I want to do. Maybe I will race regionally with my old team or with my local shop. Hopefully something will come through - it's hard to be motivated (without sponsorship)."

She has yet to make a decision about racing the full NUE series. "I still haven't decided. In some ways, I can be satisfied - it was fun and good- and in other ways, I don't want to have to contest it," she said. "In any case, it is a fun experience to share with others and that makes me want to go do it again."

"I think if I do it, it will be a smaller attack. I raced seven rounds last year. I think this year I could do about four," she said before noting the main advantage of not having sponsorship. "I don't have the pressure. Now I can decide to race the series if it's exciting. Of course, I'll always ride. I still enjoy riding hours and hours for some reason. But if I'm not motivated, I won't go compete if I don't have to."

Team LaPierre ready for 2009

Cecile Ravanel
Photo ©: Team LaPierre / Pure Agency
(Click for larger image)

The Lapierre / Pure Agency mountain bike team will support five racers for the 2009 season under the direction of manager Cyril Lagneau and team trainer Hubert Fléchais. It will continue to partner with the Véloroc mountain bike club in Cavaillon, France, as a feeder team for developing its under 23 racers.

Cedric Ravanel and Cécile Ravanel headline the team after a successful 2008. The 30-year-old Cedric finished 14th at the Olympic Games in Beijing and 12th in the overall World Cup standings. He also finished fifth at the Houffalize World Cup and the Vallnord World Cup as well as taking third in the French National Championship.

Cécile, 28, is the French National Champion and was an alternate in for the Olympic team last year. She finished 10th at the Bromont World Cup and 12th in the Schladming World Cup for an 18th place overall.

Cedric Ravanel
Photo ©: Team LaPierre / Pure Agency
(Click for larger image)

Pierre-Geoffrey Plantet, 24, took third in two rounds of last year's French Cup and finished fourth at the French National Championship while 19-year-old Fabien Canal logged several top ten placings in the French Cup and National Championship. Fellow U23 racer Alexis Vuillermoz, 20, showed his talents with a second place at the Houffalize World Cup, a fifth place in Offenburg at the World Cup, a win at the St. Raphael French Cup and as a member of the World Championship team relay squad.

In 2009, the Lapierre team will contest the UCI World Cups, the World Championships, the French National Cup and the French National Championships along with races like the Offroad Cassis, the Tranvesubienne, Forestière and Roc d'Azur.

Team Garmin - Adidas debuts in Stellenbosch

A Garmin rider
Photo ©: Zoon Cronje
(Click for larger image)

Some of South Africa's top mountain bikers, including the Garmin Adidas team (formerly known as Garmin DCM) will gather in the hills of Stellenbosch to kick off the new season and battle for points at the first round of of the MTN Cup Series in Jonkershoek this Saturday.

Executive director of Garmin South Africa, Jason Theunissen, announced the line up of the team and confirmed that Garmin and Adidas had signed a three-year sponsorship deal. The team will be based in South Africa and will focus on races like Cape Epic, Subaru Sani2C and the National series, but will also include an international stint in conjunction with the team's European partner adidas with races still to be confirmed.

The star rider on the team is none other than "Mr African" himself - Mannie Heymans - who has in his career won the 1998 Trans Alp eight-day stage race, the African Championships in 1999, 2001 & 2003, also the 2004 Cape Epic, as well as finished a credible 26th at the Sydney Olympic Games. Heymans will be paired with compatriot Marc Bassingthwaighte who stands to gain from the vast experience Heymans has built up over his illustrious career.

The addition of the two Pretoria-based youngsters Philip Buys and Francois Theron proves the team's investment in future talent. Both riders have done exceptionally well in their short careers and at only 20-years-old, have the potential to become household names in the next three years.

Recent Pick n Pay MTB Cycle Challenge winner Samantha Oosthuysen is the only woman on the team. She finished off her 2008 season with a series of wins that catapulted her into the spotlight and confirmed her spot in the team for 2009.

Former Barloworld rider Jock Green commented that the team is just as well looked after, if not better, than he was when he was based in Europe.

Garmin adidas for 2009: Mannie Heymans (Namibia), Marc Bassingthwaighte (Namibia), Francois Theron (RSA), Philip Buys (RSA), Jock Green (RSA), Samantha Oosthuysen (South Africa), Renato Albrecht (South Africa), Shaun Mackenzie (South Africa)

Khanchendzonga stage race returns

Over nine days, racers will wind through the foothills of the Himalayas, covering 430km and 14,000m of climbing in the shadow of the third highest mountain the world Mount Khanchendzonga. India's state of Sikkim and the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation are partnering to sponsor the Khanchendzonga Mountain Bike Challenge from March 20-29.

Singletrack, village back roads and jeep tracks will comprise the route through the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range. Contestants will always be within site of the race's namesake mountain as they race each day from one small village to the next. Like other major stage races in Europe and the US, this one will feature two-man teams and an international field. However, unlike the other races, the Khanchendzonga event will be comprised of stages between just 37 and 71km, and it will offer a solo racer category.

Organizers will use the race to highlight the cultural riches of the region. The relatively short stages will let participants have time to enjoy their surroundings off the bike - including visits to Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples. With Nepal to the west, Tibet to the north and Bhutan to the east, Sikkim's isolation has created a unique culture separate from the rest of India.

The race will also offer helicopter rides to the race's start, an Indian Airforce Air Show and a day of site-seeing after the race is over. Racers will compete for US$25,000 in prize money.

For more information, visit www.sikkimmtb.com and www.indiastagerace.blogspot.com.

New Zealand's MacLeod breaks neck

Reigning New Zealand downhill national champion Sheryl MacLeod suffered a serious crash last Sunday while on a training ride. The 30-year-old MacLeod broke her neck and dislocated two vertebrae, her second and third, when she slid out while riding in wet conditions. A helicopter took her to Dunedin Hospital, from where she was transferred by air ambulance to Christchurch for an operation on Monday.

"Sheryl slid on the log drop, moved sideways and landed awkwardly," said her partner Warren Black to the Otago Daily Times. MacLeod's vertebrae were fused during surgery that included a bone graft, too. She remains hospitalized and is expected to begin walking in the next few days.

MacLeod's partner said she is in good spirits though she does not know when she will be able to ride again.

MacLeod finished sixth in the UCI World Cup in Canberra last August and second in the third round of the Australian national series in Geelong.

Giant Italia training camps

Giant Italia is kicking off its international race season with two training camps. The first, from January 10-12 in Cote d'Azur will include just a portion of the team, but the entire squad will meet up in Sicily from February 5 to 23 in preparation for the team's opening race the Muretto di Alassio Marathon.

The team will race the UCI World Cup, Continental and National Championships and series like the Bundesliga, the Swiss Cup and the Internazionali d'Italia.

North Island Cup next stop: Auckland

Round two of the RaboPlus New Zealand North Island Cross Country Cup heads to the purpose-built Woodhill Mountain Bike Park near Auckland this weekend on January 10.

Road racer Clinton Avery, national champion Stu Houltham and Mike Northcott will do battle in the elite men's race while in the elite women's field, young racers Monique Avery and Samara Sheppard will race each other for the first time in the New Zealand Cup this year. Sheppard is making the move to the elite field after dominating the U19 category.

After last weekend's sprint finish between Patrick Avery and Dirk Peters and considering the talents of Reuben Horn, another exciting race is expected for the under 19 men.

Racers will tackle multiple laps of an 11km course including some of the most technical sections in the park.

Capital punishment in Canberra

Mountain bikers visiting Canberra will no longer have to choose whether to race at Mt. Stromlo, Sparrow Hill, Bruce Ridge or Majura Pines. Instead, they will have the chance to take in all of them on a single day ... as part of the Capital Punishment race on Saturday, May 30.

The 100km enduro race course is being designed by Tom Landon-Smith. It will start at Sparrow Hill where, meandering on singletrack through the pine forest, before heading to Kowen Forest, Majura and Bruce Ridge. Then, it's on to Black Mountain and the finish with a bang at Mt Stromlo.

A 50km option will also be available. Registration opens February 15. For more information, visit www.arocsport.com.au

TransAndes registration ending soon

Registration for the TransAndes Challenge 2009 ends on January 13. The multi-day stage race will take place from February 3-8 in Patagonia, Chile. For more information, visit www.transandeschallenge.cl.

NorCal League hiring intern

The NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing League announced a last minute candidate search for the position of Winter/Spring Intern. The Program Intern will be responsible for helping with program coordination, distribution of materials, event planning, office needs and general office and field projects.

League Assistant Director Justin Morgan accounted for the short notice by noting that a generous "11th hour funding source" had made the position possible.

Last year's intern Kyle Wright said, "I loved working for the League. As the Intern I did just about every job there was to do, newsletters, lots of errands, helping plan events, course design and building, and League promotions. The best part of working for the League was that it never felt like a job."

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