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MTB news & racing round-up for March 26, 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 Greg Johnson

Sauser, Stander dealt Epic blow

Christoph Sauser after the race
Photo ©: Sportzpics
(Click for larger image)

Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander (Songo.info) have been dealt another blow at South Africa's Cape Epic. The pair had a commanding lead on the event until Stander damaged his bike on stage four, which has led to a 15 minute penalty from officials.

After hitting a tree and breaking his rim on the event's most recent stage, Stander was offered a bike by fellow South African Max Knox. Knox and teammate Brandon Stewart (DCM Chrome) were significantly down on general classification, so gladly helped Stander by first offering a wheel then his entire bike when the wheel didn't match Stander's setup.

As a result of the incident, International Cycling Union officials have penalized both teams. While Sauser and Stander had already lost their overall lead, the penalty drops them further down the general classification.

"The UCI commissaires decided this evening to give the Songo.info team of Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander a time penalty of 15 minutes as they benefitted from the outside assistance given to Max Knox and Brandon Stewart (DCM Chrome)," read a release from the organisers. "The DCM Chrome team received a time penalty of 1 hour as they were assisted by day trippers on the route."

Stander, who has been in the lead since the start of the race with teammate Sauser, was very upset after the day's stage. "I hit a tree, my wheel went sideways and the rim broke," he said. "Max Knox wanted to give me his front wheel, but our forks didn't match. That's why we exchanged bikes. Perhaps I've risked a bit too much. However, I'm still feeling great although we were pushing very hard to catch up."

Stewart was simply happy they could help the former race leaders. "It's pretty cool to be able to help someone," he said. "Yesterday we could help David George with a cartridge. Burry and Christoph have been racing so well, they deserve to win. That's why we wanted to help when they were in trouble.

"We were not competing for top honours and now we're just here to enjoy it," he added. "We would really help anybody if we can and hopefully that will pay off one day when we're in need."

Sauser and Stander had dominated the race up until the incident. The duo claimed the opening prologue then went on to win the following three stages.

Bulls pop into Epic lead

Stefan Sahm and Karl Platt celebrate
Photo ©: Sportzpics
(Click for larger image)

Team Bulls' Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm have claimed the Cape Epic race lead after Christoph Sauser and Burry Stander (Songo.info) dropped significant amounts of time on stage four. The Bulls riders had earlier declared they were riding for second place, following Sauser and Stander's four consecutive stage wins.

Platt and Sahm's ride wasn't without trouble, however, as Sahm was forced to take up the role of Platt's physiotherapist in the stage's closing two kilometres. Platt's shoulder popped out for the second time during this year's event, with Sahm reducing the dislocation before riding to the finish together.

"I actually can't show my joy so much right now," said Platt after the stage. "My shoulder hurts a lot and I'm already thinking about tomorrow. When I dislocated my shoulder, I first couldn't pop it back in. Then Stefan helped me - he had secretly asked our physio what to do in such a situation.

Sahm jokingly said that he is now also Platt's physiotherapist, after seeking advice on what to do after it popped out on the opening prologue. "He said Karl must relax so that I can reduce the shoulder in again," said Sahm. "I'll always do whatever's necessary. We ride together, we'll die together."

The race continue today with the 111 kilometre stage from Greyton - Oak Valley. If the duo can hold their lead through to Saturday's final stage, it will be the second time they've won the race together.

Olympic champion to race Pietermaritzburg MTB World Cup

Julien Absalon celebrates his 2008 Olympic win.
Photo ©: Casey Gibson
(Click for larger image)

Frenchman Julien Absalon, currently the biggest name in cross-country mountain bike racing, has confirmed his participation in the opening round of the 2009 UCI World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Absalon joins the current men's cross country world champion, Christoph Sauser, of Switzerland, and the women's cross country world champion, Margarita Fullana, of Spain, on the start list in what will be the most prestigious international cycling event ever held in South Africa.

Absalon has been the dominant cross-country racer at major events over the past few years, having claimed 17 World Cup victories, four consecutive world titles (2004-2007) and the gold medals at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. He has also been the overall winner of the World Cup Series four times in 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

The 28-year-old Frenchman, who races for the Orbea international team, has stated that his goals for 2009 are to win a fifth overall World Cup title and a fifth world championship. He is already the record holder for number of victories in both competitions.

The World Cup, which incorporates the cross country, downhill and 4X disciplines, will take place in Pietermaritzburg from April 10-12.

UCI closes team registration, numbers down slightly

Despite the global financial crisis the International Cycling Union (UCI) has announced mountain bike team registrations are only down marginally on last year's figures. Some 90 squads from America, Europe and Oceania have registered for 2009, down by six on last year's figures.

One breakthrough comes from Ireland having registered a UCI Mountain Bike Team for the first time, while Australia makes a comeback this year with two new teams. In all some 18 nations are represented by the 90 squads.

"The Olympic cross-country teams once again make up an important part of the overall number of UCI Mountain Bike teams: 57 percent compared with 36 percent for the downhill and 4X teams," read a UCI release. "The remaining seven percent are mixed teams in which Olympic cross-country specialists rub shoulders with downhill-4X riders."

While this year's figures are marginally down on last year, the sport has maintained its phenomenal growth from the past decade. The number of registered squads is three times higher than those which registered in 2000, the first year of UCI Mountain Bike Teams.

See the full list of registered squads at the UCI's website.

Plaxton joins Sho-Air/Specialized

Max Plaxton
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The Sho-Air/Specialized cross-country team has signed 2006 Under 23 World Championship bronze medalist Max Plaxton for 2009. Plaxton joins the squad which includes five time Australian national champion and Athens Olympian Sid Taberlay and former Under 23 United States National Champion Sammy Jurekovic.

"The guys at Sho-Air have been unbelievable," said Plaxton. "2008 was a hard year in terms of getting the door slammed in my face by the industry. I really considered going back to school and hanging my cleats up until Scott Tedro threw me a life line.

"From what I have seen, this team is like family and I look forward to racing and hanging with a great group of people," he added.

Plaxton will ride a select schedule with the team for 2009, including the U.S. Cup series and two Canadian World Cup rounds before an increased program for 2010.

"I had a long conversation with Max, and I liked the feedback I got from Sid and Sam," said team owner Scott Tedro. "He's a phenomenal talent and has a lot of potential, so were excited to have him onboard."

Former 4X rider Llanes aiming for Ironman success

By James Costley-White, BikeRadar.com

Tara Llanes
Photo ©: Sue George
(Click for larger image)

Tara Llanes has set her sights on winning a gruelling Ironman challenge despite the spinal injuries that ended her successful mountain bike racing career. The former United States of America 4X champion, who now has to use a wheelchair, announced the news on her MySpace page.

"One word. Ironman... I am finally saying it out loud," she wrote. "I am going to try and qualify for the Ironman."

She goes on to say that she not only wants to take part, but wants to win the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. "I met up with my friend Ricky James months ago and his dad told me that no female in a chair has ever completed the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii, let along won it, so that pretty much made the decision for me," she said. "I want to not only finish the damn thing, I want to win it!

"I am very much at a time in my life that I need a goal and I figure this is a good one. Now there is A LOT of training and preparation involved, and I have been talking to David Bailey a bunch and will be riding with him as well in order to get ready for this. David was hurt 22 years ago and had competed in the Ironman three times. He knows what it takes and knows where I need to be and by when."

Llanes, a Giant for Women Ride Society Leader, also reveals that she has been invited by the US Paraplegic Team to train at the Paralympic Training Camp at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.

"I was never invited [to the Olympic Training Center] when I raced mountain bikes, but I am now! Weird how things work, huh?!," she wrote. "Anyway, Aaron [Baker] and I will be able to put in some good training miles while we're there and learn a few things, hopefully."

Llanes suffered a spinal cord injury at the Jeep King of the Mountain race in Beaver Creek, Colorado, in September 2007. She was racing against Jill Kintner in the semi-final when she crashed, breaking her seventh cervical vertebra.

She required seven hours of surgery in Denver Health Hospital to stabilise her, and has undergone further surgery since then.

During her mountain biking and BMX careers she won two US national championships, four World Championship medals and four ESPN X-Games medals.

First US PRO XCT – Kabush undefeated in Fontana

By Dave McElwaine in Fontana, California, USA

Riders will have quite a view to enjoy while racing
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The second stop on the Kenda Cup West Series, part of the U.S. Cup presented by Specialized, will take place at a familiar venue this weekend in Fontana, California. It will also be the scene of the first Pro XCT racing ever. For most of the pro racers, this will be their fourth time racing at Fontana as it was the site of previous NMBS races. In addition to cross country, the weekend will include Super D, Downhill, and 4X racing for both amateurs and pros.

For much of this past winter, it appeared that there may not be a national pro series in 2009. Thanks to the efforts of Sho Air's Scott Tedro and USA Cycling, the Pro XCT series was born. The series consists of six races that piggyback onto selected US Cup venues, plus a series finale in Las Vegas to take place at the conclusion of Interbike.

Attendance at the Fontana venue has grown every year, particularly in 2008 when the number of spectators seemed to explode. This year is expected to be even busier as the Fontana City race has been included in the Kenda Cup West series.

For three consecutive years, Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis) has dominated the men's race. In 2007 he admittedly did not have the best legs in the race but the challengers kept letting him back on the train. Typically he has won on the final climb, just before some downhill singletrack where passing is nearly impossible. U.S. Champion Adam Craig (Giant), Ryan Trebon (Kona), Jeremy Horgan Kobelski (Gary Fisher/Subaru), Olympian Todd Wells (Specialized), Barry Wicks (Kona), Carl Decker (Giant), and Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale/Monavie) typically can be counted on to battle for the podium spots.

However, there are also a crop of young riders who are determined to knock off some of the favorites. Last year, both Sam Jurecovic and Max Plaxton made the podium. This season, along with wily veteran Sid Taberlay and endurance specialist Manny Prado, they are team-mates on the newly beefed up Sho-Air Team. As a foursome, they can be expected to do some major damage. Sam Schultz (Gary Fisher/Subaru) who took second place last weekend at the Pan Am Continental Championships certainly will be a threat. Andy Schultz (Kenda/Tomac), and Kris Sneddon (Kona) can be added to the young riders who will be vying for top finishes.

Read Cyclingnews' full preview for this weekend's event.

Iron Horse sale negotiations still underway

By James Costley-White, BikeRadar.com

United Kingdom Iron Horse importers Jim Walker say negotiations are still underway for the sale of the brand after its parent company became a victim of the recession in America. In a statement, the firm said the problems in the US would have little impact on Iron Horse's UK range, as this year's bikes have already been delivered.

They said UK distribution was continuing with back-up stock, and any service issues should be directed to Jim Walker as usual. Jim Walker said that, despite the difficulties with Iron Horse, they had enjoyed record levels of trading in the first quarter of 2009.

"It’s a shame when the owners of such a strong, desirable brand as Iron Horse fall victim of the recession in America," said company CEO Ian Wilson. "Particularly when it's so different to our experience here in the UK, where our results are not only at record levels, parts of our business have doubled in the first part of this year and we have some incredible new opportunities.

"Naturally any change of ownership of a brand takes time to sort out so, unfortunately we all have to be a little patient at the moment to see where it ends up. But from what we have been told, we are confident of a strong ownership for the brand in the future."

Walker said they had agreed new distribution arrangements for a number of very desirable brands, details of which will be announced soon. Last week, reports suggested three Asian factories had filed an involuntary petition for bankruptcy against Iron Horse in an effort to recoup more than $5 million in back debt.

Olympian takes Oceania cross country title

Daniel McConnell on his way to victory
Photo ©: Evan Jeffery
(Click for larger image)

Beijing Olympian Dan McConnell dominated the Oceania Mountain Bike Championships in Thredbo at the weekend. McConnell took over the lead in the third of seven laps Tasmania's Rowena Fry won the women's race.

Under 23 national champion Lachlan Norris was the early leader until McConnell made his move. "I didn't want anyone getting too far away. It's always hard to peg someone back when they're in the front so I tried to keep it a minimum gap.'

The seven laps took their toll as many riders were lapped in the final stages. McConnell also admitted that he found the going tough. "It was long, I won't say it wasn't. The last few laps were tough. I was glad it was bell lap," he admitted.

McConnell was emotional after the race as his thoughts turned to his grandmother who had sadly passed away earlier in the week. "That race was for her," he said. "She was very supportive of what I did."

Norris finished in second place and convincingly wins the Under 23 Oceania title. Canberra representatives, Dylan Cooper and Ben Henderson were second and third respectively in elite men.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Oceania championships.

BMXer claims Oceania men's downhill win

Another BMXer beaten to women's title

BMX Olympian Jared Graves showed another side to his bike skills by winning the Downhill Oceania Mountain Bike Championships in Thredbo. The 26-year-old Queenslander held off New Zealand's hot favourite Wyn Masters to take the title.

Having swapped his BMX bike for his Yeti prototype Graves admits the transition was not easy. "The cross over back isn't that hard as I've been riding downhill for ten years. It's a different kind of fitness though and that definitely is an issue," said Graves.

Australian downhill champion Claire Whiteman claimed the women's Oceania title in a close race beating fellow Canberra rider Caroline Buchanan. Just four seconds separated the pair but Whiteman hopes the win will help her get to the World Championships later this year.
"It's been the best year yet," said an excited Whiteman. "It was tough. Generally I don't do well in the wet. This time down I decided to relax from the top."

Third place went to New Zealand's national silver medallist, Amy Laird.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Oceania championships.

Meet Vouilloz at Glentress Demo Day

Nicolas Vouilloz, 10-time world downhill champion and winner of 16 World Cup races, is heading to Scotland for BikeRadar.com's Glentress Demo Day on Sunday 5 April. The Mountain Biking UK crew will be there too, joining riders on the demo loop, answering questions and meeting their adoring fans (ahem).

After retiring from mountain biking competition in 2003, Vouilloz started car rallying. He went on to win last year's Intercontinental Rally Challenge.

At the start of 2008 he joined suspension guru Olivier Bossard at Bos Engineering to help develop and test the company's new fork and shock technology.

Vouilloz has also been working closely with Lapierre on the design of their new bikes - a range which has proved popular at previous Demo Days.

At Glentress, he will help set the bikes up on the Lapierre stand and will be available for autographs.

Head over to the Demo Day website now to book your demo rides from Trek, KHS, Cotic, Scott, Gary Fisher, Norco, Raleigh, Santa Cruz, Niner, Lapierre, Diamond Back, Pronghorn, Yeti, Ibis, Pace and Bionicon.

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