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MTB news & racing round-up for May 16, 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

Gravity World Cup action returns to Vallnord

By Rob Jones

Roots, rocks and mud.
Photo ©: Gary Perkin
(Click for larger image)

From La Bresse in the north of France, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup moves to the Principality of Andorra, on the French-Spanish border, for round three of the four cross and downhill series. High in the Pyrenees, in the bike park of Vallnord, riders will compete amid spectacular mountain scenery for the second consecutive year.

The weather leading up to the event has not been optimal, with heavy rain passing through the region. However, organizers have done an excellent job of clearing snow that covered the downhill track less than two weeks ago. There may be snow all around the courses, but the track is clear ... and muddy. The weather is promising to clear for the start of competition on the weekend.

Four cross

Andorran organizers have cleared the snow
Photo ©: Gary Perkin
(Click for larger image)

The four cross, at 500 metres in length, will require strength and fitness. Out of a newly constructed start ramp the riders head into three doubles and one big jump before the first left hand corner. From there, it is a couple of different line options into the next right-left-right combination, before the longest series of jumps that traverses the hill. Out of the next right hander there is a new series of stepdowns into a left hand turn, then over a final double and into the last right hand turn before the dash to the finish line.

Practice was cancelled for Thursday, as the organizers try to avoid having the track destroyed in the muddy conditions, so no one has had a chance to actually ride the course. Theoretically, it will open on Friday, with qualifying to take place in the evening.

Downhill

The 1.2 kilometre downhill is almost identical to last year, starting out very fast on an open rocky section for the first third of the run, before dropping into the woods. Last year, the race was won or lost in the woods, with mud, slippery roots and rocks making it difficult to avoid mistakes. This year will be no different.

The Vallnord organizers have improved on the wooded sections without taking away any of the difficulty, by widening parts of the track to create multiple lines, as well as allowing for spectators to get near the action. In addition, the bottom of the track has been opened up, so that the riders have a long, fast run into the finish.

Who's here?

UCI officials do a final inspection of DH course
Photo ©: Gary Perkin
(Click for larger image)

The start lists for both the four cross and downhill are impressive, with all the top men and women in the world attending. Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) will attempt to make it three straight wins in the men's four cross, while world champion Rafael Alvarez de Lara Lucas (Specialized Factory Team) will be hoping to overcome the bad luck and crashes that have kept him off the top step in both previous rounds and defending Vallnord champion Dan Atherton (Animal-Commencal) will be looking to repeat. The women's series has had two winners in two races, with World Cup leader Anneke Beerten (Suspension Center) winning the first, and former champion Jill Kintner of the United States, the second. Who will take this tiebreaker?

In the downhill last week, Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) tied Nicolas Vouilloz's record of 16 World Cup victories. Could this be the race where he breaks the record? Peat leads the men's standings, and is a strong performer in wet and muddy conditions. But he is up against some tough competition, in the form of his teammate Greg Minnaar (winner of round one), Michael "Mick"' Hannah (GT Bicycles), Sam Hill (Monster Energy/Specialized) and last year's winner in Vallnord, world champion Gee Atherton (Animal-Commencal).

On the women's side, Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) continues to hold the leader's jersey after two rounds, but Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) proved that Moseley can be beaten with a decisive victory last weekend in La Bresse. We could see the jersey change hands in Vallnord.

Check out the complete start list and stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the event.

US Development Team excels in Europe

Tad Elliott finished two laps
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)
The USA Cycling National Development Mountain Bike Team grabbed both first and second place at the Wittnauer mountain bike race in Rennen, Germany, on May 10. Team member Tad Elliott of Durango earned a victory in the local mountain bike race, while his teammate Robbie Squire of Utah grabbed second. 

The National Development team members also recently contested the Racer Bikes Cup / Swiss National Series #3 in Solothurn, Switzerland where Elliott finished 27th and Squire 30th in the top-level European race series.  

Racing alongside them were Mitchell Hoke, Tristan Cowie, Kevin Cane, Stephan Ettinger, Trevor Downing and Colin Osborn. These six Under 23 cross country racers are experiencing European mountain bike racing for the first time as a part of the first of three USA Cycling European race camps scheduled for this summer. 

All ten American youngsters will also contest the Heubach Budesliga XCO on May 17; the Buhlertaler Hill Climb on May 23; and the Solingen MTB Rennen XC on May 24. All three races are in Germany.

The under 23 and junior cross country camps are based in Kirchzarten, Germany, each running for a three-week period. The second and third camps, scheduled for May 28 - June 15 and June 18 - July 6, will be open to both Under 23 and junior 17-18 riders.

Kurschat voted German cyclist of the month

Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon Racing Team) at the Offenburg World Cup
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)
Wolfram Kurschat was recently named cyclist of the month in a vote on the popular German-language web portal, rad-net.de

His 26.4% of the vote saw him beat the road cyclist Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo TestTeam) and junior mountain biker rider Mona Eiberweiser (SKS MIG Team). 

"It's cool.  I mean if you compare mountain biking to other types of professional cycling, it is clear that the credibility has gone up in the last 10 years," said Kurschat. "It's a real honour to be voted for by the public." His two second-place World Cup podium appearances this spring have not escaped notice.

On Sunday, the father of three will compete at the Heubach round of the German Bundesliga National Series.  He will be celebrating his birthday on the day, too, turning 34.  The race is expected to draw many World Cup riders, who will be there not only for the Bundesliga points, but also for the UCI overall points that are on offer for the category HC (hors categorie) event.

Kurschat's teammate Irina Kalentieva will also be there, contesting what is her local race just a few miles from her home.

Reade to make mountain bike debut

Shanaze Reade is back
Photo ©: Stephen McMahon
(Click for larger image)
Accomplished BMXer and track racer Shanaze Reade will make her elite mountain biking debut at the Fort William round of the UCI World Cup on June 6-7. Reade has her sights set on the world championship title in the four cross. She has already been world champion in BMX and women's team sprint on the track.

"I've always loved mountain biking but this will be my first real test competitively," she said to the BBC. "I want to prove that I'm versatile and I'm going for a big year."

Other BMX stars like Jill Kintner have excelled at four cross, so the move could be a good one for Reade.

"It'll be brilliant fun but a major challenge too. Bring it on!" said Reade.

Team Torq Diary: Trying out the European World Cups

By Cal Britten

Cal Britten gets his first taste of international racing
Photo ©: Trevor Britten
(Click for larger image)
While Dan (McConnell) and Katherine (O'Shea) were flying the flag at Terra Australis and the South Africa World Cup opener, I've been over here in Europe living the hard life - drinking brilliant coffee and eating lots of good food. Obviously it hasn't all been lounging around.

I got here the week before round one of the Racer Bike Cup Series (previously the Swiss Cup). For the week leading up to the race we stayed in Sulzberg, a small town in Austria just above Bregenz. If you're ever in the neighbourhood do yourself a favour, PACK A BIKE! The riding is brilliant; it would rate as one of the top places I have ever been for cycling. The roads are fast, quite and picturesque and there are so many of them. The area also happened to be covered in snow yet was warm enough to leave the leg warmers at home, nothing like riding along with snow beside you for as far as the eye can see.

Pushing hard in the fast-paced start loop
Photo ©: Russell Baker
(Click for larger image)

The Racer Bike Cup race on Sunday went well. Really I'd have to say it was my first taste of senior international competition. As the gun went, we charged out of the blocks, so much faster than I'm used to starting back home. I had a creeper of a first lap, and second lap, and third lap... but then I started to feel good. I passed riders for the rest of the race and ended up a very surprising and happy 14th (fourth Under 23), a very solid start to my overseas campaign.

The following week I spent in France with Dad, riding lots of bergs and doing the tourist thing in between (but mainly riding bergs). I had a weekend without racing so I focused on clocking up some big kilometers and getting in some good intensity without the number plate. Again the training was fantastic, and riding Tour de France climbs like Col De Izoard was a fantastic experience - even if the top few kilometers were still closed due to snow. The week included two five-hour epics with more mountains than you can poke multiple sticks at.

Read the complete diary entry.

SoCal Interscholastic Cycling League hires executive director

Only eight months after its inception, the SoCal Interscholastic Cycling League has hired Glendale Composite Team Coach, Matt Gunnell, as its Executive Director, to start officially in June.

The league sees this as a tremendous boost to the new SoCal mountain bike program which has been directed and operated primarily by the staff of the NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing League, based in Oakland, California. In its inaugural season, over 100 riders from 14 teams competed in the racing series, which ran March through May.

The founder and director of the NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing League, Matt Fritzinger, said, "Matt Gunnell has been involved with the SoCal League from the ground up as a founding committee member and he's also built the Glendale Composite high school team. He brings a wealth of experience that combines working with kids in the classroom and as as president and race organizer for the highly successful Pasadena Athletic Association Cycling Club. He was the obvious choice for the job. We expect this new League to grow like wild fire."

Gunnell, who is already busy planning the next season, commented "I am thrilled to have the opportunity to build on the work of Matt Fritzinger, Quintin Easton, and the many people who have made high school mountain bike racing a reality here in SoCal. I believe that the NorCal League model has the potential to revolutionize mountain biking, and cycling in general, in the US.

"The NorCal League successfully created a wedge by getting clubs started in a few schools. After that they were able to successfully address the concerns of risk management, proper youth coaching, and create a model season. In other words, they have created a template that is understandable by students, parents, administrators, coaches, and sponsors."

Founding president Quintin Easton will work closely with Gunnell to continue the success of the SoCal League.

Free "Kliniks" coming to Georgia and Colorado

Topeak-Ergon team riders will be leading free rides and race clinics in the coming months. Topics will include training techniques, nutrition strategy, tips for efficient and successful racing and equipment choices. The sessions will be led by Eddie and Namrita O'Dea in Georgia and Jeff Kerkove and Sonya Looney in Colorado.

Free Ergon "Kliniks"
May 15: Boulder, Colorado REI, 7:00 pm
June 3: Fort Collins REI, 7:00 pm
June 15: Boulder, Colorado REI, 7:00 pm
June 16: Atlanta, Georgia REI, 7:00 pm
June 17: Perimeter, Georgia REI, 7:00 pm

For more information, contact Jeff Kerkove at jeffk@ergon-bike.com.

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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