MTB news & racing round-up for December 10, 2008
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Edited by Sue George
Trek / VW riders' futures in doubt
By Sue George, Mountain Bike Editor
A few of the Trek / VW team's domestic racers of 2008 have been left looking for sponsorship just one month before the New Year. Although Trek recently stepped up to sponsor an international World Cup - level team with elite downhillers and cross country racers, sources are reporting to Cyclingnews that the future of Trek's American national and regional squads are in doubt.
"Nope, I'm not racing for Trek in 2009," confirmed Lea Davison to Cyclingnews. "I'm currently unattached and I don't have a team. It's a big bummer."
Davison has put the word that she is available out to top teams, but it may be too late to win a spot on another national-level squad. "I found out a week ago. I've been doing a lot of brainstorming. Tomorrow [Tuesday - ed.] I will have a meeting with my agent."
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed," she said optimistically. "I'm looking to independent sponsorship - maybe I can cobble together something for 2009 and then we'll see what 2010 brings?" Davison is considering options like racing part-time on the road in Europe.
"As far as I know, I've heard there will be no national Trek team. We've been in existence for 10 years and it's been a great program. The feeder program [Trek factory regional team system - ed.] was a great thing for the national-level team."
Joining Davison in the hunt for sponsorship are 2008 teammates Ross Schnell and Jeremiah Bishop.
"I'm reviewing my options - including a current offer from Trek for next year," said Bishop, who is the 2008 US National Champion in both the short track and the marathon disciplines. "With due diligence, I will pursue co-sponsors to make that possible. I have a great relationship with Trek dealers, reps and international distributors and employees and management at Trek and I'd like to continue that. However, the current sponsorship offer is not sufficient to retain my services for next year."
Bishop said he is negotiating with two potential teams, one of which may turn into a new mountain bike team venture for 2009. He declined to comment on the future of the national or regional Trek squads, and Trek Brand Manager Michael Browne had no comment at this time.
In contrast, long-time Trek / VW racer Chris Eatough confirmed that he will indeed remain a Trek-sponsored racer for 2009.
"I have a contract for 2009. Trek assures me that they will uphold that contract," said Eatough, a former 24 hours of Adrenalin solo World Champion and National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series winner.
He added, "I think I will pursue a similar racing schedule for 2009. I'm lucky that I do have a contract and I know what's going on for next year when a lot of people don't." Eatough said he will focus on races like 100 milers and the BC Bike stage race.
With the future of Trek's domestic sponsorship in doubt, some mountain bikers may be joining the ranks of road racers facing a tough sponsorship climate. That may be due in part to the current domestic and global economic downturn, to the post-Olympic year timing of 2009 or both.
"In the current economy, it's not a good time to be a bike racer," said Davison.
"There certainly is something to the theory that the post-Olympic year can be difficult," said Bishop. "The sport's biggest players invest a lot into that, and at some point, they look at the bottom line and decide to rein it in."
"I think it's a combination of both factors," concluded Davison. "Always the year after the Olympics, there is a dip in sponsorship dollars. And that is accentuated by the economy right now. The good thing is that right now most of the teams are staying status quo except for Trek."
Despite the uncertainty of her path for 2009, Davison is keeping her long-term sites set firmly on the 2012 Olympic Games in London. "The main thing is that I need to keep pursuing my goals." Davison said that whatever her sponsorship, she will target the two North American World Cups in Canada as well as the races at Windham, New York and Mount Snow, Vermont. She'll also try to make it to Europe for a few World Cups like Offenburg, Germany and Houffalize, Belgium.
Read a recent in-depth interview with Davison.
South African World Cup courses ready for action
Organizers have put the finishing touches on the three race courses in Pietermartizburg, South Africa, for 2009's UCI World Cup opener on April 10-12. Technical manager Kim Philips, who is responsible for the design and construction, said that he is satisfied the courses are all up to world-class standard already, but that some tweaks will still be made over the next few months to polish them up.
"They're all complete and open for riding," said Philips on Monday. "There will still be some refinements made, but those are small. We'll be getting feedback from riders practising on the course as to ways to improve it so that it provides the best possible spectacle, but is also challenging, yet safe for the riders."
South Africa's top mountain bikers, including Greg Minnaar and Burry Stander, were present at the official media launch of the course on November 13, but builders were still fine-tuning the cross-country and downhill courses and had only just begun building the 4X course.
Current cross country World Champion Christoph Sauser is expected to be among the first foreign riders to test out the terrain later this month. The cross country course is 4.7km in length, relatively short by World Cup standards, but with a total ascent of 180m per lap, it's rather brutal. It has three menacing climbs in the first 3km, followed by a long descent that's punctuated with some technical sections to complete the lap.
"It's a very intense course," said Philips. "It's a little longer than the Olympic course in Beijing, but it's steep and technically challenging. Our primary goal was to ensure maximum visibility for spectators and we've achieved that with two passes through the main arena on each lap. We'll fine-tune it if necessary to ensure the top riders complete each lap in 18 or 19 minutes."
Stander, the African cross champion and U23 World Championship silver medalist, believes the course is one of the toughest he's ridden anywhere in the world and will offer a superb test to competitors.
"It felt no different to being on any other World Cup cross-country course I've raced," said Stander, who lives in Port Shepstone, just 100km from Pietermaritzburg. "Only difference is I can sleep at home! What it does have is a lot of steep climbing and is quite similar to the Beijing Olympic Games course, which most riders rated as the best 'and hardest' in 2008."
At 2.8km, the downhill course is relatively long, with a quick drop early on followed by a relatively mildly sloping section in the middle, which contains some jumps and tight turns and then a fast plunge in the final third, incorporating the last 500 metres of the 4X course into the finish arena. The total descent is 368 metres.
"The most technical section is in the first third of the course," said Philips. "Best to have the very technical stuff there because the riders are still fresh, mentally and physically. It's quite intense with rocks and steep drops through the forest. The next section is less stressful on the mind, but quite challenging on the body because it requires plenty of pedaling, while the last section to the finish is just plain fun!"
It's virtually the same course used for the South African national championships in March 2008, which Minnaar used as his comeback downhill race following major shoulder surgery at the end of 2007. Minnaar won the national title and is relishing the prospect of racing a World Cup in his hometown.
"I will be under a lot of pressure as the current World Cup champion, but I relish the prospect of racing against the world's best riders in front of my friends, family and home fans," said Minnaar, adding: "It's a fantastic course that's going to offer a very solid allround test. There is no time to recover really and there are some spectacular drops and jumps that will definitely thrill spectators!"
From the top section of the course, which winds its way through a eucalyptus forest, much of the City of Pietermaritzburg is visible in the valley below. One spectator magnet is likely to be the six-metre drop, about 500 metres from the start, with a couple of road-width jumps to follow before the flatter, pedal-heavy middle segment. There is no cable lift so participants will be shuttled to the start in motor vehicles.
The 4X course is the first to be built in South Africa and the UCI's official 4X course builder, Phil Saxena, flew in from England to spend two weeks designing and overseeing the construction. It's the most extreme World Cup 4X course in terms of length and descent, which should prove a spectator favourite.
Saxena was spoiled for choice by the geography and as a result, was able to design a course that's 730m long and drops 120 metres. Until now, the longest World Cup 4X course has been 650m long and the biggest drop has been 105 metres. There are 13 corners and 26 obstacles, which make it one of the most radical courses built to date. Permanent lighting will be installed to facilitate evening finals on April 10.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Gary Perkin
Atherton wins BBC award
World Champion Rachel Atherton was named BBC Midlands Sportswoman of the Year for 2008.
"I feel really privileged considering the incredible athletes here," the 21-year-old said to BBC Radio Shropshire. After winning the women's downhill World Championships on the same day her brother Gee won the men's title, Atherton went on to win the World Cup downhill overall title, too.
"I never knew I'd achieve so much so soon, so I'm very proud - and just grateful the opportunity has arisen," said Atherton, who along with her brother Gee, finished third in the "team" award category. Both said they'd like to see downhill racing included in the Olympic Games.
US Cup MTB series going forward
By Sue George, Mountain Bike Editor
The US Cup mountain bike race series will happen in 2009 Cyclingnews confirmed last Saturday. The future of the sport in the US looks brighter after several months of uncertainty and behind the scenes work reconciling the diverse interests of pro racers, amateur racers, teams, promoters and sponsors.
After the demise of the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) at the end of 2008, Team Sho-Air's Scott Tedro proposed the US Cup as a re-invention of the series. Although many in the industry expressed support, sponsorship dollars were slow to follow and the future of the series was in doubt.
"The US Cup is a reality and is established," said Tedro to Cyclingnews. "Race venues have been selected, promoters have signed on, and it's ready to go. We'll have a six-race East Coast series and a six-race West Coast series with a final in [Las] Vegas."
Tedro described the US Cup as having evolved over the past few months into a kind of co-op supporting domestic mountain bike racing. "It will promote regional racing and competition," said Tedro. But it's not just about amateurs and regional pros. "A deal has been hammered out with USA Cycling that will bring an exciting pro element to this series." Details on both the pro and amateur aspects of the series are expected soon.
The momentum behind the US Cup includes support from organizers of major events around the country, and the committee organizing the series will be operating under the following mission statement: "The US Cup has established a national mountain bike series that creates synergy between race organizers and it pro and amateur athletes. These mountain bike events will showcase our nation's finest riders while fostering the development of new talent in a way that makes economic sense for organizers and participants alike."
What that means is that the US Cup's governing body will assist and subsidize various aspects of races in the series to create a similar look and feel and to reduce costs for promoters and racers. The US Cup will provide medals, number plates and a website for posting series points. "We'll do things to help minimize the costs to promoters," said Tedro. Race swag, t-shirts and water bottles are other items that will promote the series consistently throughout.
"The promoters have agreed to be part of it because they love mountain biking and these are tough economic times," said Tedro. Some road cycling and mountain bike events and teams across the US have been struggling to stay afloat despite the current economic climate.
Sponsorship commitments and hard work by key supporters have transformed the series concept into a reality. "Kenda has come onboard as the title sponsor, so there will be the Kenda Cup East and the Kenda Cup West. Hayes Bicycle Group has stepped up to provide a major rider rewards program," said Tedro. "The series also could not have happened without the support of Specialized." Finally, he credited USA Cycling's Kelli Lusk, Mountain Bike Events and Programs Manager, with doing much of the heavy lifting to support the series.
Tedro's Sho-Air company has financially contributed to the co-op; however, the company is not an official sponsor. "I have not put our name on anything. It's not about Sho Air," said Tedro, whose team sponsors accomplished riders like Sid Taberlay and Manny Prado. "It's about getting all organizers together to create a racing league of the best venues and best promoters to make it easier and more cost effective for the end of the user."
"It's been a tough road," said Tedro after reflecting on months of effort to bring about the series. "A deal has been worked out with USA Cycling and that was very difficult due to the multiple personalities involved and some of the pro teams."
"But USAC and I have worked through it," he said optimistically. "I'm very excited and very happy and think the country deserves this."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for more details on the 2009 US Cup.
US Cup - Kenda Cup West
US Cup - Kenda Cup East
US Cup - Finale
Tasmania is home to National Mountain Bike Program
The Tasmanian Institute of Sport (TIS) has been selected by Cycling Australia to host Australia's High Performance Mountain Bike Program for the next four years. The Tasmanian Minister for Sport and Recreation, Michelle O'Byrne said the State Government would contribute AUS$400,000 to the program.
"The State Government is committed to supporting the development of Tasmania's elite athletes, and being chosen to host this elite program in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics is a great coup for Tasmania and also great recognition of the TIS as an elite sport development body," O'Byrne said. "It is recognition of the great job done by the TIS this year when it was selected to host the 2008 program.
"The program will be coached by Neil Ross, an experienced, well credentialed coach, who was the Head Coach and Director of Canada's National Cycling Centre and coach of the Canadian National Team. John Gregory, the TIS Sports Performance Manager and a former cross country National Champion, will provide key sports science support to the program."
Having the program based in Tasmania will provide an opportunity to help Tasmanian athletes gain selection for the Australian Olympic team to compete in London. Rowena Fry is one of the athletes likely to benefit.
"Accessing this network will help develop a high-performance culture for the athletes participating in the program. We believe the program will produce the next generation of mountain bikers, rivalling some of the top Tasmanian mountain bike athletes produced in the past."
O'Byrne also pointed out how the selection would highlight Tasmania as a mountain bike destination and thereby help grow tourism. To further help, when competing overseas, representative athletes will wear kit featuring the Tourism Tasmania website address.
The TIS in Launceston will be the base for the program for six months each year, with the athletes heading overseas for competition for the remainder of the time.
Rudi van Houts signs with Multivan-Merida
Rudi van Houts has signed a contract with the Multivan-Merida's Ninety Six mountain bike team for 2009. The 24-year-old Dutch rider, who recently won the mountain biker of the year award for the Netherlands, is going to team with stars like former Olympic and World Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa, Ralph Näf and José-Antonio Hermida.
Peter Koperdraad of Merida Benelux was pleased the signing of van Houts. "For us, it is great, now we are looking forward to the London 2012 Olympics. Rudi can learn from the experience of the others. He will get the chance to develop even more as a mountain bike rider."
Van Houts won the VTT (mountain bike Tour de France) in 2007. This year, he finished second in the Dutch Championships, 13th in the European Championships and 12th in the World Championships. He also was a member of the Dutch Olympic Team in Beijing.
He resides in Luyksgestel in the South of Holland.
Cannondale evolves Factory Race Team for 2009
Cannondale will support an all-new Cannondale Factory Race team in 2009. The team's roster includes superstars on the World Cup circuit, but also expands into the North American racing scene for a worldwide presence.
"An opportunity presented itself to combine the efforts of the best athletes racing on both sides of the Atlantic," said Rory Mason, director of sports marketing for Cannondale. "It really gives us a voice at a wide variety of races, from local fat tire festivals to UCI podiums."
The new team will field an impressive roster of riders. In Europe, World Cup veterans Roel Paulissen, Martin Gujan, and Marco Aurelio Fontana lead the team. In America, CFR is merging with the former SoBe-Cannondale team, which means that racing legends like Gunnar Shogren and Matthew Lee, along with several dozen more riders, will round out the roster, racing in regional events.
Changes in the existing team structures made the merger possible after SoBe notified Cannondale earlier this month that it would not continue as a Cannondale team sponsor.
"We've had an excellent working relationship with SoBe and enjoyed many successes after their return to the team this past year," said Matt Jewett, Inside Sales Director and Promotions Manager for Cannondale. "The upside is that all the best traditions of the team can live on. These riders have continuously been the best ambassadors for the sport of cycling and active lifestyles as a whole. Now they have a global platform on which to carry this 10-year heritage."
Most of the racing operations for Cannondale will remain largely unchanged, including the teams' other sponsors.
SuperBike champ Bostrom joins Sho-Air team
SuperBike Champion and recent mountain bike convert Ben Bostrom joined the Sho-Air Mountain Bike Racing Team for year-round training and fulfillment of his off-season racing needs.
"For years people tried to get me to ride mountain bikes," said Bostrom, "But I had absolutely zero interest. Then my brother Eric and some friends asked me if I'd race the 24 Hours of Moab with them - I finished that and was hooked."
"Since then I got a better bike, raced 24 hours solo, started racing cyclo-cross, which is like racing road bikes on dirt, and now I've hooked up with this awesome team. I'm stoked!"
"It's great to have another motorcycle Champion join the Sho-Air Racing Team," said Scott Tedro, President of Sho-Air International, a freight shipping company that sponsors the team. "National Mountain Bike Champ and former Motocross star Johnny O'Mara has been with us since the beginning, Stunt Rider Jason Britton is a sponsor of the team, and I've got a little throttle-twisting in my background too. It's great to integrate motorsports stars."
Team Sho-Air also includes cross country Australian National Champion Sid Taberlay, Costa Rican Manuel Prado, several age-group national champions and a slew of amateur racers.
USA Cycling appeals Haywood verdict
USA Cycling is appealing last month's verdict in a case in which American mountain bike racer Susan Haywood was awarded US$300,000 in damages by a US Federal Judge for being unfairly removed from the USA Olympic team in 2004.
A West Virginia jury had awarded her $318,647.14 in compensation, $18,647.14 of which were expenses incurred to fight USA Cycling's decision and the remainder in damages. However, USA Cycling filed the appeal stating that award was excessive according to WBOY.
In the appeal, dated December 1, and filed in the Northern District Court of West Virginia, the American governing body said the cyclist did not show evidence supporting the damages and asked for either a new trial or a reduction in the award to match similar emotional damage awards in West Virginia.
"USA Cycling now argues that the jury's verdict regarding the plaintiff's damages for annoyance and inconvenience and the emotional distress, humility, embarrassment and loss of personal dignity were excessive and contrary to the law as the Plaintiff [Haywood - ed.] failed to provide the necessary evidence to support the amount of damages awarded on these two claims," read the appeal.
Northwave Aerlite SBS Review: What Tomeke would wear... if he rode mountain bikes
By James Huang, Technical Editor
Northwave's new Aerlite SBS MTB melds its road-going Aerlite SBS upper with a more trail-appropriate sole. It is a faithful adaptation of its successful road-going cousin, with an exceptionally well ventilated upper, a secure and supportive fit, a reasonably stiff sole plate and excellent durability that has held up well to the rigours of mountain bike trail duty and plenty of 'cross racing.
As the name suggests, airflow is a key feature of the Aerlite SBS MTB with liberal helpings of open mesh littered throughout the microfibre upper in key locations such as the front and outer sides. The open metallic mesh exteriors are mostly for show (they're backed by conventional mesh) but the vents are impressively effective nonetheless: our feet stayed noticeably cooler than usual in warmer temperatures and there was so much air coming through in colder temps that we had to use shoe covers when we normally would have gone without.
Like many shoes these days, the Aerlite SBS MTB uses a semi-rigid 'cage' that envelopes the rear of the foot and a grippy 'cat's tongue' lining inside the heel cup - only in this case, it all actually works as intended. Heel hold is superb and we experienced no slip whatsoever, whether on foot during hike-a-bike sections of the trail or during 'cross run-ups.
Read the complete review.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Future Publishing Limited 2008)