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NORBA series #6 - NE

Brian Head, Utah, USA, August 6-7, 2005

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The Races

Cross Country Fireworks and a Marathon Showdown

By Steve Medcroft

The NORBA National Series moves to Brian Head Resort in Utah this weekend. Although Brian Head has hosted 12-hour endurance races and downhills before, this will the first stop for the NORBA series in Utah’s scenic canyon lands.

With only three races remaining in the cross country series, the men’s title is still up for grabs between Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis). The lead has changed hands twice during the season with Kabush holding the most points heading into the weekend. JHK says he would love to unseat the defending series champion and this may be the race for it to happen; Brian Head sits at 9,600 feet, a similar elevation to JHK’s Colorado home.

But after a win in Aspen, Kabush said he’s finding great form at altitude too; fitness he hopes to hold through these final three NORBA’s and take into the Livigno, Italy World Championships at the end of the month (also at altitude). And let’s not count out the fact that riders like Adam Craig (Giant) and Todd Wells (GT Hyundai) would love to stand on top of a NORBA podium this year. It should be an aggressive race.

In the women’s cross country, Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna Chix) will be trying for her fifth NORBA cross country win of the season. If she pulls it off, she will all but control the series, which as defending series champion, she says cares a great deal about. "I think winning the NORBA series is a great accomplishment for any racer. It truly shows who’s been the best, most consistent rider all season long."

In the downhill competition, look for an American man to try and have the same kind of success enjoyed by American women. Americans, led by Luna Chix Kathy Pruitt, occupy nine of the top ten spots in the women’s series standing. The men’s race has been dominated by foreign nationals like South African Greg Minnaar (Team G-Cross Honda). But Minnar, like many international competitors, is home preparing for Worlds which means we could see a rider like American Cody Warren (Haro-Adidas) get onto the podium and lift himself above sixth place in the series.

Then again, Joel Panozza (WTB-Fox), the first Australian to win a NORBA men’s downhill in years, should be in Brian Head and may have something to say about that.

The real marquee race of the weekend could be the marathon. Held on Sunday, too soon after Saturday's cross country for the field to be crowded with CX racers, and with a World Cup in Oisans, France keeping European marathon specialists like Italian Massimo DeBartolis away, the race should be a real head-to-head battle for the NORBA overall Marathon title.

Jay Henry (Ford/Specialized) told us two weeks ago, after he won his second NORBA marathon in a row in Aspen, Colorado, that he was out of contention for the overall series. He believed that racers were not able to drop one result from their series like competitors in NORBA cross-country can (throw away or even miss one race since only six of the seven races would be combined for total scoring points in the series). And why shouldn't he think that; the NORBA Nationals Web site clearly says "No Drops" in the marathon rules.

But last weekend at the Wilderness 101 in Central Pennsylvania, Trek/VW endurance specialist and multi 24 Hours of Adrenalin World Champion Chris Eatough said he believed Jay had the ruling wrong. "They changed that rule," he said.

One email to USA Cycling verified Eatough’s version. "At the beginning of the year, the original plan was not to allow any drops," wrote USA Cycling spokesperson Andy Lee in reply. "However, after the riders and teams expressed their disappointment with that plan the decision to allow one drop was made at the NORBA opener at Tapatio Springs and was communicated to the teams and riders in a meeting there." So even though the NORBA National Series Web site still reflects the original "no drops" ruling, a drop is allowed.

Which means Henry, although he'll miss the Snowshoe NORBA while he competes in Marathon Worlds (Lillehammer, Switzerland, Aug 20, 2005), is eligible for the for the overall as long as he finishes this weekend’s race.

Currently, Eatough leads the series with 806 points to Henry’s 784. But Henry gained 29 points on Eatough when he won the last two marathons (Schweitzer, Idaho and Aspen, Colo.). Throw away Eatough and Henry’s points from Mont Sainte-Anne and the gap going into Brian Head is only 14 points; a two-places at the finish line difference.

But there are two races remaining. And since Henry will take a zero for Snowshoe, his worst result so far will count (102 points at Mont Sainte-Anne). Which means Henry needs to gain more than 29 points on Eatough at Brian Head and hope Eatough, in either of the last two marathons, scores no better than Henry’s worst race of the year (102 points for Mont Sainte-Anne).

Too much math? All it means is that this weekend’s race could all but determine who carries the NORBA National Series title; a result both racers would love to have on their resumes.

The sixth NORBA National event of the season won't be holding Mountain Cross competitions but will offer Super D and Dual Slalom. And although amateur events and qualifying at Brian Head start as early as Thursday, pro racing kicks off Saturday morning at 8:30 am. Weather reports call for afternoon thunderstorms; which could impact Sunday’s downhill and short track races most of all.