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NORBA series #5 - NE

Snowmass, Colorado, USA, July 21-24, 2005

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The Races

It's all about the points at NORBA season mid-point

By Steve Medcroft

The U.S. NORBA National Championship Series shifts from bear country (see "Taberly tangles with bear on training ride") to the winter playground of the rich and famous this weekend. All six NORBA disciplines (downhill, cross country, mountain cross, short track, marathon and Super D) will be contested at Snowmass Village, a ski resort located in Aspen, Colorado.

What has made Aspen popular for winter vacationers is what makes it a spectacular backdrop for U.S. mountain-bike racing; stunning mountain views and wide, blue skies. Situated in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Snowmass Village sits at 8,100 feet. The racecourses climb into the Elk Mountain Range from there. The climate is typical of high Western United States altitudes - low humidity and intense sunshine - but with predicted temps in the high eighties and the threat of thundershowers on tap for the weekend, racers would have been wise to pack their rain gear.

Since Snowmass is the fifth event in the eight-race NORBA cross country and short-track series, the points racers can earn have a greater impact on their chances at the series overall than in early events. U.S. National Champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru - Gary Fisher) pulled even in series points with Canadian National Champion (Maxxis) after last week's race in Sandpointe, Idaho and Snowmass will be a showdown to see who will hold the advantage heading into the end of the season.

Sue Haywood (Trek/VW) leads the women's series ahead of Willow Koerber (Subaru - Gary Fisher). But close on their heels are Tokyo Joe's rider Heather Irmiger, who's been making regular podium appearances this season, and Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna Chix) who won the last two NORBA's in a row, is defending series champion and only lacks points due to a DNF in the first race of the year (Tapateo Springs, Texas, March 6).

Even the marathon event, a new discipline in U.S. national competition, is hotly contested. Vail, Colorado resident Jay Henry (Specialized) is only twenty-six points behind Chris Etough (Trek/VW). Etough won the Monte Sainte-Anne Marathon and came second in both the Arizona marathon season opener and the last week's Scweitzer race.

Fifth in the standings after only competing in two of the three races thus far, Subaru - Gary Fisher endurance pro Nat Ross says "speed will be the primary challenge in the Aspen race. Jay wants to overtake Chris for the series so there will be a big push at the start." That big push could blow the front of the race up and leave the door open for one of the half-dozen contenders close enough in the rankings to make an impact in the series.

Snowmass will host the third NORBA downhill series race (of six total). The men's competition is still an interloper's game; the top six places in the series belong to Australians and South Africans. 2005 World Cup Champion Greg Minaar (Team G-Cross Honda) sits on top of the series although Aussie Jared Graves (Yeti Cycles), is close behind and twenty-year old South African Andrew Neethling (Turner - Honda), winner of the Schweitzer event, is hovering dangerously close in third.

In women's downhill, Melissa Buhl (Chandler, Ariz.) holds a 14-point advantage over current U.S. National Champion Tara Llanes (Los Alamitos, Calif.).

The Aspen NORBA will also feature short-track, Super D and Mountain Cross and a whole slate of amateur competitions.