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US ProXCT #3 and Kenda Cup East #2 - Bump and Grind - 3
Pelham, Alabama, USA, May 31, 2009
By Dave McElwaine in Birmingham, Alabama
The third stop on the USCup ProXCT resumes this weekend at Bump n' Grind in Birmingham, Alabama. Not since the national series visited Waco, Texas, in 2004, have the racers ventured this far into the Deep South. While this will be Bump n' Grind's 14th year, it will be the first time that North America's top professionals will be competing there as part of the elite national series.
With the help of US Cup organizers and Sho-Air rider Manny Prado, a new 5.4-mile course that is consistent with UCI World Cup standards has been carved out of the existing 17-mile cross country loop. This distance will make for a more spectator-friendly race and allows riders to pass by their tech zones several times. Amateur racers will be competing on the longer 17 mile-course as they have in years past.
With only 500 feet of climbing per lap, and moderate technical difficulty, the race is likely to be determined by those racers with the biggest ":engines". It features 85% singletrack, a pavement section, and multiple bridge crossings. Conditions are expected to be fairly dry.
Many of the top North Americans have just returned from the World Cup race in Madrid, Spain. That race may have been excellent preparation for Bump n' Grind as it featured less climbing than normal, incredibly high speeds, and no opportunity to rest.
Until someone in North America can beat Geoff Kabush (Rocky Mountain/Maxxis), he has to be considered the heavy race favorite. Kabush is not only the defending American series champion, but is currently ranked sixth in the world based on UCI points.
Sid Taberlay (Team Sho-Air) has already shown this season that he can give Kabush a run for his money. Along with teammate series leader Max Plaxton, they were able to use team tactics in Fontana, California, to push Kabush to his limit. However, Kabush still came away with the win.
The course may also suit Todd Wells (Specialized) who does well in races that require riders to be on the gas at all times. US Champion Adam Craig, currently 16th in UCI points, who generally excels in the most difficult race conditions, may find the course less technical than he prefers. Still, Craig is expected to compete for a top spot on the podium.
The Gary Fisher duo of Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Sam Schultz are likely to be at the front of the race as well. It is rumored that they will be riding a new top secret Gary Fisher bike for the first time.
On the women's side, spectators will be treated to another battle of Luna teammates Georgia Gould and Catherine Pendrel. Pendrel is currently the number-one-ranked rider in the world, while Gould is ranked eighth. However, with one exception - when Gould collapsed from heat exhaustion at a race last summer - Pendrel has never beaten Gould in a US national series race.
Gould is undoubtedly one of the most powerful riders in the world. She typically wins races by simply going to the front, thus challenging other riders to stay with her. More often than not, she powers away from them and claims victory. Pendrel, one of the world's best climbers and someone who excels in muddy conditions, is likely to be seen following Gould's wheel this weekend.
The pair will have a potentially strong challenger in the form of cyclo-cross star Katie Compton. Compton's fitness level is unknown as we haven't seen her racing the MTB circuit this year so far; however, she has been known to show up on short notice and do very well at mountain bike events.
Gary Fisher/Subaru teammates Heather Irmiger and Willow Koerber have also been honing their fitness on the World Cup circuit. They currently stand 26th and 20th respectively. Both are likely to compete for top podium positions.
Dark horses in this race could be the riders from the Kona squad. Former US National Champion Ryan Trebon typically returns to top form around this time of year after recovering from a long international cyclo-cross season. As the most powerful rider in the US, this course may well suit Trebon's talents. Teammates Barry Wicks and Wendy Simms can also be expected to compete for podium positions.
It is unknown what the fitness level of Luna's Katerina Nash will be. She started her season late to recover from a nagging knee injury and has skipped the first four rounds of World Cup racing. Normally she can be counted on to make the podium, and achieved her first US cross country win last season at Windham, New York.
Missing from action this weekend will be US National Champion Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven-No Tubes) who has a commitment in Europe with SRAM. Also missing is 21-year-old sensation Emily Batty (Trek Toronto), who has already won two World Cup races in the Under 23 class. It is expected that she will be racing the national series in Canada.
It will be interesting to see how the 29-inch bikes will fare at this weekend's race. More and more top racers have been seen on them this season including Ryan Trebon, Todd Wells, Troy Wells, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, and Sam Schultz. The bikes seem to have an advantage on fast, flatter courses, with long straight-aways that result in having to accelerate the larger wheels fewer times. Although there are no significant straight-aways on this course, the 29ers could pay off when rolling over the many steep, rocky descents.
The weather forecast for Sunday calls for a temperature of 88 degrees with moderate humidity. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the racing at Bump n' Grind.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Dave McElwaine / www.trailwatch.net
Images by Bump n' Grind