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MTB news & racing round-up for December 7, 2007

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

Mountain biking's second coming

By Sue George

Gary Fisher on a ride
Photo ©: Sterling Lorence
(Click for larger image)

Gary Fisher has seen a lot of change in mountain biking. During his time in the industry, mountain bikers have graduated from rigid forks and frames and pedals with toe clips and straps to lightweight, plush, full suspension mountain bikes.

Like any sport, the popularity of mountain biking can be expected to rise and fall, but Fisher, one of the pioneers of the sport in its early days, thinks we may be onto another growth spurt of the relatively young cycling discipline. "Overall sales of mountain bikes are up double digits this year [as of the summer]. It's amazing. It could be we're seeing a second coming of the sport."

Fisher said that in his home state of California, mountain biking is on the rise. "Being a lycra-clad cross country geek was about the uncoolest thing a teenager could do a few years ago. Sometimes something has to hit dead bottom before it can be cool again, and I think we've been there."

Even though retired Trek superstar Lance Armstrong spent very little time on a mountain bike, he may still have helped the sport. "I think Lance brought a lot of legitimacy to the entire sport. There's been no time in last 80 years or 100 years that Americans respected a cyclist like they do today," said Fisher despite the current doping scandals raging at the pro level on the road side of the sport.

"I think mountain biking is starting to mature," said Fisher. "The different sides of it are starting to be well-developed. It sort of started as what I like to call a motor-based sport, with human being as a motor, and it made a definite offshoot into skills-based which is where the jump scene and the free ride scene come in. They both have their absolute legitimacy, and we see that the racing scene is starting to get sorted out - what's popular, what's fun, what people like to do."

More places to ride

Gary Fisher
Photo ©: Sterling Lorence
(Click for larger image)

Fisher is encouraged by the rejuvenation of the younger side of the sport, and his company is piling the resources behind it. "With kids getting more involved and the proliferation of trailbuilders in the North America and the world, the future is looking golden." In fact, Fisher points to trailbuilding initiatives as the key to bringing the sport to locales never previously associated with mountain biking.

He credits the increase in professional trailbuilders nation and worldwide with the increase in the sport. There are more places for cyclists to ride off-road. Fisher couldn't name one favourite place to ride, but pointed instead to fun riding experiences he's had in Crested Butte, Moab, California, the Dolomites and lesser known local spots in Houston, Texas, and Florida.

"The technology of trail building has paid off in spades. If you have great trail, it doesn't matter what bike you have, it's so much fun to rip."

To read the complete feature, click here.

Sydor still going strong off-road

Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain Haywood)
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

41 year-old Alison Sydor is one elite cyclist who keeps going and going. Formerly a respected road racer, the three-time world mountain bike champion is also racing cyclo-cross and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Instead of following the World Cup mountain bike circuit this year, Sydor raced a full schedule of stage races and marathons world-wide. She and Rocky Mountain / Haywood team-mate Carsten Bresser won the mixed category at the TransGermany and the TransAlp this summer. This fall, Sydor made several trips to the cyclo-cross podium and finished second overall in the USGP after last weekend's final rounds in Portland, Oregon.

"It was a nice surprise," she said of her 'cross racing performance to the Vancouver Sun. "I was just doing it for fun."

The 1996 Olympic silver medalist (in mountain biking), who lives in British Columbia, attributed her enduring success across disciplines to "good luck and good genetics". She's also finished in the top five at the Olympics in Sydney and Athens. In 2008, Canada will send two female mountain bikers to Beijing, but Sydor said she has not yet made a decision about an attempt to qualify.

"I have to get a few things straightened out, sit down and see if that's what I want to do. For sure, whether I'm looking at the Olympics or not, I do want to do more stage racing. Everything is still possible," said Sydor.

Sydor has been in the right time and place to experience the meteoric rises in popularity of both mountain bike and cyclo-cross racing. "When I came into mountain biking (from road cycling), there was a real excitement being part of a young sport that was changing all the time. I've seen significant changes over the years. It's not just same old, same old all the time. It's a sport of revolution, not just evolution."

The British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame will induct Sydor as a member in May 2008.

Australian cross country NMBS heads to Threadbo

Aiden Lefmann at round two
Photo ©: Evan Jeffery
(Click for larger image)

Round three of the Australian National Mountain Bike cross country series heads to Thredbo Village, NSW, during the weekend of December 8-9. Saturday's racing will feature the Olympic-style cross country event and a short track race is set for Sunday.

National marathon champion Rowena Fry will battle Zoe King for the lead in the series. The two are currently tied although King won the most recent event convincingly. They'll be chased by Queensland champion Jodie Willet, who sits in third place in the series, National cross country champion Tory Thomas, Dellys Star and Rosmary Barnes.

Series leader Aiden Lefmann should be on hand to defend his series lead following his win at the last race on the Gold Coast. Sitting second overall is Shaun Lewis and Australian world championship team member Dylan Cooper is not far behind in third. Cal Britten is equal in points with Cooper, but he's also leading the Under 23 division series. Dave Whitney will be looking to better his performance after a crash in the last series race.

After this Threadbo event, the cross country series, which is being used to select the one male and one female Australian Olympic team members, will have just one more event remaining. It will return to the very same course in Threadbo in March after the Oceania Championships.

Next weekend, Thredbo will also host round three of the downhill national series and round four of the four cross national series. For more information, visit www.nationalseries.com.au.

BC Cycling awards MTB honors

BC Cycling awarded their male and female mountain bikers of the year for 2007. Top honors went to Jeff Clarkson and Miranda Miller.

Clarkson is the 2007 Canadian Junior National mountain bike champion and the British Columbia road and mountain bike champion and has been the British Columbia Cup champion for three consecutive years (2005-2007). This year, he represented Canada at the World Mountain Bike Championships.

Miller hails from Squamish. The 17 year-old downhiller also raced for Canada at the World Championships and collected the BC junior champion's title.

"I am really pleased," Miller said to the Squamish Chief. "It has been an exciting year of racing, but I was badly disappointed at my two most important races – when I flatted at the Nationals and broke my collarbone at the Worlds. To be given this kind of recognition is very encouraging. It is so good to know that the hard work and effort riders put in for the whole season is appreciated too and people are looking beyond just whether you podium or not."

Miller is on literally on the road to recovery; she's out of her sling and back on a road bike. "I hope to get the go-ahead to get back on a cross-country bike and to head to the velodrome in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I'm supplementing with basketball and some swimming. My surgeon is strict, but that's because she knows about athletes."

BC Cycling also awarded Steve Sleep as mountain bike volunteer of the year.

Felt signs Zink

American gravity rider, Cameron Zink, who is perhaps best known for his slopestyle and freeriding ability, signed with the Felt team for 2008. Zink has won a US National Championships, been a member of his national team and finished first at the Crankworx Slopestyle event in British Columbia.

The 22 year-old from Reno, Nevada, is in the final stages of a knee repair and is looking forward to the 2008 season which he will kick off at the Sea Otter Classic in April. Zink will also race the five-event Qashqai Urban Challenge Series throughout Europe, as well as the Adidas Slopestyle in Austria, the Crankworx in Colorado, the TEVA Mountain Games in the US and the Kokanee Crankwork and Bearclaw Invitational in Canada.

"I am super-excited to be heading to Felt," said Zink. "After speaking with their design and engineering group, it is very clear to me they really know what they are doing and are into continually developing their bikes and ideas with direct rider input. Look at what they have done in other areas of the sport. The whole thing is a bit of a dream come true."

Zink also suffered a ruptured spleen in August that brought a premature end to his season.

"Cam is an excellent fit for us and I am sure will be a tremendous ambassador and source of ongoing feedback. He is young, talented and understands what it takes to be a pro ­ a winning recipe," said Felt USA Marketing Director, Doug Martin.

La Ruta organizers to explore possible changes for 2008

Climbing at La Ruta
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

Organizers of La Ruta de los Conquistadores have announced some route changes for the 2008 event, set for November 12-15. Course Director and Race Founder Román Urbina, together with Race Director Luis Víquez and Marketing Director Luis Rueda, are exploring some options to modify the first and final section of day two's route.

"We had some little problems while trying to get out of El Rodeo, at the start of this year's new stage. A bunch of vehicles [were] parked outside of the race venue along the main road, which complicated the pass of the cyclists at the very beginning of the stage."

"We will see if there is an alternative that allow us to avoid the traffic and at the same time to eliminate the first climb to this day's first check point, however this is not secured yet. First of all, we have to see if it is doable, logistically speaking, and then if it is acceptable in racing terms. We don't want to make this day even harder," Víquez explained.

As for the final muddy-climb section of the same second stage, the organizers will look at an option that might turn the "Camachón" cross into a trail through nearby coffee plantations.

"Most of the people told us about the beauty of the "Camachón Hill" and that's very important for us, since our race is not only about winning but knowing our country's most stunning places. Nevertheless, we still have to see if this coffeetrail is a good-looking scenario as well and an easier pass too," Rueda said.

The other three stages will likely remain the same. Day one will begin at the Best Western hotel in Jacó Beach and will finish at El Rodeo. Day three will start at the Terramall Shopping Center, and will end in front of the Aquiares' Church in Turrialba. Day four will keep the changes implemented for 2007, which turned part of the train tracks into a seven kilometer fast, paved highway, between Matina and Estrada. It will also take out the "Puente Negro" train-bridge, over the Matina River. On the final day, there may also be a new segment from Siquirres to Indiana Dos, going over the Pacuare river bridge, on the main highway to Limón (National Route #32).

For more information, visit www.adventurerace.com.

Sea Otter to celebrate 18th year

Kiara Bisaro (Opus)
Photo ©: FJ Hughes
(Click for larger image)

Sea Otter has been a fixture on the cycling calendar since 1991. It often serves as a springboard from which companies launch innovative products and athletes boost pro racing careers. Riders like Tom Boonen and Olympic gold medalist Julien Absalon have attended in the past.

"The Sea Otter Classic is a big classic at the beginning of the season, same as Roc d'Azur in France is a classic at the end of the season," said Absalon. "We don't have a lot of races in the US. Sea Otter is the only international race of the season, so maybe it's the only chance to race in the US for European riders."

In 2008, the event is scheduled for April 17-20 and will feature road racing, recreational rides, a demo area (including a new pump track) and various kids' events. Unfortunately the date clashes with the UCI World Cup opening cross country round in Houffalize, Belgium. Sea Otter does not conflict with a gravity World Cup, but some Olympic cross country contenders, especially those still battling for a spot on their nation's Olympic team, may opt for the World Cup as their top choice for that weekend.

"Because of the importance Sea Otter has as an event, it is often more than just racing to the athletes," Wendy Booher, Media Coordinator, said to Cyclingnews when asked about the scheduling conflict. "For some, it is their only North American stop in a packed racing calendar and, while it is an unfortunate coincidence that Sea Otter falls on the same weekend as a World Cup cross-country race, the roster of events plus the quantity of participants as well as its venue and location should be attractive to racers both old and new."

Cyprus Sunshine Cup set for 2008

The five-race Sunshine Cup in Cyprus will happen between February 23 and March 16 and give the opportunity for some cross country pros and motivated amateurs to tune up their fitness with some early season racing. The five category one UCI events will offer racing opportunities for juniors and award prizes of 5,635 Euros for the men and 1,580 Euros for the women.

First up, is a point to point race departing from the village of Tochni and covering some hilly terrain. Rounds two (another point to point) and three (an Olympic-style cross country) are also part of the Afxentia 08 stage race in the Macheras mountains in the heart of Cyprus.

Round four, a cross country, moves to Limassol-Yermasogia, with its small hills and usually warm weather next to the sea.

The last event in the Sunshine Cup happens at Voroklini over a challenging course for a final test prior to the World Cup season. This course is reportedly fast with one long climb at the end and views of the sea.

"I think we are offering a attractive package in beautiful locations, which for the pros also means an adequate module in their preparation [going] into the Olympic season," said organizer Michalis Hadjouannou.

Sunshine Cup 2008 Schedule
February 23: Tochni Village (XCP)
February 29: Mantra-Kionia-Mantra (XCP)
March 2: Mantra tou kampiou (XCO)
March 9: Limassol-Yermasogia (XCO)
March 16: Voroklini (XCP)

Mike & Mary diary: Off road in Chile

Mike & Mary
Photo ©: Mike Broderick & Mary McConneloug
(Click for larger image)

Getting stopped by the police in Chile is pretty common, though the style of pullover here is different than in the [United] States. No cruisers stashed behind the hedge waiting to chase you down hot pursuit style. In Chile it is all about the random checkpoint. You see (a group of) police standing on the sides of the road, slow down as you enter the gauntlet and either drive right on through or they wave you in for a little chat. It seems totally random whom they decide to pull over but one sure way to increase your odds for selection is to drive fast and pass a city bus on a single lane street while swerving drastically to avoid a cavernous pothole and most importantly all within view of the checkpoint. In our case all papers were in order and we were not doing anything terribly wrong so the pullover was just a minor delay and we were off, still on schedule to make it to our race on time.

We were excited when we finally found the race venue as this was our first experience racing in Chile and we couldn't wait to check out the scene. Just to the east of the city of Concepcion we came upon a city park set on a hill so steep that it effectively stopped the urban sprawl. It was actually big and steep enough to host a downhill race that same weekend. We found ourselves surrounded by giant trees as we wound our way our way up the steep cobble drive into the center of the park and breathed a sigh of relief as we came upon the familiar scene of the bike race. And a cool scene it was, Race Director Juan Pablo Santiagos (of Santiagos Productions, www.santiagos.cl) and his slim crew of staff put on a great event! Racers, family and fans were in good supply and the media presence brought nothing less than four professional videographers who documented the races. We were pleasantly shocked that these film crews attend all the national level races and develop high quality presentations that are featured on Chilean television.

Mike finishes up his last lap
Photo ©: Mike Broderick & Mary McConneloug
(Click for larger image)

The day was blazing hot. Luckily the majority of the course was on tight shaded singletrack and provided some shelter from the heat and feeling of being right in the city . The majority of the track was quite fun with challenging singletrack segments linked together by steep fireroad climbing to give equal advantage to skill and fitness. One beef would have to be that the juniors, masters, pro women and men all raced simultaneously–making for some tricky and potentially dangerous passing situations, though repeating phrases like "pista por favor" (track please) or "a tu derecha" (on your right) was good for my Spanish practice.

I battled it out with two of the top Chilean riders for the majority of the eight laps of the race. I momentarily regretted focusing the majority of my recent riding on my base training for next year as the longer/ slower hours have taken a bit away from my race day punch. Still I ended up second and I was happy with my performance since these Chilean guys rode really strong and it was a good tight race for the top three spots. I had the opportunity to pass Mary during our coinciding races and it was fun to watch her for a moment as she was on her way to decimating the slim pro women's field and making lots of masters and juniors question their fitness along the way. Unfortunately she didn't block for me like I was hoping she might.

To read the complete diary entry, click here.

Nick Martin diary: Rhymes with "carriage"

Nick & Tracy
Photo ©: Kristian Olson
(Click for larger image)

It is amazing how fast a season can fly by. It was already a year ago that I announced my engagement to my now wife, Tracy. What was meant to be an end of the season invitation to the Trek headquarters from the legendary Zap Espinoza, turned out to be a life changing 72 hours.

For my team-mate and best man "Rad" Ross Schnell and I, the weekend was going to be a celebration after a hard earned season and a chance to get things lined up for the upcoming year. Our conversations on the plane ride to Wisconsin centered around how good if felt to be single and free. Nothing but our bikes and travels to occupy our time. Life was simple, life was good.

Once arriving at Trek's homeland, we were greeted by Zap and his gracious family, given the VIP tour of Trek's headquarters, and we socialized with Trek dealers from all over the country. Free food, free housing, great company... Life was good.

Bike racers are simple creatures, especially mountain bikers. In an effort to prolong the real world for as long as possible, we will literally work for next to nothing for the chance to wake up in the morning and simply ride. If wealth was measured by the amount of free time one has, then as a cyclist, I was one of the richest men alive.

To read the complete diary entry, click here.

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