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MTB news & racing round-up for March 15, 2007

Welcome to our regular roundup of what's happening in mountain biking. Feel free to send feedback, news and releases to mtb@cyclingnews.com.

Edited by Sue George

What happened to NORBA?

Women's start at NMBS event
Photo ©: Susan Candee
(Click for larger image)

Stand around at any mountain bike race in the US or talk to long-time racers and you'll hear the term "NORBA" used again and again. For years, it has been an acronym for National Off Road Bicycle Association, once an independent governing body of mountain bike racing in the US, and then later the mountain bike racing division of USA Cycling (USAC).

For many years, "NORBA National" was also a short linguistic reference to any of the collection of about a half dozen top-level elite races that comprised the national series. After several changes of ownership and licensing, that series is now called the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) and is run by Blue Wolf Event Productions. The NMBS is not to be confused with the USAC-owned Mountain Bike National Cross Country and Gravity Calendars, which include not only the NMBS races, but many other events nation-wide.

All series aside, USAC has dropped the use of the term "NORBA" in association with races in general, although the organization itself still exists. The terminology changes are all about marketing.

"NORBA exists as an organization from a legal and governing perspective. That's the mountain biking arm of USA Cycling. We're trying to retain everything under the brand USA Cycling now," said USAC spokesperson Andy Lee, to Cyclingnews.

"The NORBA Board of Trustees and USA Cycling decided to do away with the use of the term NORBA for the race series and any (mountain bike) branding."

Mountain bikers are not the only group subject to the change in marketing philosophy. "It's not specific to NORBA," said Lee. "What we've called the USPRO (road) championships for years, for example, we now call the USA Cycling Professional Championships. We're doing the same thing with the USCF (for road cycling) and the NCCA (for collegiate cycling)."

Lee recognized that old speaking habits die hard, and it will take time for racers and promoters to adopt the new lingo and stop using the word "NORBA." "It's tough to eliminate that term from their vocabulary. We understand it's not something that's going to happen overnight."

UCI unveils new World Cup sponsor

The UCI announced a new title sponsor for the Mountain Bike World Cup. The Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano will see 11 total events across 10 countries during 2007. The World Cup covers the disciplines of marathon, cross-country, downhill, and four cross.

The partnership hopes the high profile World Cup events will attract a global television audience that will encourage mountain biking development across all levels.

"Mountain biking is a modern and dynamic discipline with an attractive image and enormous potential," said UCI President Pat McQuaid. "Thanks to the joint efforts of Nissan and the UCI, everyone associated with mountain biking will see fantastic progress in the years to come."

Darren Cox, European Brand Manager for Nissan said, "Nissan has historically supported adventurous activity, but now we are stepping up a gear...we hope to inspire adventure spirited people throughout Europe." Nissan has a history of involvement with adventures sports; they have been sponsoring the popular international XTERRA off-road triathlon series for years.

Under the new agreement, Nissan's sponsorship is good through 2009. The first round of the World Cup series kicks off this weekend with the cross-country marathon on March 17 in Gran Canaria, Spain.

Absalon and Fullana win first race of the Gran Premi Massi

Julien Absalon
Photo ©: Eduard Aguilera
(Click for larger image)

The Orbea Team dominated the race in Banyoles - Pla de l'Estany in Girona, Spain. The first event in an eight-race series drew more than 500 riders from 11 different nations.

Last year's winner José Antonio Hermida (Multivan-Merida) seized control of the race early by setting the pace on the first 3km loop. Then Julien Absalon, current Olympic Champion and three-time World Champion, attacked aggressively and finished the first of five laps with a ten second gap on a chase group consisting of Hermida (Multivan-Merida) and the two Orbea riders Ruben Ruzafa and Jean Cristoph Peraud. Back at 42 seconds was a group of three composed of Cedric Ravanel (Lapierre), Peter Riis (Team ALB-Gold) and Sergio Mantecón (Massi).

From that moment on, Absalon ruled the race perfectly with Peraud and Ruzafa controlling the attacks from Hermida. This chase group was losing time on the leader, so spectators switched to the question of who would be the one not to make the podium.

Margarita Fullana
Photo ©: Eduard Aguilera
(Click for larger image)

The two Orbea riders attacked Hermida a few times, trying to burn the Multivan-Merida rider. The strategy worked perfectly, and Ruzafa escaped from his French colleague and Hermida, going for the second spot. In the last lap, Peraud also opened a very small gap on Hermida, but still enough to get the third position and give Orbea a podium sweep.

In the women's race, Marga Fullana (Spiuk-Tau) dominated easily. She escaped from her rivals right from the beginning and finished in 1:18:43 about two and a half minutes ahead of French rider Cecile Ravanel (Lapierre). Laurance Leboucher (Sarthe-Gasseau) rounded out the top three in 1:22:29, and Sandra Santanyes (Massi) took fourth.

To read the complete report, click here.

Canada and US dominate Pan Am Continental Championships

Max Plaxton (Canada)
Photo ©: Mikkeli Godfree
(Click for larger image)

The US team swept the elite women's podium and Canada took two golds and a silver in the men's competitions at the Continental Mountain Bike Championships in Villa la Angostura, Argentina, last weekend. Both countries were on a quest to secure the maximum number of start positions for the 2008 Olympic Games.

In the elite women's race, Georgia Gould (Luna) led the elite women's contingent with a win in the 24-kilometer race in a time of 1:56:46 ahead of silver medalist Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven) 2:06 back and bronze medalist Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher) 4:51 back. Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Gary Fisher) finished fourth to give the Americans a sweep of the top four spots. Francisca Campos Salas of Chile rounded out the top-five, 5:46 back. One of the favorites, Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna), did not start due to illness.

Meanwhile, all three of Canada's team members at the race came home with medals in the elite men's race. Geoff Kabush and Seamus McGrath took first and second in the elite men's category while Max Plaxton won the Under 23 division. Kabush clocked a winning time of 2:02:40 while McGrath crossed the line 49 seconds later.

Winner Geoff Kabush was proud of the team, but worried about his own condition going into the race. "I was unsure if I would be recovered after finishing the 13th day Tour of Cuba in February; but obviously the racing paid off. It was a very close race, and luckily I timed things perfectly."

Geoff Kabush & JHK
Photo ©: Susan Candee
(Click for larger image)
Kabush faced a challenge from American Todd Wells (GT-Hyundai), who was three kilometers away from a possible victory when mechanical failure derailed his hopes. Wells settled for third while his teammates Adam Craig (Giant) and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher) a fourth and fifth respectively. Wells led for most of the 30km men's contest before wet and sandy conditions caused his rear derailleur to malfunction. He finished two seconds off second place.

Max Plaxton took the U23 race ahead of Sam Schultz (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Sam Jurekovic (USA Cycling National Development Team). "It's one of the best courses I have ever raced. I did the job I had to do. I am satisfied. I cannot wait to race with the elite," said Plaxton, who has been dominating the under 23 event for two years in a row. Plaxton had gone into the race confident after previewing the 6km course.

Chloe Forsman (Luna) took gold in the women's U23 race, with a four-and-a-half minute final lead over second-place finisher Alexandra Serrano of Ecuador. Melanie Meyers (Kenda-X-Fusion-Titus) added a bronze to the American medal count.

Entering Sunday's race, the United States was ranked fourth in the men's standings behind Switzerland, France, and Spain, while the American women were ranked sixth behind Norway, Germany, Canada, China and Poland. Nations earning top-five for men and top-four for women on December 31, 2007 will accumulate the maximum number of Olympic start spots (three for men, two for women). Canada came to the event looking to secure two men's cross-country spots.

For results, click here.

Kulhavy & Spitz win Race Under Sun

The women's podium
Photo ©: Mike Hadjioannou
(Click for larger image)

Jaroslav Kulhavy took a surprising win in men's competition of the Race Under the Sun in Yermasogia, Cyprus. In an exciting contest, the Czech rider beat Italian riders Yader Zoli and Toni Longo.

Favorite Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) crashed on the first lap. He then abandoned, leaving a group of four men to set the pace. One of them, Roel Paulissen (Bel) fell back in the fifth lap.

Kulhavy spent most of the time in the last position of the lead group until the final lap. Then the 2003 Junior World Champion attacked, gapped Zoli and Longo, and eventually celebrated his victory with a margin of six seconds. The 22-year-old rider showed that he has finally arrived amongst the elite after several years in the senior ranks.

The women faced temperatures of 25 degrees, an advantage for Sabine Spitz, who likes racing in the heat. After some troubles for the women's peloton, which went the wrong way during the start loop, Spitz led the field onto the demanding course. In her first race this season, she was left Tereza Hurikova behind on the second of four laps, eventually finishing 1:30 minutes ahead of the young Czech challenger.

To read the complete report and see full results and photos, click here.

Team Rocky Mountain Bicycles inks new sponsor & finalizes roster

The Rocky Mountain Bicycles race team signed a new title sponsor for 2007. Haywood Securities, a sponsor since 2001, is also a supporter of the Canadian National Cross Country Ski team, and has stepped up its commitment this year. The new sponsor is a Vancouver-based securities company with offices in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, and London, England.

Seamus McGrath (Canada)
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)

The 2007 team welcomes a new member--another Canadian Olympian; Seamus McGrath of British Columbia will join existing Olympic and multiple World Championship medal winners and team members Marie-Hélène Prémont Max Plaxton, Alison Sydor, and Carsten Bresser.

With 15 years in the sport, McGrath's career highlights include his ninth place finish at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, a silver and bronze medal at the 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games, and winning the overall US National Championship short track title in 2002. McGrath also has a number of top 10 World Cup and World Championship finishes in his resume.

"I will focus on racing very competitively on the World Cup circuit and in North America to help Canada build ranking points towards the 2008 Olympics," said McGrath, who adds to the men's pro roster of two-time German Olympian Carsten Bresser and 2006 World Championship bronze medal winner Max Plaxton. McGrath and Bresser will also partner to compete in some of the World's biggest epic stage races in 2007.

Plaxton, 2006 Espoir Bronze medal winner at the World Championships, finished his 2006 season with a victory in the Pan American Championships in October. In 2007, Plaxton will focus on the World Cup Espoir (Under 23) title and on earning points for the 2008 Olympic team selection.

Another Olympic hopeful, Prémont is one of the fastest women on the cross-country mountain bike circuit. Her 2006 achievements included two World Cup victories, a bronze medal at the cross country World Championships, podium finishes at every World Cup race, and her fourth consecutive Canadian National title. Prémont will focus on the World Cup circuit and World Championships in 2007

Three-time world champion and Olympic silver medal winner Alison Sydor continues with the team. Sydor has won an amazing 13 World Championship medals. In 2007, she will race high profile Marathon events and continue to help Canada score points in the Olympic quest.

2007 is the final qualifying race year to earn starting positions for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. With many national team members on its squad, Rocky Mountain will support the Canadian National Team in the quest to maximize Canada's chances for starting positions at those Games.

Looking further ahead, perhaps to the next Olympics in 2012, the team has re-signed young riders Raphael Gagné, Marty Lazarski, Jean Ann McKirdy, and Matt Hadley. 2005 Junior National Champion Gagné finished third overall in the Canadian National Series as a first year espoir racing in the senior category. McKirdy took the 2005 and 2006 U23 women's national championship while Hadley and Lazarski both are coming off solid 2006 seasons.

After a season debut at the Sea Otter Classic April 12-15 in Monterey, California, Prémont, Plaxton, McGrath, and Sydor will go to Europe for World Cup races in Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. McGrath and Bresser will contest the prestigious Trans Alp Challenge victory in July, and Prémont will strive for a third consecutive victory at the World Cup in Mont Sainte-Anne, Québecon June 25. The team looks toward the World Championships in Fort William, Scotland, with a goal of bettering its 2006 performance of winning three medals at the Worlds in New Zealand.

World Cup series kicks off with Gran Canaria marathon this weekend

Pia Sundstedt
Photo ©: Rob Jones
Click for larger image

The first round of the World Cup marathon series will happen this weekend in Gran Canaria. Organizers have been confirming the participation of various racers, who will contest the 90km event. Among them are two top riders from the Gewiss - Bianchi team: Pia Sundstedt from Finland and Thomas Dietsch of France.

Sundstedt, also a cross country ski marathon racer, finished the year 2006, one of the best seasons of her career. She was crowned Finnish National Marathon Champion and European Marathon Champion. She also finished fifth at the Worlds. The 33-year-old Dietsch was European Champion in the marathon in 2003 and 2004.

Meanwhile, Team ALB GOLD announced the participation of German marathon master Hannes Genze. He will take on the likes of roadie Gilbert Simoni. Genze expects technical skills will play a role--a recent storm left some sections of the course washed out and with littered loose debris.

Oceania Championships schedule set

The Oceania Mountain Bike Championships are happening in less than two weeks in Thredbo, NSW, Australia, from Friday March 23 through Sunday March 25. The continental championships will feature the mountain cross, cross country, and downhill disciplines and be contested by elite riders from New Zealand, Australia, New Caledonia, and other Pacific regions.

The event is run by Raw NRG, Threadbo, in conjunction with Mountain Bike Australia. For many elite riders, this is their last race in Australia before heading overseas to compete in the World Cups. Younger riders will be tackling this race as a selection event for the World Championships in Fort William Scotland.

Last year's Oceania championships were held on the World Championships courses in Rotorua, New Zealand.

Friday March 23: Mountain cross heats & finals
Saturday March 24: Downhill qualifying, Men U19 cross country
Sunday, March 25: Downhill finals, Women, Men, and U23 cross country

Gunn-Rita diary: Sunny days on Majorca

We're still on Spanish soil, enjoying fantastic days of exercise and training in the sun. Even though my legs are beginning to get pretty packed with kilometres, we're glad that we postponed our return home. Our last days down here will be utilized to their fullest potential. We'd be happy to stay even longer with conditions as good as these.

We've had unusually good weather for February here on Majorca, meaning that we've been able to do all-important intervals and high intensity loads these last two weeks. My break due to sickness is far behind and we're well under way again. Four days sick in bed were irritating and impractical as always. So in order to complete our planned training for this period in preparation for the upcoming race in a good week from now, we decided to postpone our return a few days.

There are many cyclists at our hotel these days, but our own group has diminished considerably this last week. The final members of Team Merida left on Saturday. Today the mountain-biker Linda and ice-skater Annette left for Norway, so now it's just Lene, Kenneth, and me left here. I know that there are several Norwegian cyclists here on Majorca right now and they're probably also very happy for the fantastic cycling conditions down here.

To read the complete diary entry, click here.

Granny Gear National Points Series to continue

In 2006, Granny Gear Productions announced the inaugural 24 hour National Points Series, which was ultimately contested by 16 teams, yet until recently the fate of the series for 2007 remained uncertain largely due to the expense of running it. However, the series is officially back in action for 2007, with three new events added.

Points will be tracked across 22 pro and amateur categories. To be considered for the overall, the best three of six races will be counted, with a two-race minimum to qualify.

The schedule is below.

April 21-22: 24 hours of Vail Lake (California)
May 19-20: 24 hours of Conyers (Georgia)
June 9-10: 24 hours of Big Bear (West Virginia)
July 28-29: 24 hours of Killington (Vermont)
September 22-23: 24 hours of Landahl (Missouri)
October 13-14: 24 hours of Moab (Utah)

IMBA Announces 2007 Kona Freeriding Grants

Kona Bicycle Company and IMBA will continue their program of awarding cash grants to fund the development of freeriding, downhilling, and dirt jumping projects.

Thirteen US$1,000 awards will be available in support of the program's goal of speeding the development of freeriding opportunities on public land. Grants may be used for a variety of purposes, including gaining land manager approval, addressing liability concerns, construction of technically challenging trails, kiosks and signage, and developing organizations devoted to freeriding.

Funding for the program comes largely from the Buck-A-Bowl bowling tournament held annually in Las Vegas during the Interbike bicycle industry trade show.

IMBA-affiliated clubs in North America may apply until May 15. Grants will be awarded in June 1.

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