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MTB news & racing round-up for November 2, 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

Bettin wins Crocodile Trophy

On the way to Cape Tribulation Herremans' performance inspires

By John Flynn in Daintree, Australia

Mauro Bettin and Marc Herremans
Photo ©: John Flynn
(Click for larger image)

Italy's Mauro Bettin claimed overall victory in the Crocodile Trophy as the race rolled into Cape Tribulation on its tenth and final stage. After nine stages of tough racing, racers knew the finish times for stage 10 did not count, and instead of racing for final glory, they chose to ride together in support of Marc Herremans, a paraplegic Belgian athlete whose achievements in the race inspired both fellow racers and fans around the world. The top riders formed a sort of honor guard to escort Herremans to the finish.

"I am so very happy to win the Crocodile Trophy," said Bettin, who was the leader of the Felt Dream Team. "The first time I come here I finish second, then I finished second again. To win the Crocodile is amazing."

Czech Ondrej Fojtik (Toyota Dolak), returning this year for his second assault on the epic race, was equally pleased to take his place on the podium next to an honourable champion in Bettin. "I'm satisfied with the second place, Mauro was stronger, better than me," Fojtik admitted.

"It was great for me, I won the last stage and it was super." The tough Czech also hinted that his Crocodile Trophy dream is far from done with. "Sure I will be back and I can win this great race," he said.

Third place outright in the Trophy belonged to Dane Allan Carlsen, a rider who may have the right attributes to one day be a champion of the race himself. "I'm super happy with it, I can really enjoy it now, it's been super," Carlsen said. "I really love that it was so competitive this year, there was so many strong guys."

Team Flight Centre's Tim Bennett became only the second Australian to earn a place on the final podium. He finished fourth in the General classification and third in the elite men's classification were a result of ten days of consistent riding. His finish exceeded his own expectations.

Celebrations for all
Photo ©: John Flynn
(Click for larger image)

"Yeah I'm over the moon, what can you say, you come here to achieve a goal and you over-achieve your goal, there's nothing better," Bennett said. "It's pretty high up there (on his list of achievements) for such a big international race. It's the first time I've finished on the podium against European guys."

Italy's Michela Benzoni was ecstatic with her result as the women's winner. She may have been the strongest woman ever to contest the race, and she managed to finish high up in the classification in mostly male company, a feat more worthy given she has little history of contesting stage races. "Crocodile Trophy is very, very hard …," she said before answering the question about whether she would return to defend her title. "Impossible, never never never… no no no no."

Of all the finishers, Herreman's may have been the most proud. "Coming over the finish line seeing all the athletes cheering me on is just another great feeling after the accident," an emotional Herremans said as he cast his eyes to the ocean in wonder. "Paralysis doesn't stop you doing great things in your life." He was paralyzed after an accident in 2002 and hand-cycled his way through the Crocodile Trophy.

"Some people say that health is the biggest thing that you can have but if you are very very healthy and you have no friends you have no life," Herremans said. "I am not healthy I am paralysed from the chest down, but I have so much friends that I may be one of the happiest men in the world."

Although he's also won the Ironman, Herremans found great pleasure in his Crocodile Trophy win. "For me it's the biggest one," Herremans said. "Here it was nine days in a row that I had to give everything and I was totally finished, blown up at the finish line, you have to keep on going, keep on going," he said. "To be at the finish line is an amazing feeling even though I'm amazingly tired. I just enjoy the moment, it is great."

For full coverage of the Crocodile trophy, click here.

Australia national downhill and cross country series to open this weekend

By Sharon Payne

Tory Thomas
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)
South Australia's new Eagle Mountain Bike Park will host its biggest event to date when the first round of the 2007-2008 Australian National Mountain Bike Series gets underway this weekend. Although the park was opened in December 2006, this will be the largest competition held at the venue. Over 400 competitors from around the country are set to race in the first round for cross country Olympic distance and downhill. The race will be the first national cross country event held in South Australia.

Saturday's elite women's and men's events will attract riders aiming for Olympic selection. Adelaide's Chris Jongewaard along with fellow Commonwealth Games rider, Sid Taberlay from Tasmania will headline the men's field.

National cross country champion Tory Thomas; national marathon champion and Adelaide state cross country and downhill champion Jayne Rutter (Adelaide); and last year's first series race winner Zoe King are among those who will mix it up in the women's cross country. A strong group of developing riders that are part of the "Dirt Roads to London" program including National Marathon Champion, Rowena Fry from Launceston could challenge Thomas's domination of last year's series.

The "Dirt Roads to London" initiative is in its second year and already the selected riders have shown improvement. One such rider, Terri Rhodes from Adelaide is elated to have the event in the Adelaide hills. "I can't wait to show my coach how much I've improved," she said. "The majority of the course is singletrack which I like. The climbs are technical and singletrack climbs which I like as well."

For Rhodes who rode her first mountain bike at the first testing session for the program knows her skills have improved dramatically since then. "I showed a bit of potential but in terms of mountain bike specific skills I didn't have any," she admitted. "I want to show my coach how much I've improved. I know this track so that will help."

With South Australia hosting other major cycling events such as the professional Tour Down Under and the BMX Supercross World Cup in 2008, the Eagle Mountain Bike Park will assist in raising the profile of mountain biking throughout the nation and in particular in South Australia. Two clubs, the Adelaide Mountainbike Club (AMBC) and Insideline Downhill Mountainbike Club (IL), along with the Office of Recreation and Sport are taking the venue to a new level of event hosting.

According to event manager, Nick Rudzki, this event will showcase some talented downhill riders like National downhill series champion Amiel Cavalier. "We have upcoming talent with enormous potential from 15 to 19 year-olds and some of them will certainly follow Sam Hill's path to becoming a World Champion," he said. "In fact I think one of the future World Champions will come from South Australia."

Over the past two years the discipline of downhill has seen an increase of 30 percent in South Australia. Adelaide riders have also claimed many high national rankings and elite riders such as Craig Yates and Dave West leading the state. West also claimed second place overall in last year's national series.

The younger ranks of downhill are swelling with talent with riders such as national under 15 champion, Troy Brosnan and Will Rischbieth. Rischbieth claimed the Oceania Championship title and also the under 19 national series title. He recently represented Australia at the World Championships in Fort William, Scotland.

With Australian downhill riders among the best ranked in the world, race times are expected to be close during competition on Sunday. "With top riders expecting to near the two and a half minute mark there could be a huge advantage for the local riders," claimed Rudzki. "For them knowledge of the local track and could save precious seconds."

Cross country racing starts Saturday morning. Downhill qualifying begins on Sunday at 1:00 pm local time with final runs starting near 4:00 pm.

Cross Country close to home for Jongewaard

By Sharon Payne

Chris Jongewaard
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)
For Australian national cross country champion Chris Jongewaard the best part of this weekend's race in Adelaide will be not travelling to another city. For the first time in his mountain bike career the 28 year-old will race on his home turf at the new Eagle Mountain Bike Park.

"It's going to be a different feeling waking up and heading to a race from your own home," said Jongewaard.

"This is break through for Adelaide," he said. "Every day it's becoming a high class cycling city."

Jongewaard recently returned to Australia after racing the World Cups, World Championships and the mountain bike test event in Beijing. He is the highest ranked Australian in 26th position with 643 points.

Team-mate, Sid Taberlay from Tasmania will also start his Australian series assault in Adelaide after winning the overall series last season. Lining up will be Canberra's Dylan Cooper after claiming second in last year's season and competing at the World Championships he could be a threat.

Adelaide's Shaun Lewis will not compete this Saturday but instead is working to raise enough money for his overseas campaign for season. His counterpart with the same name from Canberra is on the start list and is expected to challenge the leaders.

Last season's early leader, Aiden Lefmann is expected to put the pressure on early in the six or seven lap race along with young under 23 series winner Cal Britten from Victoria.

Coronet Peak withdraws from hosting Oceania Championships

Brisbane's James Maltman at the 2007 Oceania Games
Photo ©: Evan Jeffery
(Click for larger image)

Following the announcement of a massive redevelopment at Coronet Peak, the mountain resort has withdrawn itself as host of the 2008 NZCT Oceania Mountain Bike Championships. Nelson has been confirmed as the replacement host.

Southern Alpine Recreation General Manager of Sales and Marketing David Ovendale said that while he and the project team had explored multiple possibilities to retain the event for Coronet Peak, it simply was not going to be achievable while the redevelopment projects were underway.

"We are naturally extremely disappointed to announce that we will be unable to host the event. It was to run in mid-March which is a time when the construction of the new base building and particularly the development of a huge snowmaking project would be in full swing."

"It is particularly disappointing because mountain biking at Coronet Peak has gone from strength to strength over the past two years and we were anticipating a record season in our third year. 148 new snow gun pits, the same number of fixed above ground machines and two new reservoirs, would present a real safety hazard and we felt we had no choice but to withdraw as the host.

"We would like to extend our apologies to everyone who has been inconvenienced by this decision, particularly participants and those at MTBNZ and BikeNZ who have already put a lot of time and effort into event planning.

Ovendale said Coronet Peak was doing what it could to support the new venue and that ultimately mountain biking would benefit from the developments that were taking place. The venue will still host the Tyre Brake Burner endurance race the weekend of February 3 and a leg of both the downhill and cross country South Island Cup Series January 4-6.

The 2008 NZCT Oceania Mountain Bike Championships will happen March 12-16, with more details on the timetable and venue to be released soon.

Tidewater Challenge sees 20 years of mountain bike trends come and go

By Sue George

Tidewater Challenge regular Jeremiah Bishop (Trek/VW)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The Tidewater Challenge, held near Williamsburg, Virginia, celebrated its 20th annual running last weekend. During that time Race director Steve Nevins, who's run the event for every edition, has seen the trends come and go in cross country mountain bike racing.

The race's attendance topped out at 375 attendees over a decade ago. "That year I still had a first timer class. There were over 100 first timers and over 100 beginners. That was back in 1994 when mountain biking, in my opinion, peaked. It was when the mountain bike was being used at the hot tool in marketing," said Nevins who reflected back to a pre-X-games time when cross country mountain biking was still perceived as extreme and appeared in many TV commercials to advertise non-cycling products.

"Now it's kind of switched," Nevins said. "The hard core people who were in it from the beginning – they're now in the vet and master classes or doing the enduro. My beginner classes are small which is not really good for the sport. It's a little bit like a stock; you can watch the participants to judge the sports' future."

Nevins is doing his part to grow participation. "I went back to making the kids class a free class." He also pointed to a program in motorcross that could serve as a model to get kids into the sport in the future. "If you look at motorcross, there are huge kids' classes. You even have to have a certain GPA in school to qualify to participate. One motorcycle manufacturer provides the bikes for a day and kids have to apply." It's a privilege for the young racers to compete and their expenses are reduced with the help of manufacturers.

Nevins isn't sure why there aren't more youth racers. "The TV coverage died off," he offered as one possible explanation. "When mountain biking started, it was looked at as an extreme sport. It was before X-games, but it had that kind of feel. Now you've got guys on motorcyles and bikes doing back flips and downhills. It's like [cross country] mountain biking is kind of confused about what it is. It's not road racing, it's not like the Tour de France. It's not like downhill guys dropping off eight foot ledges or doing backflips. It doesn't seem to be marketed well." Last but not least, Nevins pointed out that the US is not particularly bike-friendly, which only discourages new participants.

Around the time Nevins started promoting his race in the late 1980s, there were just two other men in Virginia putting on mountain bike races: Eric Cohen and Kyle Inman. It was an era before there were designated mountain bike trails and riders just went where they could, often on trails poorly designed for bicycle use.

"That first day when the race happened, I was walking through to make sure the ribbons were up on the road part of the course, and I could hear people riding and talking on a pre-ride and they were talking about how cool it was. This was back in 1989 before there were designated trails for mountain biking – we just rode hiking trails. This was something specific for mountain biking. I took what Eric started and put it through the roof. I'm a course guy. I like setting stuff up and making people ride fun stuff."

The race has been held at three venues including the Newport News' Mariner's Museum Park for the first two years. The park decided instead to focus on hiking and walking trails and so Nevins "moved to another venue for one year, which was the same as used by the Peninsula 100 motorcycle harescramble course." Starting with the fourth annual event, the race moved to its current location – thanks in part due to Nevins' motorcross background and connections.

Even after 20 years, there are improvements to be made. Nevins is always tweaking the course, which is on private land and not open for riding other than for the race. "This year was the best course ever. It's about four miles. It still has whoop de doos and tight and twisty and I try to make it flow really well. I change it over the year. It flows really good if you stay on the course. It flows badly if you get off the course. So it's not the most beginner friendly course ever - riders may struggle if they're not as good with shifting and steering."

This year's race attracted 275 racers and marked the end of the season of mountain bike racing in Virginia. Nevins is already looking forward, with plans to streamline the logistics of the race and focus on the riding and the course. "I want to keep it going. I may just try to outlast everybody (laughing). I just want to simplify it a little bit. I'm leery to use the word down-size. I think I'll cut out some stuff."

He plans to reduce perks like flyers, pint glasses and water bottles to reduce logistics. "That stuff hurts my race day stuff because my brain is fried and the questions of racers don't resonate."

The men's race on Sunday was won by Jeremiah Bishop ahead of Todd Helmick and Jeff Schalk. Sue Haywood won the women's race ahead of Cheryl Sorenson and Carolyn Popovich. All six racers ride for Trek/VW, a team that consistently shows its support for the annual event.

Michigan cyclists work to halt possible trail closure

By Sue George

Michigan mountain bikers are on the verge of losing access to the Shingle Mill Pathway in the Pigeon River Country Forest. The 11 mile loop shares terrain with the 80 mile IMBA Epic ride called the High Country Pathway through the state-owned forest.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is in process of reviewing the forest management plan. An initial draft was released earlier this year, with many public comments coming back in favor of continued mountain bike access.

"Unfortunately, the final draft is a reversal of the initial draft which has supported the Shingle Mill Pathway as bike-friendly," said Eric Isaacsen, the Shingle Pathway trail coordinator for the Michigan Mountain Bike Association (MMBA) and its Northern Chapter President.

"After the public comment period, a steering committee of the forest held some closed door meetings. They recommended abolishing bikes from the Pathway, " said Isaacsen. "They say they want to reduce user impact and avoid user conflict." However, recent studies have shown that mountain biking and hiking have similar impacts, and a recent IMBA book explains how potential or actual user conflict can be reduced with certain trail features as part of the initial design or subsequent improvements.

The revised plan proposes to shift mountain bikes to forest roads and double track, but Isaacsen worries that will simply shift user conflict to the roads where potentially dangerous encounters with motorized vehicles and bicycles, often travelling at significantly slower speeds, will increase.

The MMBA has historically aligned itself with the Pigeon River Country Association to support non-motorized uses within the area. The DNR's forest division is currently reviewing the final draft plan and will host a meeting seeking public comment on November 8 at the DNR Headquarters in Lansing, Michigan.

Isaacsen reports that the DNR has been flooded recently by comments supporting continued bike access. To view a copy of the plan, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr. For more information on how to comment, visit www.mmba.org/forum and select the Northern Chapter thread.

BC Bike Race registration filling quickly

Organizers of the BC Bike Race, which is scheduled for June 28 to July 4, 2008, announced they have reached the 50% mark with regard to registration. All 400 spots are expected to fill with teams of two and four. The 2007 edition was won by Chris Eatough and Jeff Schalk (Trek/VW).

The 2008 race will cover seven days, 600km and 10,000m from Victoria to Whistler. The race is the brainchild of Dean Payne.

"Last year we were a new product on the market - it was a huge success. This year we are taking our time to ensure that no stone, no berm, no possible extra piece of tasty singletrack is left un-ridden," said Day 5 and Day 6 course director Grant Lamont.

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