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MTB news & racing round-up for November 24, 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

Haywood tells tales from a first La Ruta

By Sue George

America's Susan Haywood (Trek / VW)
Photo ©: Luis A. Rueda Fonseca
(Click for larger image)

Sue Haywood (Trek / VW) came home with a win after competing in her first La Ruta de los Conquistadores. She conquered challenging conditions and defeated three-time women's winner Louise Kobin over four days and 360km. She talked about her first-time experience in Costa Rica's legendary mountain bike stage race.

Haywood (Trek / VW) and Federico "Lico" Ramirez (BCR-Pizza Hut-Powerade-KHS) were crowned champions at the end of the 15th edition of La Ruta which featured plenty of climbing, mud, and railroad bridges to keep things interesting. While it was Ramirez's fourth win, Haywood was a La Ruta newbie. Both winners claimed victory in three of the four total stages.

Haywood decided to do La Ruta after being part of the winning women's team at the TransRockies in August. "[La Ruta] is one of those races that has been on the radar because they say it's the hardest mountain bike race in the world and it's in a warm place in November."

"It's not just a mountain bike race. It is the hardest mountain bike adventure race. To me, it's not just the mountain biking that makes it difficult. There is [almost] no singletrack, and for me, singletrack and mountain biking go hand in hand. But it's certainly a difficult race especially when it's your first time you don't know what's coming up."

"Being in a Latin American country means things are more chaotic and a little bit different. People are really relaxed in general. They know everything isn't going to be like clockwork. There is a feeling of camaraderie because the race is so difficult. People have so much respect for each other that they're doing the race."

The bus transfers and 5:30 am starts only add the culture shock in making the race tough for foreigners.

Haywood was initial worried when rival Louise Kobin caught her,
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

Haywood battled with Louise Kobin (Sho Air-Rock and Road) as her main competition for the race. Kobin has done the race five times and won three times. Her other two attempts have ended in second places.

The two women rode near each other throughout the race, but not with each other. "Since there are 550 people racing, we often stayed close and we couldn't trust what people are saying [about who was where] – things get lost in translation."

"We often rode close but not together except for the last day. For a lot of the race, we were only separated by a few minutes." Then the Trek / VW racer would pull away near the end - at least for the first three stages. Haywood said she spent much of the race riding with the same batch of racers. "There was a group of maybe eight or so people I'd ride with at different times - a lot of the masters guys."

In fact, Haywood rode the first two stages of the race on a borrowed bike, thanks to a local who worked at a nearby Trek dealer. Her bike didn't make it down with her on the airplane. "I was lucky to be able to race. I got my bike for the third and fourth days. The borrowed bike was one size smaller than I normally ride, so I was worried about not being used to it, but everything worked out fine.

The amount and consistency of the mud left an impression on Haywood. "Being from the East Coast and West Virginia, I have seen bits of mud like that, but I guess we just don't have as much clay. It was really slippery clay. It was definitely extreme mud."

"They said some things were better and some were worse as far as the mud went this year. The mud wasn't as soul-crushing as I thought it would be. But it did make the downhills so hard. Sometimes my wheels would stop turning."

To read the complete feature, click here.

Belgians select Olympians

Sven Nys (Rabobank)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Belgium will send three men to the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 including Sven Nys, Roel Paulissen and Filip Meirhaeghe. For some time, whether Belgium would send two or three men to the Olympics looked uncertain; the nation was competing with the US to be in the top five of the UCI's nations rankings. Teams in the top five rankings at the end of 2007 will be eligible to send five men,

The Belgian federation announced Tuesday, according to the press office Belga, that after last weekend's races, it would be mathematically impossible for the US to jump ahead of the Belgians in the rankings before they are finalized at the end of 2007.

Nys, who may be better known as one of the world's top cyclo-crossers, was the lowest on the individual mountain bike rankings of the three candidate Belgian Olympians, so the news that three would go to Beijing meant that Nys would be among the future Olympians. While training in Mallorca, Nys said he was not surprised, but was still happy with the news of his selection. "It will be a true honor. My preparation can now start fully," said Nys to Belga. He will work hard to ready himself for the hot and humid conditions expected next August; the Olympic conditions are expected to be the opposite to the cold and clear conditions in which Nys so consistently excels throughout the 'cross season.

After last weekend's races, the Americans trailed the Belgians by 140 points and a maximum of 130 points is available at the final UCI points race in Chile in December.

Australian national series heads to Gold Coast Hinterland

By Sharon Payne

Dave Whitney (Merida)
Photo ©: Evan Jeffery
(Click for larger image)

Over 500 mountain bikers arrived in Queensland Friday to compete in round two of the Australian National Mountain Bike Series. Olympic hopefuls and daredevil downhillers are converging on the Gold Coast Hinterland at Illinbah for a full weekend of racing. The host club, Gold Coast Mountain Bike Club opened courses for official pre-race practice and racing in four disciplines will begin Saturday morning with the Olympic discipline of cross country.

The elite women will race the Olympic cross country for four laps of the 5.5 km circuit known as tough climbing course with features like Dave's Drop, Sam's Section and Rhino Climb. The women will provide the largest field and close racing is again expected between current series leader, Rowena Fry and second in the series, Jodie Willett. Zoe King will be in the mix along with Imogen Smith while Terri Rhodes is the Under 23 favorite.

The elite men will cover six laps taking up to two hours with riders like Dave Whitney, Dylan Cooper, Shaun Lewis, Ben Mather and Aiden Lefmann fighting it out for the lead.

Four cross racing will happen Friday under the lights with a few BMX Olympic hopefuls testing their skills on the multiple lines on the mountain slope. Jared Graves will headline the field along with New Zealand's Justin Leov. Other contenders will be Michael Young and BMX rider Stevie Janssen. National four cross champion Caroline Buchanan will be challenged by Sarsha Huntington in the women's four cross.

Downhillers will get their turn on Sunday after the short course cross country event. They will chose from the A and B line courses with the A line in the elite men, under 19 and elite women's races with two drops of 50 feet then another 70 foot step down making it one of the most challenging on the national circuit. Riders will traverse a total of 2.3 km over an elevation drop of 520 metres. Times for the elite men are expected to come close to the three minute mark.

World ranked number seven, professional downhiller, Nathan Rennie will have his reputation challenged by Amiel Cavalier, the National Series winner from last season. Jared Rando will return to racing and will meet international rider, Brad Benedict from the US. Adelaide's strong riders Dave West and Craig Yates will throw down the challenge to local stars, Toowoomba's Lindsay Klein and James Maltman.

The Under 19s will highlight young talent with tight racing expected between Rhys Willemse, Will Rischbieth and Shaun O'Connor.

World ranked number three Tracey Hannah will make tough competition for Buchanan and Jane Rutter. Hannah will race for the first time in Australia after placing third at the World Championships in Scotland and third in the World Cup Series in just her first year in the elite class.

Dahle Flesjå on her way back to competition

Gunn-Rita Dahle FlesjŚ
Photo ©: Alexander Farnsworth
(Click for larger image)

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå is working her way back to full form after suffering a viral infection that kept her from competition for most of 2007. The multiple-time world champion is undergoing a tough work-out schedule at home in Stavanger before travelling to Boulder, Colorado, for a few weeks in January for more training.

"I have fully recovered and therefore am fully motivated. Although I cannot really train as much and at the same level of intensity as in previous years yet, I am still convinced that I will be competing for the podium within the world elite next season," said Dahle Flesjå of her situation.

She will return to competition in March 2008, after nearly a year away from the race circuit. As the reigning Olympic champion, the Norwegian is considered as one of the serious contenders at Beijing's Olympic Games, but she is still reluctant to put herself under pressure. "Thinking about medals does not make any sense yet at the moment. I guess I will be able to give a more precise estimate on my chances for the Olympic games by the month of May." said Dahle Flesjå

As Multivan Merida Biking Team's manager, Andreas Rottler is looking forward to Dahle Flesjå's return. "We are convinced that an athlete of Gunn-Rita's caliber will be able to catch up with the world elite quickly." After knowing her for many years, Rottler said, "She still is the big favourite for Beijing's Olympic games."

To read Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå's most recent diary entry, in which she describes her efforts to resume training, click here.

Fairclough takes final Honda team victory

Brendan Fairclough (Great Britain)
Photo ©: Mikkeli Godfree
(Click for larger image)

Brendan Fairclough wrapped up Team G-Cross Honda's final victory with a win in Motril, Spain for a round of the Andalucia Cup. The team recently announced it would be coming to an end.

The race took place on a recent Sunday in sunny 20 degree (Celsius) temperatures with more than 200 other competitors, including reigning European Champion David Vazquez of Barcelona. Motril has become a true center for downhill racing in Southern Spain and his home to one of the country's top young riders, Ruben Garcia.

In the morning's race, British rider Tom Deacon, who lives in Spain, took the win by half a second ahead of Fairclough and then Vazquez. However in the second race Deacon had a problem and wasn't able to improve on his time, whereas Fairclough pushed to find another two seconds on the rocky and dry two-minute course, and in so doing, won the race.

"That was a lot of fun that race. I don't get to race on that type of surface often. The locals here are really into their racing which is great to see," said Fairclough. "It's hard for me to imagine that this was the last time I will ride the Honda. It has been an amazing experience this year and I'm really happy to have been part of it".

"Damn, Brendan smoked me today!" said Vazquez after his defeat. "Actually, the times were all really close and you couldn't make a single mistake on this course. I had a great run in the second race and just enjoyed being down here. I love it when I come down here, I might have to look for an apartment here; it feels like home now!"

Back in 2004, Greg Minnaar took Honda's first race win outside of Japan. The race was also in Spain as a round of the Andalucian Cup held in the southern coastal town of Motril.

Dates for US mountain bike nationals finalized

USA Cycling finalized its calendar of mountain bike national championships for 2008. Dates and venues were announced for titles to be awarded in cross country, gravity, marathon, 24 hour and collegiate disciplines. All four venues return after hosting championships in 2007.

July 4: USA Cycling Mountain Bike Marathon National Championships to Breckenridge, Colorado
July 17-20: USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships to Mount Snow Resort in West Dover, Vermont
August 2-3: USA Cycling 24-Hour Mountain Bike National Championships to 9-Mile County Forest in Wausau, Wisconsin
October 24-26: USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships to Banner Elk, North Carolina

Ripon College to offer scholarships

Wisconsin's Ripon College announced it will offer cycling as a team sport for men and women beginning with competition in mountain biking next fall. The Red Hawk cycling team will compete at the Division 2 level as a member of the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference against colleges and universities from Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio.

Ripon is the first college in Wisconsin to offer cycling as an officially sanctioned part of its athletic program and is only one of several throughout the country. Ric Damm will serve as the team's first cycling coach. He brings 10 years of racing experience with him as a regular participant of the Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) and various Wisconsin Cycling Association (WCA) road events.

"Hopefully, I can transfer my experiences training and racing into support for our student-athletes who want to push themselves to new levels of competition in a sport that they love," said Damm, who is also Ripon College's director of publications and institutional image. "Cycling is a passion for me, and I plan to build this program with young men and women who share that passion."

For more information on the school's new team, visit www.ripon.edu/athletics/cycling.

60km of trails in Aussie 24-hour triple loop

By John Stevenson

Australian 24-hour race organisers seem to be battling to see who can offer the longest and most interesting race courses. A few weeks ago the Scott 24-Hour in Canberra boasted a 39km course with two distinct loops and now the Kona 24-hour, set for December 1-2 in Forrest, Victoria, is offering 60km of trails in three loops.

Race director Kristjan "Snozza" Snorrason is raving about the quality of the trails in the area around the Victoria country town of Forrest. "[They are] best I have ever seen. I know it is a big call, but they have to be ridden to be believed," he says. The course will feature, "tight and twisty tea-tree tracks, curvy trails that disappear around giant ferns and unbelievable berm rides through beautiful rainforest."

Snozza plans to mix up the 24 hour race format with an unusual twist. The race will use one of the three loops during the first daylight stretch, another at night and a third for the finishing loops on Sunday morning. The idea is to have a "rollercoaster single track to get things started, a speedy flowing loop for night laps and then something fresh to test your skills in the morning," he says.

Renowned trail builder Glen Jacobs has built many of the Forrest trails. Jacobs was responsible for the legendary 1996 world championships course in Cairns, Australia and has been working on the courses at Mt Stromlo, Canberra, Australia for the 2009 worlds. Those trails have also been getting rave reviews.

But you don't get great trails without local knowledge and local trail builder Jeff Fox has also been instrumental in constructing the tracks, along with Victoria's Department of Sustainability and Environment.

"The quality of his work is fantastic," says Snozza. "It puts him up there with the best trail builders in the world. Jeff showed us well over 30km of different trails that were all worthy of being in the event! We can't have a loop that does justice to all of them, but don't want riders to miss out, hence the three course concept."

Race centre will be at the Yaugher-Forrest football ground where the football club will be serving spit roast and beer. Entries are limited to 800, either as solo riders or in teams of between two and six riders or teams of 10.

For more information, visit www.fullgaspromotions.com.au.

Australian desert mountain bike epic returns

By John Stevenson

Australian race organisers Rapid Ascent have announced details of the Bullrider Mountain Bike Stage Race in the MacDonnell Ranges around Alice Springs, Northern Territory. The five-day, seven stage event will run May 19 - 23, 2008, with all stages starting and finishing "within rolling distance of Alice Springs," according to Rapid Ascent.

The Bullrider is the reincarnation of the event formerly known as the Central Australian Bike Challenge (CABC). The couple hundred riders that took part in the 2006 Central Australian Bike Challenge still talk in hushed tones of amazing scenery, swooping singletrack and perfect winter desert conditions. Hushed, that is, unless the memories take over and they start to rave, and then weep because the original organisers were unable to continue the race in 2007.

The Bullrider returns to the CABC terrain and some of the organising team from CABC are on board to provide local knowledge. "Jack Oldfield approached us to take it over in the wake of [our] Otway Odyssey success," said Andrew Connolly of Rapid Ascent to BikeRadar. Connolly says that the original CABC team "have basically set the course and told us exactly how they used to run it. Given how well it was received pretty much universally, we figured it would be stupid to ignore it.

"There's a few things we can do quite well, but we're not looking at running it 'our way' per se, simply adding to what was already a great event."

The local trail fairies have been busy though. "Apparently the trails are better now than when it used to be run - more quality tracks have been built," says Connolly. Highlights of the Bullrider include a 45-second dash-for-cash time trial stage up Anzac Hill in the centre of Alice Springs, and, at the other end of the scale, a 90km mass-start run from Red Ross Station deep in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges back to the Alice.

Reminiscing about the CABC, Sydney rider Matt Barr told BikeRadar, "The locals have put in some amazing work over time, building some great singletrack into the hills around town. Couple that with some longer stages that take in the fantastic McDonnell Ranges makes the riding top notch. Yes, there was lots of sand. And more than a few corrugations. But that's really part of the fun."

The prize list for serious types is pretty generous, with AUS$2,500 on offer for the first male and female riders, down to AUS$300 for fifth. Registration opens Monday. For more information, visit www.rapidascent.com.au/Bullrider.

Registration opens for Albstadt MTB Classic

The Gonso Albstadt MTB Classic 2008 announced registration opens this week for its event on June 15. In addition to hosting the European marathon championships for licensed riders, the event holds races of three different distances for the non-licensed rider, and for the third year in a row, it serves as the German National Championships for health professionals and pharmacists.

Distance options are 23, 46 and 100km. For the first time in history, there will be a U23 category for both the men and women. Participants should expect a scenic course through the hills of the Swabian Alb with plenty of spectators.

For Registration and more race information, visit www.albstadt-mtb-classic.de.

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