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MTB news & racing round-up for April 5, 2008

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

A day in the life of an Epic rider

Just how easy do the pro riders have it?

By Nic Lamond in South Africa

Cape Epic women's leaders Rocky Mountain's Pia Sundstedt and Alison Sydor
Photo ©: Karin Schermbrucker / SPORTZPICS
(Click for larger image)

So just what does it take to stay on the bike and in the Absa Cape Epic for its nine arduous days? Well, the answer varies considerably depending who you ask. And after which stage…

For backmarkers it can be hard enough to make the 10-hour cut-off each day. The weather is unbearably hot - peaking at 39 degrees Celsius as riders traversed South Africa's inland Karoo desert region a few days ago. The terrain is unforgiving and lies waiting to slash tyre sidewalls or destroy derailleurs in a heartbeat. And mechanical wear-and-tear routinely shatters the ambitions of riders of even the most meticulously maintained bikes. But it doesn't end there.

If riders manage to negotiate the demanding course within the cut-off time a manic scramble awaits their arrival at the overnight stop. Bikes need to be cleaned, repaired and finally lubed in preparation for the next day's battle with the elements. Riders also need to find their kit bags that have been transported en masse from the previous stage finish. Securing one of the 1,200 tents erected overnight is their next task - preferably one close to the showers and a short walk from the dinner marquee, but not too close to the rows of portable toilets whose plastic doors bang incessantly throughout the night. If you arrive late you can guaranteed your much needed sleep will be in a tent with front row access to the all-night toilet door recital.

For those who think ahead, or arrive early, teams of physiotherapists will gladly soften aching muscles, but for those most in need getting the bike ready to roll off the start line in the morning takes precedence and the body must wait till bed time to get its only reprieve of the day.

Then it's dinner time. At 6:00 pm the huge white tent fills with riders and press as teams of chefs serve up a carbohydrate feast for all participants. The daily prize-giving kicks off with its cheesy soundtrack and then the virtual fly-through of the following day's trail follows.

If serious bike repairs are needed - and the riders' race planning didn't include hiring a personal mechanic - riders often remain tinkering with their machines well past midnight.

At 5:00 am a foghorn wakes the sleeping masses and the riders need to eat, collect their bikes and pack everything up before the start gun is fired at 7:00 am. Not surprisingly the campsite in the half light of the morning looks more like a graveyard meeting for zombies than the athletes' village it claims to be.

Read the complete feature.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Cape Epic in progress in South Africa.

NMBS round two racers to compete amid blooming desert

By Sue George with assistance from Dave McElwaine

Fountain Hills NMBS men's cross country start
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Only the cross country types will head to Fountain Hills, Arizona, for the next round of the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS). Round two starts Friday, just a few days after round one ended in Fontana, California.

Racing action will kick off Friday with the NOVA marathon on which pros will race three laps of the 23.4 mile course and amateurs will tackle two. Later in the day will be time for some gravity-assisted fun in the form of a Super D time trial race, with elite riders spaced ten seconds apart.

On Saturday the elite racers will take on an afternoon short track and the weekend wraps up Sunday with semi-pro and elite cross country races. In an unusual format for an NMBS event and new to Fountain Hills, elites will compete in multiple events as part of a stage race. The short track, which was held last year at night in downtown Fontana will be held during daylight hours at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

Georgia Gould (Luna MTB Women's Team), Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) and Barry Wicks (Kona) will be the racers to beat. Gould won both the cross country and the short track at the opening round, both times ahead of her team-mate Katerina Nash, while Kabush and Wicks split victories last weekend. Eyes will also be on Wendy Simms (Kona) who showed she can contend with the fastest women after a strong winter cyclo-cross season. The Canadian finished third in both the cross country and the short track at Fontana.

The desert in bloom
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Look out also for Catherine Prendrel (Luna), Mical Dyck (Trek / Terrascape) and youngster Emily Batty (Trek Bicycle Store) in the women's races. Max Plaxton (Rocky Mountain), Adam Craig (Giant), Ross Schnell (Trek / VW) will be the men to watch in the men's events.

In last year's cross country, Gould rode away from all the other women for a solo win and Kabush rode three laps with Todd Wells (GT) before one of his attacks stuck. Kabush will be really fired up after coming one step closer to John Tomac's record number of NMBS cross country wins last weekend.

In general, course conditions are reported to be among the best in years, with the singletrack is much firmer due to spring rains. All the washes are rideable. The "power" course will favor the riding styles of Wicks and his team-mate Ryan Trebon although it will not suit riders like Jeremy Horgan Kobelski (Gary Fisher / Subaru) as well.

Again several big names will be absent from the NMBS. Cape Epic racers like Jeremiah Bishop (Trek / VW), Sue Haywood (Trek / VW) and Jenny Smith are still busy with the nine-day South African stage race. And riders like Todd Wells (GT), Mary McConneloug (Kenda / Seven), Michael Broderick (Kenda / Seven), Sam Jurekovic (U23 National Team), and Colin Cares (U23 National Team) all are headed to South American for the Pan Am Games in Venezuela, also this weekend.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the NMBS #1 from last weekend in Fontana, California.

World Cup returns to Madrid

The start of the women's World Cup in Madrid in 2006
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

Just one month remains until riders converge upon the Casa de Campo Park in Madrid, Spain, on May 4 for the third cross country round of the UCI World Cup. The event will happen just a few months before the Olympic Games and is part of the selection process of team members for some nations. It'll be the seventh time Madrid hosts the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.

Top riders confirmed to attend the race include reigning world champion and 2007 World Cup overall winner Julien Absalon of France. Absalon is the top favorite to repeat a gold medal in Beijing. Challenging him will be 2007 World Cup runner-up Christoph Sauser of Switzerland and 2007 European Champion José Antonio Hermida of Spain.

On the women's side, former world and European champion and overall winner of the 2006 World Cup Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjå (Norway) will be in Madrid along with world champion Irina Kalentyeva of Russia and 2007 European champion Sabine Spitz of Germany.

Racers will tackle a seven-kilometer track with its traditional "hot spots" for visitors including Cuesta de la Muerte (Death Downhill), a very technical downhill, and Subida Infernal (hell's uphill), because so many riders have to hike-a-bike up it. The final hot spot is closer to the start / finish and includes wooden steps.

Fans will have the chance to participate in guided tours and races on May 3, the day before the World Cup. For more information, visit www.mountainbikemadrid.com.

The first World Cup opens in Belgium in just a few weeks on April 20 and then heads to Germany on April 27.

Gary Fisher rolls out 29er crew

Gary Fisher Bikes' team of exclusive 29er riders announced a 43-rider strong grassroots team for 2008. Ranging in age from 17 to 50, its riders hail from the wooded Northeast of Vermont, the Southwestern deserts of California, the shores of the United Kingdom, and everywhere in between. They'll be racing cross country, endurance and XTerra on bikes ranging from singlespeed to full suspension 29ers.

The 40-plus person team includes notable individuals such as recent 24 hour US National Champion Cameron Chambers; current National Cyclo-cross Singlespeed Champion Marko LaLonde; current Chequamegon 40 Champ Jesse LaLonde (yes, they're brothers); longtime Fisher regional racer and brain tumor survivor Michael Patrick; Subaru-Gary Fisher team mechanic Matt Opperman; 2007 US National Championship top-ten finisher Sam Koerber; and, of course, Gary Fisher himself.

Pokoj joins Felt

Darren Pokoj riding for his former team MS/Intense
Photo ©: Andrew Threlfall
(Click for larger image) Newly signed MS/Intense rider Darren Pokoj had to borrow a bike after some major technical difficulties.

Felt Bicycles is pleased to announce that mountain bike rider

Australian Darren Pokoj became the newest member of the 2008 Felt Team after recently signing a contract to ride for the team. The 21 year-old has drawn attention during various worldwide contacts over the past two years.

A young pro, Pokoj made his mark at the Nissan Qashqai Challenge in Madrid, Spain, while at the same time demonstrating his personal style including nosedive 360s also called "down under threes". Pokoj began in BMX 12 years ago and later he moved into mountain biking. He became a successful downhill and 4X rider, winning various national and international competitions in 2004 and 2005. In 2006, he also focused on freeride and slopestyle competitions. Along the way he won the slopestyle at the Red Bull Trailfox, becoming the "Vienna Air King," and later placed fifth at the Adidas Slopestyle and sixth at the Red Bull District Ride in Italy - even with a broken ankle!

The young rider has been off enjoying the down-under summer on the Gold Coast of Australia and beginning this month, he will head to Europe to target the major international contests.

Pokoj joins other Felt team members including German Joscha Forstreuter and American Cam Zink.

USAC offers new U23 MTB stipend program

US U23 National Champion Sam Jurekovic (U23 National Team) placed 4th at the NMBS in Fontana last weekend
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

USA Cycling announced a new financial incentive program to support American U23 mountain bikers racing at a national level. The program, called the U23 Mountain Bike Support and Identification Program, awards performance stipends to men's and women's cross country racers who meet certain criteria at qualifying events.

A US$1,000 cash stipend will be paid to U23 men who finish in the top three of the elite category of the program's qualifying events, while those who manage a fourth through 10th-place finish will be paid $750. U23 women who place in the top-three of their respective elite category will also earn $1,000, while those who finish fourth through seventh will receive $750.

The qualifying events include the Fontana NMBS in Southern California held last weekend, the Santa Ynez Valley NMBS in Los Olivos, California, on May 18, the Deer Valley NMBS in Park City, Utah, on June 29 and the Windham Mountain NMBS in New York, on July 12.

The program joins other USAC incentive measures such as the Podium Program, the Podium Bonus Program and the Elite Mountain Bike Performance Stipend Program.

Irish Olympic pick to be decided this weekend

Multiple Irish cross country champion Robin Seymour is expected to secure his place in this summer's Olympic Games on Sunday, when he takes part in the last of three selection events held to determine which Irish rider will be sent to Beijing. Round three of the K-Capital Cup cross country series heads to Djouce Woods near Bray in County Wicklow on Sunday. No less than thirteen overseas elite men are expected to make the trip to Ireland for the UCI Category 2 race.

After finishing second and first in the other races, Seymour has a clear lead for the Irish Olympic spot over Niall Davis. It would take a win by the latter plus a DNF from Seymour in order for the younger rider to get the nod for the 2008 Games. The third rider in the running, Conor McConvey, took a fine third place in the second round held in Moneyscalp Wood but missed out on the first due to a broken shoulder. The resulting loss of points makes it impossible for him to now aim for Beijing.

Seymour, Davis and McConvey will face the best top elite riders like British Champion Oli Beckingsale, who won round one at Kilruddery. Joining Beckingsale will be Ross Creber, David Fletcher, Ian Bibby, Gareth Montgomery, Lee Williams with Paul Beales. Along with this British-based group will be Swiss rider Christoph Bischof, Czech George Hudeckova, young Polish rider Rafal Plucinski, German Jochen Cochonelli and from Sweden Micke Haggquist. Canadian Kevin Calhoun completes the line up as a special guest of K-Capital sponsor Mark Kenny. Other Irish riders to watch include Ryan Sherlock, Dave Barry, Richard Felle, Evan Ryan, Graham Boyd and Joe McCall.

In the elite women's race, Mel Spath won the round at Moneyscalp and will defend her leader's jersey against Beth McLuskey, Jess Laird, Ann Duffy and Ciara McManus. In the junior category, Banbridge CC's Liam McGreevy has scored two wins and will be out to make it a treble with his challengers including Paul O'Reilly, Neil McGimpsey and Conal Higgins.

Ireland has already secured two slots for the road race. Selection for these will be confirmed at a later date in the season. David O'Loughlin's sixth place in the individual pursuit at last week's world track championships in Manchester may possibly secure a fourth place for Ireland, although it is understood that he is still awaiting confirmation from the UCI.

Greenbriar Challenge to serve as backdrop for new MTB movie

Organizers of Maryland's Greenbrier Challenge on April 27 will have their event filmed as part of an upcoming feature movie MAX VO2 The Potential Inside starring Ransford Doherty and featuring champion American mountain bikers Jeremiah Bishop and Chris Eatough. The film, scheduled for theatrical release in 2009, is a fictional drama of relationships set against the backdrop of professional cycling.

According to the film's website, it will be about a veteran cyclist who "is given an opportunity he doesn't want, to train a rookie cycling prodigy". He is grieving over a tragic automobile accident and only reluctantly takes on the prodigy, Jake. The two use technology and scientific training methods to transform the young rider into a top contending cyclist.

The highly technical aspect of mountain biking is one of the things the movie's producer is focusing on, "This movie is going to be technically accurate. I cringe when I see things in movies like bike racers shifting to a lower gear to go faster. I used to race as a semi-pro myself, which is how I know Jeremiah (Bishop) and Chris (Eatough), so I'm making sure this is an accurate portrayal," said Executive Producer Scotty Curlee of Red Cloud Productions.

"This isn't going to be like other cycling movies that Hollywood has done. Mainstream viewers are going to be surprised at how technical bike racing is, and cyclists are going to be pleased with how accurate the scenes are, even though it's a completely fictional story."

The Greenbrier Challenge, an event on the USA Cycling National Mountain Bike Calendar, is on race where American juniors can qualify for the USA National Team to compete in the World Championships in Italy later this year. Racers of all levels can also qualify for the US National Mountain Bike Championship in Mt. Snow, Vermont in July.

Determination sees Kempson through Cape Epic

By Nic Lamond in South Africa

Robbie Kempson
Photo ©: Karin Schermbrucker / SPORTZPICS
(Click for larger image)

As the Cape Epic heads to its final stop, the casualty list keeps climbing. That's not surprising. Not only are the distances participants covering long and technically demanding in unbearable heat, but the terrain is littered with obstacles waiting to snare deraillleurs or destroy wheelsets. Even if your body can handle the pain, your bike may not. At the end of stage six, 180 (17.7%) of the racers who started in Knysna had abandoned the race with mechanical breakdowns or physical injuries that make going even another pedal stroke further impossible.

That is why the race of one individual is being so eagerly followed by racers and supporters alike. Robbie Kempson is an ex-South African Springbok rugby player and three weeks ago he was weighing in at 115kg. A very fit 115kg, mind you, as his training regime leading up to the 966km race was relentless. Speculation in the race village is rife as to what the big lad weighs now - after six days in the saddle. Yes, Kempson is still riding and has beaten the cut-off time for each stage so far. While the Cannondale Vredestein team has been on the trail for a little under 29 and a half hours, big Kempson is almost at 60!

Kempson's Cape Epic challenge started out as a casual bet between himself and another South African sporting legend, cricketer Brian McMillan. The two then dedicated their rides to charity, raising money for The Big Tree Foundation, a charity created by the Cape Epic to benefit rural children in South Africa. But Brian pulled out before the event even started so all Kempson needed to do was get his large frame onto a bike and take just one pedal stroke at the prologue, six long days ago.

But the fiercely competitive Kempson is still going, determined to prove everyone who believes successful Cape Epic finishers need be equipped with the physique of a whippet wrong.

Ball's appointed to UCI Delegate

Scottish National Youth and Junior Downhill Coach Chris Ball was recently appointed as a Technical Delegate for the 2008 UCI World Cup Series. As a Technical Delegate, Ball will be focused on making sure that each event's circuit is exciting, competitive and produces top quality and safe racing. He will perform course inspections, monitor the implementation of the technical and sporting aspects of the organisation guide serve as a liaison with event organisers, commisaires and team managers and manage award ceremonies.

"After years of only seeing World Cups from the riders perspective, I'm really looking forward to working with the UCI in a professional capacity and helping to further develop this fantastic sport at international level," said Ball of his new opportunity.

Ball started racing mountain bikes in the late 1990s while in school. He began competing on the international downhill circuit in the elite category in 2002. During his elite racing career, he attended numerous events in the UK and overseas; including over thirty World Cups and a European Championships. He amassed a list of top 30 World Cup results, a silver in the European Maxxis Cup series, together with a number of UK downhill titles including Scottish Series Champion and National Champion. Ball's racing career was brought to an end when a crash caused permanent knee damage.

Swisspower Cup to Winterthur

Round two of the Swisspower cup moves to Winterthur just one week after the series opened in Buchs.

Last weekend's Florian Vogel, Nino Schurter, José Antonio Hermida, Ralph Naef, Moritz Milatz, Jürg Graf and road racer Alexandre Moos are among the top men expected to attend. Vogel and Schurter finished first and third, respectively, last weekend.

The start of world champion Irina Kalentieva in the women's race is less certain. The Russian, who won the opening round, is suffering from a cold and will wait until closer to the race to decide about her participation. Sabine Spitz may also be there although she is still troubled by injuries from a fall sustained earlier this season. Other favorite women include Petra Henzi, Renata Bucher, Nina Göhl, Marielle Saner and Maroussia Rusca, the latter of whom finished just 20 seconds behind Kalentieva in round one.

MASS kicks off with unique team relay

The Mid-Atlantic Super Series will open its 2008 season with a unique take on mountain bike relays in Marysville, Pennsylvania, on April 6. The race will be "a combination of some other relay concepts we've borrowed and things we've cooked up over the years at other events," said promoter Mike Kuhn.

Every rider will be assigned a handicap start based on age and ability. Points will be awarded for each lap completed. A team consisting of elite male riders will start the relay with far fewer points than a team of beginners but will (likely) complete more laps and in doing so attempt to make up the points gap during the course of the race. Also unusual for MASS events is a tight and twisty 15-20 minute long lap time as opposed to one hour laps at most relays. Promoters hope to keep speeds high and the transition area bustling.

For more information, visit www.highspeedcycling.com.

DeRailer Series returns

The Sixth Annual Virginia DeRailer Series announced its event for 2008. The growing series is adding a sixth event, the Assault on Liberty Mountain at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The series also shifted its dates somewhat - now occupying weekends in the late spring and early fall, with a break during the hotter Virginia months.

May 3: Southside Scramble-Saturday May 3, 2008
May 17: Fat Tire Frenzy at Falling Creek
June 1: Peaksview Park Race
September 6: MW Windows Mountain Bike Race-Saturday
September 20: Assault on Liberty Mountain
October 5: The Virginia Hill Climb Championship/9th Poor Mountain Hill Climb

For more information, visit www.vaderailerseries.com.

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