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MTB news & racing round-up for February 28, 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

Wide open racing expected at Karapoti Classic

Clinton Avery winning the 2007 Karapoti classic
Photo ©: Michael Jacques
(Click for larger image)

A record field and a top class field with no clear favourite are the features for this weekend's Scott Karapoti Classic.

The longest running mountain bike race in the Southern Hemisphere has attracted a record field with no clear favorite for this weekend. Started in 1986, the Scott Karapoti Classic 50km epic around Upper Hutt's Akatarawa Forest will see 1,300 racers at the start after 1,800 applied.

"We'd love to let all of them race," said event manager Michael Jacques, "but Karapoti is a tough challenge in a remote environment and we simply can't cope with more."

Jacques attributed the record level of interest to the continuing trend of increasing popularity in mass participation endurance events across New Zealand. "Karapoti has always had a big reputation," he said. "But mass participation sports like mountain biking, road cycling, multisport and triathlon have been enjoying substantial growth for the past four or five years."

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Racers will compete for a NZD$30,000 prize pool with an additional $5,000 bonus for a rider who can win both the Scott Karapoti Classic and its sister event in Australia, the Flight Centre Epic.

Last year's record breakers Clinton Avery and American-based Jennifer Smith will not be defending their title. "If there is a favourite," said Jacques, "it would be Australian Tim Bennett. He's been second and third at Karapoti and last year won the Flight Centre Mega Epic and was third in the prestigious Croc Trophy across the Australian Outback."

Jenny Smith carries her bike
Photo ©: Michael Jacques
(Click for larger image)
Bennett will have his work cut out. Compatriots Nick Both, who was second at Karapoti last year, and Adrian Jackson, a several times mountain bike orienteering champion, will be riding for the same Flight Centre team and all can be expected to work together in the early stages before nature decides who is strongest.

These team tactics could make it hard for a strong Kiwi contingent headed by recent New Zealand title winner Stuart Houltham. The national championship runners-up, Mike Northcott and local Gavin McCarthy, will also be at Karapoti. McCarthy has been enjoying the best form of his career and will be hoping for the home-track advantage at Karapoti. But fellow Upper Hutt rider Wayne Hiscock will also be looking maintain his place on top of the local standings and hoping to finally claim Karapoti's top spot.

Swedish riders Mathias Kraehemann and Christian Willi are in New Zealand to add to the challenge. Both ride professionally in their homeland and have based themselves in Nelson during the Southern Hemisphere summer.

The woman's race is even more wide open. Last year's New Zealand series champion and Karapoti runner-up, Fiona Macdermid, has the best recent Karapoti form, but will face recent national medallists Brenda Clapp and Cathy Hamer. Top Dunedin performer Erin Greene should also feature, as will Nelson-based former Swiss Amateur champion Sandy Vincent.

Saturday's weather is forecast for rain and a Southerly change; conditions that Jacques says should favour the top Kiwi riders.

Sauser and Stander team up

Christoph Sauser (Switzerland)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

In addition to forming a team for the upcoming Cape Epic stage race in South Africa beginning March 23, Christoph Sauser and South African Burry Stander are also partnering to raise money to build a BMX track in conjunction with JAG Sports and Education Foundation for children in Kayamandi, outside Stellenbosch. The track will provide children with a safe place to do sport, keeping them off the streets and away from drugs and crime.

Sauser, who does his winter training in Stellenbosch, established the Songo.info Project to raise money to uplift the lives of children in Kayamandi.

"A typical BMX track is short and fast, the bikes are small, compact, tough and low maintenance," said Sauser. "A track would allow the local children to develop skills such as fitness, conditioning, confidence and sportsmanship. Not only is it a platform to launch riders into the different areas of cycling, like road and mountain biking, it is also an area for recreation and creativity where typically South African wire-cars and speedy-wheel-creations can be tested and enjoyed on the track," he said.

Sauser believes sport is the best way to develop children's social skills. "Children learn about health, friendship, pride and confidence through sport," he said.

The Songo.info Project was named after community leader Songo Fipaza, an enthusiastic runner and cyclist who worked with the JAG Foundation to implement the running programmes in Kayamandi last year. According to the Songo.info Project, very few children in Kayamandi own bicycles, and there are no safe areas for them to cycle or play.

"Both Robbie Hunter (stage winner Tour de France) and Greg Minnaar (2001 World Cup Champion, 2002 World Downhill Champion) come from a BMX background," said Sauser. "We hope that this BMX track will inspire and equip more South Africans to follow in their footsteps to victory," he said.

The JAG Sports and Education Foundation, headed by Elana Meyer, is an NGO focused on getting children fit and healthy by implementing sporting programmes aimed at primary school children in underprivileged areas. Last year the JAG Foundation established an after school running programme in this community. "This BMX track project complements our goal in Kayamandi perfectly," said former Olympic medallist Meyer.

For more information or to contribute, visit www.songo.info.

Best singlespeeders in New Zealand to head to worlds

The first rider to cross the line for the 2008 New Zealand Singlespeed Mountain Bike Championship coming up on April 25-27 in Rotorua will not only win bragging rights and the traditional winner's tattoo, but also the chance to compete at the World Championships in August in Napa, California.

"Over a thousand people from around the globe applied to enter the Worlds in Napa in California," said Graeme Simpson, one of the New Zealand Singlespeed Championship team. "Only 400 made the final cut, but we were in touch with the organizers before entries opened and they're keeping one place open for our first champion."

"We've already had entries from singlespeeders all 'round New Zealand and from Australia and the United States keen to be here in a couple of months," said Event Director, Dean Watson. "The first entry was from Auckland, closely followed by a crew from Alexandra in Central Otago."

This year's winners' tattoos will be done by local artist Bryony Edwards. "That's a Singlespeed tradition we're not messing with," said Simpson. "No tattoo, no title." And that applies to the first man and woman. The design will incorporated bike chain rings and fern leaves with a distinctive blend of New Zealand and Pacific imagery. "It's all black, as well, which will be instantly recognizable anywhere," Simpson added.

For more information, visit www.riderotorua.com.

No more caffeine for high school racers

The NorCal High School Mountain Bike League has banned consumption of caffeine at its competitions for the 2008 racing season. In making the landmark decision, the League cited concerns about the health of its athletes, especially amid the surge of new caffeinated energy products coming onto the market in the 2000s.

The new rule is captured in the League's revised handbook, and according to a recent press release, "As an organization dedicated to positive youth development and the promotion of cycling as a sport, this [the deliberate use of caffeine] is a performance-enhancement-based mentality the League would like to nip in the bud."

The League expressed concern that the dependency-forming stimulant is being marketed - often toward teens and young adults - as if it were totally harmless and for its performance enhancing qualities. Over the past few years, the League has seen an increase in caffeine usage amongst its athletes; some even strategizing with timed consumption of caffeinated products on the final lap of the race.

The League cited a study by Dr. Richard Stein, director of preventative cardiology at New York's Beth Israel Medical Center and a representative for the American Heart Association. said, "What five years ago was considered outrageous doses of caffeine is now well within the range of expected doses. We will soon find out the effects of prolonged usage in high doses starting at an early age. In the past, that's always been a formula for poor health and mental outcomes." Research has not yet determined what are safe amounts of caffeine intake for young people.

"The conversation began when I was approached for the second time by 'Brand X'. 'Brand X' said themselves that youth, originally, were not in their marketing plan – but that 'Brand Y' (a leading coffee shop franchise) changed their minds," said Matt Fritzinger, League Founder and Director. "The marketing representative made it clear, they wanted 'product in hand.' I realized this is a lot like the cigarette industry was; they get the free samples out there, and then they can count on a percentage of life-long addicts. Though less harmful than cigarettes, the strategy is the same."

"Over the next couple years I spoke with many high school athletes and coaches. Some athletes admitted they were already 'addicted' to certain energy drinks, and I found that coaches were supportive of the ban," said Fritzinger. "At the 2007 coaches conference we brought up the idea and found that we had tremendous support, and since then other audiences have met the idea with standing ovations."

"There have been questions about enforcement. It's true that we do not have a test, but nor can we afford a test for steroids or EPO. However, we have a 3-to-1 ratio of dedicated adults working with the athletes and with good coaching and education kids usually make the right decisions. On the other hand, those who try to get a boost, might get penalized if we find the wrong products during our random pocket-checks."

Other banned substances include gurana root, taurine and creatine have also been banned.

Mountain Bikers to advocate at annual National Bike Summit

American mountain bike advocates will get a chance to meet lawmakers and their staff at the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC, next week on March 4-6. Hundreds of cycling representatives will address advocacy issues related to on and off road riding. The Summit is sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists.

"Mountain and road cyclists come together to lobby as a unified front to preserve trails and trail funding, and advocate for other bicycling issues," is how IMBA's website described the event. Attendees will include IMBA Reps, club leaders, bike shop owners, and mountain bike advocates working on access, recreation and trail funding issues.

Team Yeti / Fox Shox picks up more support

Team Yeti / Fox Shox picked up additional support in the form of a new sponsor, Nema International, which will mark its official entry into the downhill race market. The team is stacked with key talent including Sam Blenkinsop, Justin Leov, Ross Milan, TJ Sharp, Chis Boice, and Rudy Unrau. Look for them clad in the standard Yeti white, black and turquoise colors.

Cranky Monkey series set

EX2 Adventures announced its schedule of mountain bike races for 2008 serving the greater Washington, DC metro region of the US. The Cranky Monkey will include one 12-hour race plus three cross country events.

June 28: 12 Hours of Cranky Monkey, Quantico Marine Base, Virginia (cross country relay)
July 27: The Cranky Monkey MTB Series (Race #1), Wakefield Park, Annandale, Virginia (cross country)
August 10: The Cranky Monkey MTB Series (Race #2) – Fountainhead, Fairfax Station, Virginia (cross country)
August 24: The Cranky Monkey MTB Series (Race #3) – Quantico Marine Base, Virginia (cross country)

For more information, visit www.ex2adventures.com.

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