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MTB news & racing round-up for June 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

Athertons make history at World Cup

All of the Atherton’s together
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

Gravity racing at the World Cup in Andorra last weekend was a family affair with three members of the British Atherton family taking three of four possible victories in the gravity events.

Dan Atherton kicked off the family's winning ways with a victory in the 4X in which he beat reigning World Champion Brian Lopes. Sister Rachel Atherton was next. She convincingly defeated Sabrina Jonnier (Team Maxxis) in the downhill by eight seconds.

The pressure was then on brother Gee in the men's downhill final. He won by just three tenths of a second over Samuel Hill (Monster Energy). Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) was third. Gee Atherton put in a solid descent with no mistakes - a performance that let him step to the top of the World Cup podium.

"I'm pretty stoked this has happened," said Gee. "We have been working on it for a while it's something we're always aiming at and for it to come off now it is just surreal. I am really looking forward to the rest of the season now, I can get into the travelling and the racing and get stronger as I go along. There is always more to come, I can always improve and I'm confident of doing that. That's what I love about the sport."

Sister Rachel summed up the family's mood. "I am so proud of us all, Dan yesterday and Gee under pressure pulled it off, it was perfect really."

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the World Cup in Andorra.

Fullana finally makes the top spot at World Cup

By Luke Webber in Vallnord, Andorra

Fullana enjoyed the climbing and that she finally won
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

In what was nearly a home race in Vallnord, Andorra, Spaniard Marga Fullana (Massi), finally secured her first World Cup win in emphatic style on a climber's course. Winding through the Pyrenees, the Spaniard started in the same style as every other race this year; pure aggression and leading from the front with the hope that nobody could follow.

"...The first three races I have fought a lot and now the reward for the hard work is worth it," said Fullana after her win. In previous weeks, aggressive starts were followed by a string of mid-race blues as she could not keep the searing initial pace set and was forced to back off.

Second position went to Eva Lechner (Colnago Cap Arreghini) with a career best result on which she hopes to build on for the Worlds. "From the start I was in third position and chasing [Laurence] Leboucher. On the fourth lap I had a bit of a fright on the decent – Marie [Helen Premont (Rocky Mountain)] was getting a bit close. Hopefully I can keep good form now for the Worlds and Olympics – I am headed straight home to get some good training in and skipping Fort William."

Another podium for Premont was enough to keep the World Cup leaders' jersey safely in her hands. "It was a hard race today – the first three laps I was so cold I could not steer the bike. I have a condition, when it gets this cold the blood doesn't want to get into my fingers! I couldn't even drink. In the last lap it became better. I am so pleased to have kept the jersey because it should have been so much worse I think."

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the World Cup women's cross country.

Sauser comes back to claim perfect victory

By Luke Webber in Vallnord, Andorra

Sauser celebrates his first win
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

After three World Cup attempts this spring, it was finally the day for Christoph Sauser (Specialized Factory Racing) to take a popular win in Andorra – but some surprising names accompanied him on the podium and most notably none were wearing the Rainbow Stripes.

Sauser won despite a bad mishap in the form of a flat tyre in the fifth lap. "I was thinking 'why – why me again?!' But when I eventually caught and passed Burry [Stander] I was flying, I couldn't even feel my legs any more. Luckily for the bit that I had to run I could still go at good speed because Benno had put some tyre tread on the bottom of my Specialized road shoes.

"Sometimes you start and you think 'they start so hard!' But today I was wondering why don't they full on! I just rolled away, my legs started to burn badly on laps four and five when Burry was coming near, I always tried to keep him 15 seconds back so he did not have the chance to think he could beat me. Eventually though it was easy for him to pass because I was running up the hill at the time."

Julien Absalon (Orbea) would not claim his fourth successive victory and would instead finish only ninth, owing to some mechanical issues and possibly the need to rest before the World Championships in order to regain peak form.

"I was expecting better than today, but I had a big crash on the first lap and I was too cautious because I did not want to crash again. I had also damaged my chainrings – the gears were not working," said Absalon. "Put together: not a good day! I won't be going to Fort William, instead I will be going home to get in a bit of recovery – maybe I need it!"

Burry Stander (GT Bicycles) and Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis) rounded out the top three with their respective strong performances.

Kabush (Maxxis) turned in his best result on Euro soil, third after a solid ride picking off positions all race long and not fading. "To do it in Europe is a big result for me," said Kabush. "It is a great course, with all the rain it made it subtly technical over the roots. I was able to start out pretty smooth, relax and start picking off guys at my leisure. Today I didn't want to fight for position, I wanted to save energy."

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the World Cup men's cross country.

MS Intense 1-2 in women's 4X

At the UCI World Cup round in Andorra, the women of the MS-Intense Factory Racing team went one-two in the four cross. After a night of rain, the current World Cup champion Anneke Beerten and Mio Suemasa tackled a soggy track with some muddy spots.

Despite the slippery terrain, Beerten and Suemasa finished all their runs without any major mistakes. Throughout their heats they managed to get out of the gate ahead of their competitors thereby controlling the race from the top while staying out of trouble and working their way into the big final.

That's where Anita Molcik took the lead on the first meters, but Suemasa and Beerten chose a better line and passed the Austrian in the first corner. Both never let go of their lead even though Suemasa had to survive some critical moments fighting British 4X veteran Fion Griffiths. In the end, she held on for second while Beerten took first. It was Beerten's second World Cup 4X win in 2008 and tied Suemasa's best-ever 4X. She placed similarly in Maribor in 2007.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the women's 4X World Cup from Andorra.

Blenkinsop makes first World Cup podium visit

The high slopes of the course
Photo ©: Luke Webber
(Click for larger image)

Last Sunday, Sam Blenkinsop (Yeti/Fox Factory Team) took his first ever step onto the World Cup podium at round two of the UCI World Cup in Vallnord, Andorra. Blenkinsop, placed fifth in the race won by Gee Atherton, and became only the second New Zealand male downhiller to do so, following on from Justin Leov who also finished fifth back in 2005 at a World Cup round in Angel Fire in the US.

Now team-mates, the two Kiwis trained all last week on the course, but it was clear that the two and half minute track was more to "Blinky's" liking. The team used their own timing equipment throughout the week and results indicated that Blenkinsop was producing times within range of a win.

Blenkinsop's performance came weeks after he qualified fastest and finished seventh at the test event on the World Championship course in Val di Sole, Italy. That race gave him confidence building up to the Andorra World Cup.

After his race in Andorra, Blenkinsop said, "I was way nervous backstage at the podium, getting up on the box for the first time, there was heaps of press. I could get used to this though. The top section of corners [on the course] was pretty sweet and I got the bottom section dialled later on, so even though I made a mistake in the semi, running wide and hooking up on a tree, I knew what I had to do in the final. I like Fort William, too, so I'm keen for the next race".

Had Blenkinsop finished fifth at the Maribor round of the World Cup, he would not have been on the podium. There, the UCI had reduced the podium to three riders, but after a unanimous petition from the top riders in the world, the UCI returned to the five rider podium effective in Andorra.

Blenkinsop's results moves him into ninth overall in the World Cup standings, just two points behind mate Leov.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the World Cup men's downhill in Andorra.

Absalon staying on top

By Gunter Hauspie

Defending Olympic Champion Julien Absalon
Photo ©: Gunter Hauspie
(Click for larger image)

Every so often one rider comes along to dominate a cycling discipline. Julien Absalon is the man at the top of cross country mountain biking. He has won just about all the titles possible in his chosen sport in recent years and is the favorite for gold at the upcoming Beijing Olympics in August.

Frenchman Julien Absalon was 20 minutes late for the interview in the isolated Hohnech - one of the most beautiful viewpoints of the Vosges Mountains in France. "Sorry, I got a bit lost," the Orbea rider said as he introduced himself. The 28 year-old champion stands 1.78 meters tall and despite living just 35km away in Saint-Amé, he'd never been here before.

"I often train in these parts of the mountains, but I stay on the magnificent "Route des Crêtes", a little lower. I've never taken this road to the top," said Absalon before he removed his bicycle from a cherry-red Nissan Micra Cabriolet. Its frame just fits in the back seat space, and the two wheels fill the car trunk. He is ready for a relaxed training ride to Lake Xonrupt-Longemer.

Absalon was the World Champion in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. He won the World Cup overall in 2003, 2006 and 2007 and was Olympic Champion in 2004. He is gearing up for the next Olympic competition in Beijing, China, on August 23.

Cyclingnews: You were born here in the Vosges in Raon-aux-Bois, near Remiremont, and you have always lived here. Did you ever think of moving to the real mountains?

Julien Absalon (Orbea) seems unbeatable at the races for which he peaks
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

Julien Absalon: No. There is no better training location than the Vosges. For road training, I come to these high summits. The roads are good, and not much traffic. Mountain biking, however, I do closer to home. I begin at my front door. The mountains are 800 to 900 meters high with many short climbing sections and descents and technical singletrack. The mountains are wooded, so [there are] a lot of tree roots as well. Altogether, a very varied itinerary. At higher altitudes, the parcours becomes more monotonous, rougher, and in winter, inaccessible and too cold for training rides. I travel 210 days a year. Nowhere did I find a better mountain biking region than my Vosges.

CN: But didn't you go south to Fréjus at the Côte d'Azur, last winter, to prepare for the season?

JA: Yes, because of the snow here, from January to March. I went south, indeed. But in normal circumstances I can train on the Vosges Mountains even in winter. As soon as the snow had disappeared, I came back. It's no use to train in ideal conditions, when during the competitions one has to ride in bad weather anyway. Besides, the Vosges are centrally located between Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. Most MTB events occur here.

CN: At the opening competition for the World Cup at Houffalize, in Belgium, you won easily. And you kept winning afterwards. Haven't you reached your top condition too early this Olympic year?

JA: No, I'm on schedule. I planned two peaks this year. The World Championship in Val di Sole in Italy on June 22 and the Olympic race on August 23. The other competitions, I'll participate in them, but they are not essential. I won the first three rounds of the World Cup, which gives me an advantage. It allows me to skip some rounds if I so decide. It will be a long and difficult year. For example, one week after the Olympic Games, a stage of the World Cup will be held in [Canberra] Australia.

Read the complete interview.

Schalk and Shogren triumph in Ohio

By Harlan Price

Jeff Schalk and Chris Eatough
Photo ©: Guru Graphix
(Click for larger image)

Jeff Schalk made it two in a row when he won the Mohican 100, round two of the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series in Ohio. After a tight battle with his Trek / VW team-mate Chris Eatough, Schalk finished first. Eatough was second and Sam Koerber, the brother of elite women's racer Willow Koerber, finished third. In the women's race, Betsy Shogren threw her hat into this year's 100 mile competition and won the race. 24 hour solo ace Rebecca Rusch finished second while Michelle Stoppard ended in third.

Stop number two took the competition to the rolling hills of the interior of Ohio. The town of Loudonville hosted an early morning start with over 300 racers being led out by a police escort toward the city limit sign and the first and only prime of the NUE series. Over the next 14 hours racers took a five-county tour through some of the best singletrack, farm roads and rails-to-trails the country has to offer.

Like the Cohutta 100, the Mohican 100 started under cloudy skies from the previous night's rain, highlighted some of the best trails in the state and ended with Jeff Schalk (Trek/VW) winning by a similarly narrow margin of two minutes after seven hours of racing. This time Schalk's biggest protagonist was his team-mate and last year's NUE series winner Chris Eatough (Trek/VW).

Racers got off to a faster than usual start
Photo ©: Hollie Mcfadden
(Click for larger image)

The first split of the day came at about mile two, just before the start of the singletrack, when Schalk, Eatough, Christian Tanguy (American Cycling and Fitness), Sam Koerber (Subaru/ Gary Fisher), and Evan Plews created a small gap over a little climb.

The lead group was eventually whittled down to Schalk, Eatough and Koerber, who was having a stellar day on the bike. Koerber lingered a bit longer at an aid station and lost contact with the two Trek riders. With under 30 miles to go, Schalk knew he had to make a move before the last eight miles where Eatough would have an upper hand in the technical singletrack. He did just that and managed to hang on to the end.

Women's winner Betsy Shogren (SoBe / Cannondale) didn't blast off the front in first place. She chose a steady pace for her race. Starting out in fourth, where she stayed for awhile, she slowly moved her way to the front. After catching Michelle Stoppard (Visit PA), she proceeded to pick off Cheryl Sornson (Trek/VW) and Rebecca Rusch (Specialized/Red Bull). Those two hung off the back to almost aid station two. At that station she saw her husband, who was racing in the 65 mile race, and was suffering from a little leftover illness from earlier in the week.

"It was a highlight of the race to be able to ride with Gunnar, since we never get to do that," said Shogren.

Her day in the lead almost came to an unexpected end when with a mile to go, she missed a turn onto singletrack and spent some time riding back and forth looking for it. She saw Rusch make the turn ahead of her and proceeded to follow. "I was running on adrenaline at that point, and attacked on a hill." Shogren said of her need for an unexpected last minute acceleration to take the win.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Mohican 100.

Waite and Richardson win 20th Hoo-Ha!

By Sue George in Harrisonburg, Virginia

Elite women's cross country podium:
Photo ©: Sue George
(Click for larger image)

Nick Waite (Trek / VW) and Theresa Richardson (SoBe / Cannondale) won the elite men's and women's 21 mile cross country events at the 20th edition of the Massanutten Hoo-Ha! just outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia last weekend, while Dave Weaver was the fastest singlespeeder. In the 33 mile XXC, Daryll Prillamen and Sue George won their respective categories. It was a gorgeous early June day for all racers, who were treated to technical, rocky trails which were in some places lined with blooming mountain laurels' pink and white flowers.

Only 22 seconds separated the top two elite women's finishers Theresa Richardson and Johanna Kraus (Velo Bella / Kona) in the most exciting race of the day. Richardson started out fastest and assumed an early lead on the first climb which was a mix of fireroad and singletrack. Behind Richardson, Kraus followed in second with Susan Musante in third. Musante caught Kraus after a technical ridge section on the first lap, but the two exchanged places again soon after. Both the elite women and men would complete two laps.

Although Kraus sometimes had Richardson in her sights, it wasn't until the second lap that she would catch her. "I saw her as I came through for the first lap and folks told me I was back about 30 seconds," said Kraus. "I'm faster in the rock gardens, but Theresa was faster climbing and descending. I caught her on the ridge the second time."

"We kept going back and forth. I ran into a tree and then Johanna dropped her chain," said the eventual winner, who was excited to ride the rocky course and eventually escaped for good by growing her slight gap to a margin that would stick after Kraus's chain drop. Richardson won with a time of 2:37:12.

In the men's race, pro road racer Nick Waite (Trek / VW) won in a time of 1:50:17. The former U23 and junior mountain bike standout had a break in his road racing schedule with the Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast team and couldn't pass up the opportunity to race his local trails.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Massanutten Hoo-Ha!.

Späth and Rupp win Worldclass marathon challenge

Sandro Spaeth
Photo ©: Luke Baylis (scheiderbauer.com sports)
(Click for larger image)
Sandro Späth and Dolores Rupp won the 110km Worldclass Marathon Challenge on Sunday in Offenburg, Germany in summery conditions.

After the highest summit, at 871m, five men formed the lead group including Späth, Thomas Zahnd, Ramses Bekkenk, Markus Kaufmann and Jörg Scheiderbauer. At kilometer 65, Kaufmann dropped off and then Scheiderbauer fell off the pace as Bekkenk attacked. Spath and Zahnd continued to hold the high pace.

On the final steep climb, last year's winner set off from the other two and went on to defend his title in four hours and 17 minutes. Bekkenk held on for second just under four minutes back. Zahnd finished third.

A Swiss racer also won the women's race. Dolores Rupp set a new record and left her competition behind. She finished in five hours and seven minutes. Fabienne Heinzmann finished second and Annette Griner took third.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Worldclass Marathon Challenge.

British Cycling selects worlds team

British Cycling announced its 35-strong Great Britain Mountain Bike Team for the forthcoming World Championships held at Val di Sole in Italy June 17-22.

Siblings Dan, Gee and Rachel Atherton made the squad after proving they are all on fine form after each won a World Cup event in Vallnord, Andorra, last weekend. Also included are multi-World Cup Downhill winner Steve Peat, Britain's first female World Cup winning downhiller Tracy Moseley and Commonwealth Gold winner Liam Killeen. A crop of talented junior riders complete the line-up.

British Cycling reserved the right to add riders following exceptional performances at the Fort William World Cup.

Elite men & women: Dan Atherton, Gee Atherton, Rachel Atherton, Ben Cathro, Brendan Fairclough, Fionn Griffiths, Tracy Moseley, Steve Peat
Junior men: Josh Bryceland, Sam Dale, Danny Hart, Joe Smith

Elite men & women: Dan Atherton, Scott Beaumont, Will Evans, Fionn Griffiths, Dave Wardell

Cross country
Elite men & women: Oli Beckingsale, Liam Killeen, Fiona McDermid
U23 men: Ian Bibby, Ross Creber, Ian Field, David Fletcher
Junior men / women: Sebastian Batchelor, Hamish Creber, Annie Last, Alex Paton

Elite 20": Andrei Burton, Daniel Butler, Tom Rankin, Ben Savage, Ben Slinger
Elite 26": Andrei Burton, Daniel Butler, James Hyland, Ben Savage, Ben Slinger
Junior 20": Joe Oakley, Sam Oliver
Junior 26": Joe Oakley, Sam Oliver, Scott Wilson

Geoff Kabush: Beer, podiums and puppies

OK, I have really been procrastinating since my last race report; I have actually had a lot to write about but I am a little lazy when it comes to typing out a few paragraphs about bike racing. Since my last report I have had a NMBS in Foutain Hills, Arizona; three World Cups in Europe (Houffalize, Offenburg, Madrid); and then another NMBS in Santa Ynez, California. Now I am back over in Europe for a month and actually have some pretty good news to write about; more about that in a bit.

Let's summarize:

* NMBS #2 in Fountain Hills, AZ went bingo, bango, bongo. Desert singletrack is just about perfect for me; little climbing and lots of corners. Three races = three wins. After making contact with Johnny T, it appears I need one more XC National win to catch him in the record books with fourteen; I wore some day-glo green circa 1993 Oakley Blades to pay homage.

* We arrived in Belgium and the rain stopped for us. Checked in to our Barbie-sized house where we sampled Belgian beer all week with the staff and our guest travelling companions, Kris "Kron" Sneddon, and Barry "Circus Clown" Wicks of team Kona. Top three beers are now Chimay Bleu, Karmeliet Tripel, and Rochefort 8. Lined up with 260 guys (ridiculous) and tied my PB with a 12th place finish and a solid start to the Euro campaign.

Read the complete diary entry.

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