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MTB news & racing round-up for March 7, 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

Multivan Merida Team ready to start racing

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå riding
Photo ©: Multivan Merida Biking Team
(Click for larger image)

The Multivan Merida Biking Team is about to kick off its competitive season. The focus is clearly on Norway's Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå, who had to quit racing last year in June for health reasons. Having recovered, the seven-time World champion and Athen's Olympic gold medal winner is back and ready to compete with the world's elite for the first time in Brescia.

Dahle Flesjå will be in Brescia for the first race of Italy's cross country series. Despite her long absence, many experts consider her as the odds-on favourite. At the same race, Austria's Robert Gehbauer, Dahle Flesjå's team-mate and former Junior World Champion is also scheduled to line up. On the other hand, Germany's Moritz Milatz will stay in Cyprus with his national team preparing for the season to come. He will make his season debut next Sunday at the Limassol round of the Sunshine Cup.

Two of the squad's other riders, Ralph Näf and José Hermida, have chosen to kick off the new season a bit later. Switzerland's Näf is planning to build on his form at a five-day road race in Croatia from March 12 to 16, while Spain's Hermida is expected to score his first podium finish of the season at the first race of the Spanish cross country series on March 16. German Nina Göhl will begin her season as usual at the end of March in a road race.

The first big highlight of the mountain biking season will be the World Cup race in Belgium's Houffalize, followed by the races in Offenburg, Germany and Madrid, Spain. For many on the team, the races will count toward qualification for Beijing's Olympic Games.

Shimano & IMBA release economic study about mountain biking

The International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) and Shimano American Corporation released a new document titled "The Economics and Benefits of Mountain Biking" this week at the US National Bike Summit in Washington, DC.

"We want legislators, policy makers and the public to understand how significant mountain biking is to both the economy and to keeping people healthy," said Kozo Shimano. "To put the activity in perspective, 50 million Americans ride a mountain bike – more than one and a half times the number of people who play golf."

The study reports that one in five Americans aged 16 and over ride a mountain bike, and contribute US$26 billion annually to the American economy while enjoying the sport. The benefits go beyond recreation. A recent cost benefit analysis concluded that every dollar invested into trails corresponded to almost three dollars in direct medical benefit, and The World Health Organization has recommended riding a bike as a way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Scientific research has also shown mountain biking to be a low impact, environmentally sustainable activity with no more impact on natural resources than hiking, and far less than many other recreational activities.

IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel highlighted the role of mountain bikers as conservationists who volunteer their time, labor and money to protect the natural and cultural resources where they ride. "From the beginning, IMBA members have embraced a stewardship ethic that benefits conservation of our natural lands and waters," said Van Abel. "This timely publication shows how that conservation mindset also gives back with economic benefits."

Spitz eases into the Olympic season with two wins

Sabine Spitz (Central Ghost Pro Team)
Photo ©: Armin M. Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)

European Champion Sabine Spitz (central GHOST) of Germany had a good start to a season that will be highlighted by the Olympic Games in Beijing in August. The first two races of her season ended with two wins. Both were at the Cyprus Sunshine Cup, which consists of five total rounds.

Last Friday, she won her race against Czech rider Teresa Hurikova in a very tight affair. After 34 kilometres or one hour and 52'48" in the saddle, she beat her rival by only four seconds. On Sunday, the gap between Spitz and the ex-junior World Champion Hurikova was a bit more, but not much – 15 seconds this time around. The second race was slightly longer, 37 kilometres, and Spitz's winning time was 1h57'43. In both rounds, marathon ace Petra Henzi placed third.

"This was a superb start to the season for me," the Olympic bronze medallist from the Athens Games said with delight. "Especially on Friday, I really didn't think that it would be so good in the first race without intensive training leading up to the event. Today [Sunday - ed.] I had higher expectations, of course. But I actually had a rather hard time."

"At the moment I am lacking substance. Especially from the perspective of the riding technique, I am realizing on this extremely difficult course that after all the road training I am lacking a bit. But that was expected," said Spitz. "Overall, I am very happy and I have the feeling that the preparation over the winter months was good."

As she does every March, Spitz is opening her season in Cyprus. Her first "real" race will be the World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium, on April 19 and 20. At her last important training camp before the season, the German is hoping to acquire the necessary race fitness and fine tuning, after her focus had been on less intensive training in the weeks before. She expects that Cyprus will be good for that, especially with the chances to participate in a few competitions.

Next up for Spitz is round four of the Sunshine Cup coming this Sunday, March 9.

Utah to host new American XC stage race

Riding near Brian Head
Photo ©: Sue George
(Click for larger image)

The American Mountain Classic will bring the popular international tradition of cross country stage racing to the US. The inaugural event will come to Brian Head, Utah on August 21-24 and will feature 170 miles over four days and 14,000 feet of climbing. Organizers adopted a four day format with moderate distances in order to appeal to elite racers as well as serious racers who may not have the vacation time travel for a longer event or one in a more exotic location.

"We're trying to fit in between the Cape Epics and La Rutas. We want the elite racers to think they can fit it into their schedule and not burn themselves out for the rest of the year," said Ty Kady of Sho-Air to Cyclingnews. "We're also appealing to the working person who can't take off for 12 days and wants a realistic chance for finishing."

"I said I think you need to shorten the race a bit and not make it a survival test. I thought we needed a more cross country oriented race. If you look at La Ruta for example, it's too hard," said Kady, who races as a semi-pro and also manages the 15-person Sho-Air Team, which is sponsored by an international airfreight forwarder specializing in tradeshows and logistics.

The race is the result of a partnership between Sho-Air International, Team Big Bear and Blue Wolf. "The race was Tom Spiegel's idea," said Ty Kady of Sho-Air of the man behind Team Big Bear. "He put a NORBA national [NMBS series event - ed.] on there in 2006, and he'd done the Brian Head Epic 100. It'd been in his mind for awhile. He came to us about putting on a stage race." Team Big Bear and Blue Wolf have been behind many National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) events over the years.

The race's debut will happen in Brian Head thanks to Spiegel. Unlike some multi-day races which require daily transfers, this event will be based entirely out of Brian Head. "You can book a hotel in Brian Head and not move every night. One stage you'll have to drive 20 minutes to the start. We wanted to make the logistics easy on people," said Kady.

Although racers won't have to contend with complicated logistics, they will still face the challenge of racing day after day at an altitude of 9,500 feet. "The altitude is going to be a big factor and will add difficulty," said Kady. "Even though the stages are short, one day we're at the base of Brian Peak at 11,000 feet."

Looking to the future, the organizers are considering moving the event around to visit other venues. "We're already talking about taking it to Durango - we might move it around in other years. This year will be a test event. We do know we won't draw the top people due to the Olympics," said Kady, who said they are talking to some big name riders, but couldn't yet confirm any individual participants.

American Mountain Classic 2008

August 21: Prologue, 6 miles on the town trail in Brian Head.

August 22: The Rim, 55 miles with 5,000 + feet of climbing and with 30 miles on the Virgin River Rim Trail along Utah's world famous pink cliffs and in view of Zion National Park.

August 23: The Peak, 55 miles with the first five miles taking racers to 11,000 feet, just below the Brian Head Peak. This loop takes racers out to Lowder Pond, Red Desert, Tippets Valley and offers riders views of Cedar Breaks National Monument.

August 24: Dark Hallow, 27 miles on the 2006 National Mountain Bike Series cross country course with nearly 3,000+ feet of climbing per lap.

For more information, visit www.AmericanMountainClassic.com.

Jamie Whitmore sidelined with tumor

Champion Xterra racer Jamie Whitmore us facing her toughest battle yet. On Friday, February 29, Whitmore entered the University of California San Francisco Medical Center where she's undergoing tests for a tumor found on her left pelvis. Doctors anticipate that she will be able to return to her house in the Sacramento region later this week as she awaits the test results.

"I've entered the challenge of my life and I will finish strong," said an optimistic Whitmore, who tanked friends, family and sponsors for their ongoing support in a difficult time.

The Cannondale racer is the 2007 Xterra US Champion, 2004 Xterra World Champion and 2003-04 Exterra European champion. Those wishing to send her a message are encouraged to do so through her web site at www.jamiewhitmore.com.

El Reto del Quetzal gets new venue for year two

Sue Haywood and Lea Davison
Photo ©: El Reto del Quetzal
(Click for larger image)

The El Reto del Quetzal will be moving to a new location for its second edition on October 3-5. This year's start will be in Antigua, Guatemala, a small colonial city that was founded in 1543 and declared by UNESCO as a cultural and natural monument. The new venue offers access to the country's best singletrack.

"With this new location we will guarantee 100% satisfaction to all the participants," said promoter Netzer Quan.

Last year's race drew competitors from all over the world including Italy, Australia, Colombia, Venezuela, the US, and Austria and registration for 2008 opens March 17.

Visit www.elretodelquetzal.com for more information.

Bray to blast off for K-Cap

The K-Capital Cup International MTB XCO Series will blast into action at Bray in County Wicklow, on Sunday, March 9. Team Worc is hosting the Irish event at the Kilruddery Estate for the first of the four rounds. As in 2007, two rounds will be held in the North and two in the South. Sunday's course is described as 8km long and varies from climbs to forest roads to technical singletrack through wooded areas.

The first three rounds will serve as the Olympic qualification races for the Irish cross country representative for the Beijing Olympics in August. Following the set criteria, the race-off for the Olympic place is between the three top UCI ranked Irish riders as published at the end of 2007 - Robin Seymour, Niall Davis and Conor McConvey. The top scorer will get the spot for Beijing.

Unfortunately, McConvey suffered a broken shoulder after being knocked off his bike by a car while cycling on the Shore Road in Belfast. The young rider, who finished 21st at the U23 World Championships in Fort William, Scotland, will be out of action for six weeks, thus wrecking his early season plans.

Joining Davis and Seymour in the elite men's line up will be the British Cycling Federation Olympic squad of current British National Champion Oliver Beckingsale (Giant RC), and Ian Bibby, David Fletcher and Ross Creber of the British National Team. Other Irish riders to look out for include Richard Felle and Yvain Sugno, Phillip Roche all Team Worc, Lewis Ferguson (Northern/Dave Kane) and Roger Aiken (Banbridge CC), the reigning Irish Cyclo Cross Champion. In addition, Commonwealth Games Champion Liam Killeen may make the trip to Bray.

There will be races for elite women and all amateur categories; however the elite men's race is the only UCI category event.

Alison Dunlap Junior Olympic MTB Series set

The 2008 Alison Dunlap Junior Olympic Mountain Bike Series (ADJOMTB) Calendar will consist of 35 races across 17 states in the US, an increase of more than 20 events over the 2007 calendar.

Entering its ninth year, the series was created by USA Cycling to provide racing opportunities for aspiring junior mountain bike athletes across the country. In 2003, world and national champion off-road cyclist Alison Dunlap endorsed the program, and she's been involved ever since.

Rider who do well in the series may earn invitation to USA Cycling Regional Development Camps as well as the national championships. In 2008, invitations to the regional development camps will be extended to the series' top-five riders in the 15-16, 17-18 and 19-22 age categories. The top riders from each regional camp will be invited to a Junior and Espoir National Development Camp. Most events will include age categories for boys and girls 10 years-old and younger through the under 22 age group.

Alison Dunlap Junior Olympic Mountain Bike Series 2008
February 9: White Tank Whirlwind, Waddell, Arizona
March 15-16: Keyesville Classic, Lake Isabella, California
March 16: SERC #1/AMBC, Gainesville, Florida
March 30: Chickasaw Trace,Classic, Columbia, Tennessee
April 6: SERC #2/AMBC, Bryson City, North Carolina
April 12: Hopbrook Dam MTB Race, Middlebury, Connecticut
April 20: Winsted Woods, Winsted, Connecticut
April 27: Greenbrier Challenge, Frederick, Maryland
April 27: Winding Trails Fat Tire Classic, Farmington, Connecticut
April 27: SERC #3/AMBC, Winder, Georgia
May 3: The Idyllwild Spring Challenge, Idyllwild, California
May 4: 6th Annual Avimor Coyote Classic, Boise, Idaho
May 4: SERC #4/AMBC, Ducktown, Tennessee
May 11: Brialee Ramblin Rumble, Ashford, Connecticut
May 18: Stump Jump 2008, Spartanburg, South Carolina
May 25: SERC #5/AMBC, Athens, Georgia
May 25: Coyote Hill Classic, West Fairlee, Vermont
June 1: Pats Peak XC Challenge, Henniker, New Hampshire
June 8: Channel 3 MTB, Andover, Connecticut
June 15: SERC #6/AMBC, Clemson, South Carolina
June 21: Epic Soldier Mountain March, Fairfield, Idaho
June 22: Putney/West Hill, Putney, Vermont
June 29: SERC #7/AMBC, Chattanooga, Tennessee
July 6: DINO AMBC, North Vernon, Indiana
July 13: SERC #8/AMBC, Anniston, Alabama
July 26-27: SERC #9/AMBC, Fontana, North Carolina
August 2-3: Holiday Farm Classic, Dalton, Massachusetts
August 10: Annual Hodges Village Dam, Oxford, Massachusetts
August 16: 1st Annual Silver Creek Pedal, Garden Valley, Idaho
August 17: Bikes for Bovines at Stonewall Farm, Keene, New Hampshire
August 29-31: Camp Eagle Classic MTB Festival, Rocksprings, Texas
August 30-31: Laddies Loppet, Callaway, Minnesota
August 30-September 1: Knobby Tire Series Finals/NMBS, Tamarack, Idaho
September 7: Landmine MTB Race, Hingham, Massachusetts
September13: Domnarski Farm Race, Ware, Massachusetts

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