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MTB news & racing round-up for March 14, 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

Australians travel to Nelson in force for Oceanias

Sid Taberlay will be among the Australians competing
Photo ©: Rick Eaves
(Click for larger image)

New Zealand mountain bikers are facing a strong challenge from across the Tasman during the UCI Oceania Mountain Bike Championships in Nelson which started Thursday, March 13 with the dual slalom and hill climb events.

The Australians have sent a powerful contingent to contest the four-day event which also features the Olympic distance cross country and 4X Friday – all at Banford Park – and the downhill at nearby Kaka Hill on Sunday.

Beijing Olympic hopefuls Chris Jongewaard and Sid Taberlay are leading the Australian cross country team after finishing first and second in their national championship. Jongewaard, a member of the international Dolphin professional team, will defend his Oceania title from last year even though he has been more limited in his mountain bike training and racing time thanks to a highly promising foray into road cycling. The favorite placed seventh in the Australian time trial championships recently. Taberlay is a multi-time Australian champion who finished 23rd at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and sixth in the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Without leading rider Kashi Leuchs who is racing in Europe, New Zealand will look to the likes of national champion Stuart Houltham to lead the way along with Commonwealth Games representative Mike Northcott.

Look for Caroline Buchanan in the women's 4X
Photo ©: Evan Jeffery
(Click for larger image)

Cross country competition will be tough in the women's ranks with the top six Australians from their national championships all competing, including cross country champion Dellys Starr, favoured to win an Olympic berth. New Zealand women will be led by Kaytee Boyd, who rode impressively in the recent women's road tour.

Australians will likely fare well in the U19 and U23 ranks with New Zealand's strongest chances in the U19 women's division in which Wellington's Samara Sheppard will defend her Oceania title.

New Zealand can expect a strong showing in the downhill events with multi-time national champion Nathan Rankin, current New Zealand champion Kieran Bennett and world top-20 ranked Justin Leov. Current national champion Sheryl MacLeod and former world junior champion Scarlett Hagen will lead the charge in the women's downhill.

Leov, who rides the Yeti/Fox professional team, will be chasing success in the four cross along with the women's favourite, three-time Australian champion Caroline Buchanan.

New Caledonia has also entered riders for the four-day championship event. The Oceania championships will serve as a trial for the New Zealanders to qualify for June's world championships in Italy.

McGrath switches teams

Seamus McGrath
Photo ©: Steve Medcroft
(Click for larger image)

Canadian cross country pro Seamus McGrath joined new team-mates Austrian national cross country champion Christophe Soukup and German U23 national champion Robert Mennen on the Fuji team for 2008 for the European World Cup circuit and for cross country events in North America. The former Rocky Mountain Bicycles rider ended the 2007 season as the third-ranked Canadian according to the UCI.

"We're thrilled to have 12-time Canadian National Team member Seamus McGrath join the Fuji team," said Karen Bliss, Fuji's Director of Marketing. "He will help showcase the quality and innovation of our mountain bikes especially here in North America. We've had tremendous success with sales of Fuji mountain bikes in Europe but in the US and Canada I believe we've been a bit underrated," Bliss explained the motivation for signing McGrath.

In his 15 years of racing, McGrath's career highlights include a ninth place finish at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, a silver and bronze medal respectively, at the 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games, and National Championship short track title in 2002.

McGrath will be racing on the Mt. Fuji SL hardtail and the Outland RC full-suspension models throughout the season. In addition, he will assist Fuji's product managers by testing a new carbon hardtail prototype before it goes into full production. This yet-to-be named model is expected to be released in 2009; it incorporates new carbon technology that is aiming to be strong, lightweight and responsive.

McGrath said he was excited about the team's infrastructure for support when he is racing in Europe.

Crashes mar Sunshine Cup round four

Sabine Spitz (Central Ghost Pro Team) was seriously injured in round four of the Sunshine Cup
Photo ©: Armin M. Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)

Two of the favorites for the women's race at the Sunshine Cup round four on Sunday suffered crashes, and both happened at the same place, albeit during different laps in the race.

On the first lap, Sabine Spitz, who was then leading the women's race, tried to pass a male rider that had started before her. In a gently descending, but fast section before the first downhill, she took a passing line which resulted in a bad crash. She went over her handlebars and landed on some stones with her back with abrasions to both her knees, arms and right elbow, and with fear of more serious injury, she withdrew from the race. Initial medical examinations found a lot of abrasions and contusions but no broken bones; however, she was scheduled to undergo further testing.

"Today ended in such a way I naturally had not imagined," she said after the initial shock of the crash wore off. "I felt actually quite good. As the rider in the men's field tried to hold me off, I was forced on to another line [to pass]. I only know that my front wheel washed out; everything happened so fast. For the moment, everything hurts and burns." Whether she will stick to her remaining program on Cyprus remains to be seen in the next few days. Her physiotherapist Volker Teubler said that Spitz was lucky and probably suffered no more serious injuries.

At the same spot on the final lap, Tereza Hurikova also went over her bars, but fortunately with less severe consequences. Having just been caught by eventual winner Petra Henzi, Hurikova tried to pass her back to be first on the following downhill. "With my pedal, I hit a stone and I hurtled over my handlebar. I think I was back on my bike fast, but Elisbeth Osl caught me," said Hurikova, who then used the last downhill to leave Osl behind on her way to second place with a margin of two seconds over Osl and 38 seconds behind Henzi.

Roel Paulissen won the men's race with a solo ride that lasted for the entire race. Czech racers Milan Spesny and Jaroslav Kulhavy finished second and third. Kulhavy and Christoph Soukup took turns trying to catch the powerful Paulissen, but each blew up just as he was about to make contact with the leader.

"The pace I took was too hard. So I had to recover," Kulhavy explained after the race.

Referring to the two failed attempts to catch him, Paulissen said, "So I had to ride the whole race without a companion. That was hard – just like the course." He finished 13 seconds ahead of a third chaser Spesny.

Cannondale-Vredestein riders take back-to-back wins

By Marcel Slagman

Roel Paulissen (Vredestein Cannondale) leads a chasing Christoph Soukup
Photo ©: Armin M. Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)

The Cannondale-Vredestein celebrated a successful weekend of racing which included two back-to-back wins in two different countries. On Saturday, Dane Jakob Fuglsang won the prestigious Grandpremio Montepaschi in Brescia, Italy. The current espoir world champion crossed the finish line for victory 20 seconds ahead of Italian rider Marco Fontana. Fuglsang's team-mate Kashi Leuchs finished ninth 2'22" behind.

The next day, Belgian racer Roel Paulissen won the fourth round of the Sunshine Cup in Vorklini, Cyprus. It was his third victory of the season; he already won two other races in Cyprus in recent weeks.

Leov & Macleod win New Zealand Open

Justin Leov and Sheryl Macleod won the New Zealand Open downhill race last weekend on a demanding track made up of sections of rocky lava flow and some open and fast corners in dry slippery conditions. The corners forced the riders to find their limits early in training. Wind definitely played a role catching some people off guard on the drop offs, with strength required to pedal through the wind to maintain the speed to the line.

Leov, a Yeti Fox Shox Factory Team, found his speed without issue, and had two excellent runs to get through the seeding and win the final by more than three seconds ahead of his nearest rival on a short sub two and a half minute course. Cameron Cole and Sam Blenkinsop finished second and third within four seconds of Leov, who now has his sights set on the Oceania Championships this weekend in Nelson, New Zealand.

"The turnout was good for the elite [men's] field and it was a bonus to have my team-mate Sam Blenkinsop onboard his freshly built up Yeti 303," said Leov. "From seeding to race run the conditions stayed the same and a lot of people looked to be struggling in the wind, especially on some of the rocky drops. It was a good day and I was happy to put two clean runs together to take the title."

Sheryl Macleod won the women's race with a time of 3.04.07. Harriott Harper and Amy Laird rounded out the top three.

Mountain biking voices heard on Capitol Hill

By Gary Boulanger, BikeRadar.com

IMBA's Jenn Dice
Photo ©: Gary Boulanger,
(Click for larger image)

Last week, cycling representatives from 46 American states convened in Washington, DC from March 4-6 for the National Bike Summit. Mountain bikers were well represented and many were there to lobby on behalf of the National Park Service, which is preparing for its 100th anniversary in 2016. President George W. Bush and Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne have proposed massive funding increases to restore parks and programs to their prior glory in the United States.

The Challenge would dedicate US$100 million a year for 10 years to park operations, generating US$1 billion. An additional US$100 million a year would be allocated to special signature projects to go above and beyond general park maintenance.

The eighth Annual National Bike Summit featured 70 International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) delegates. With record-breaking total attendance topping 500 in 2008, a unified voice for mountain biking was heard on Capitol Hill from IMBA.

On March 6, IMBA delegates were asked to urge their state's members of Congress to co-sponsor and urge the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee members to pass HR 3094 or S 1253, the National Park Centennial Challenge Fund Act. Members of Congress were also urged to support funding for the Centennial Initiative in the Department of Interior Appropriations bill.

Specifically, IMBA delegates learned first-hand about two major initiatives directly impacting trail maintenance and access in the United States: a Congressional resolution on bicycling and a National Park Service Centennial initiative.

Delegates from 46 States convened in Washington, DC
Photo ©: Gary Boulanger
(Click for larger image)

Jenn Dice, IMBA's government affairs director, spoke to a packed auditorium about the importance of "the ask" to all Summit participants on Wednesday, March 5, specifically about the 100-year Vision for National Parks: Creating Bicycle-Friendly Parks. Attendees were trained and versed in the fine art of lobbying on Capitol Hill. Dice also participated on the panel to train first-time advocates on March 4.

With 319 units across the country, chances are each Summit attendee has a Park Service site in their congressional district that might be eligible for new or improved trails open to bicycling.

"IMBA supports the National Park Service Centennial Initiative's commitment to restore and repair our nation's parks to their former glory in time for the 100-year anniversary in 2016," Dice told the Summit audience at the Reagan International Trade Center. IMBA signed a partnership agreement with the NPS in 2005 to improve riding opportunities for the nation's 40 million mountain biking participants by building more trails and opening existing, appropriate dirt trails and roads.

"More than 40 NPS units are open to mountain biking, and IMBA is working with park staff to improve conditions at these and other parks," Dice added. It helps that US President Bush is an avid, dedicated mountain biker whose passion for the dirt will help influence policy makers in Washington.

IMBA's next event, the World Summit, is scheduled for Park City, Utah from June 18 to 21.

Keyesville Classic to feature All Mountain stage race

Part of the USA Cycling National Calendar, the 20th annual Keyesville Classic, with races for cross country, downhill and short track events, is scheduled for March 14-16. Its signature event, the All Mountain Stage Race, will combine all three events into a three-stage race to encourage riders to test their all-around strengths. During the All Mountain Stage Race, riders must use the same bike for all three events, with the exception of an allowed tire change for the downhill race stage.

In addition to the racing, Klunkerz will be shown Friday, March 14 at 6:00 pm at the Kernville Brewery. Vintage Bike races and trials competition are also planned. For more information, visit www.ssfta.com.

USA Cycling adds four cross national championship

USA Cycling announced it will hold a four cross National Championship for pro men and women at the Chile Challenge at Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico on May 26. The dual slalom national championship, scheduled for the 2008 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships at Mount Snow Resort in West Dover, Vermont, July 16-20, will go on as planned. The national four cross championship will offer national championship-level UCI points and be open to American riders only.

Prior to the addition of the national championship 4X race, the Chile Challenge was listed as a category-2 UCI event and also as part of the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Gravity Calendar. Both the downhill and 4X events will be run as scheduled and be open to American and international riders alike.

American will be able to accumulate UCI points at both Chile Challenge events - the nationals and the UCI Category-2 race.

24 hour racing comes to Dubai

Just a few days remain until the 24 hours of Dubai, which was postponed until March 13-14. Among the 100 expected participants from Germany, Austria, Belgium, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Australian, Philippines, Luxembourg, UAE and Denmark, will be pop star Joey Kelly, 24 hour European Champion Bernhard Windhager, and former pro Ralf Gräf both of whom will compete in the solo category.

The UAE cycling federation is involved in organizing the race, which will be the first mountain bike race in the UAE.

For more information, visit www.24h-of-dubai.com

SERC season gets going

The first South Eastern Regional Championship (SERC) series race will kick off in at Haile's Trails in Gainesville, Florida on March 16 and will soon be followed by a race on the Tsali trails in Bryson City, North Carolina on April 6.

Three up and coming riders from the Florida are expected to do well. Jamie Knight is just 16 years-old, but is the defending US Junior National Sport Champion and will be racing in the expert/pro division this year along with Regan Woodall the 2007 Sport (19-24) National Champion. They'll be matched up against 17 year-old Martin Cox, who was named Florida Cycling Hall of Fame Junior Rider of the Year.

South Eastern Regional Championship (SERC) Series
March 16: SERC#1: Gainesville, Florida
April 6: SERC#2: Bryson City, North Carolina
April 27: SERC#3: Winder, Georgia
May 4: SERC#4: Ducktown, Tennessee
May 25: SERC#5: Athens, Georgia
June 15: SERC#6: Clemson, South Carolina
June 29: SERC#7: Chattanooga, Tennessee
July 13: SERC#8: Anniston, Alabama
July 26: SERC#9: Fontana, North Carolina

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