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MTB news & racing round-up for April 9, 2009

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

Felt Team cancels contract with Martinez

Miguel Martinez
Photo ©: Team Felt International
(Click for larger image)
The Felt International Team announced on Tuesday that it had cancelled the contract of 33-year-old Miguel Martinez "due to unbridgeable differences".

In a statement, the team said, "The athlete behaved inexcusably and violated his contract. He is dismissed effective immediately." Therefore, Martinez will not compete at the World Cup opener in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa this weekend.

Martinez was convicted of assault against his wife on Tuesday and punished with a four-month suspended prison sentence by a court in Draguignan according to the AFP. He was banned from going near his wife or having any contact with her. The Frenchman has been in court or in mediation several times over the past two years for violent incidents.

Martinez was the cross country world champion and the Olympic champion in 2000.

Näf sidelined by illness

Ralph Näf will have to sit out the World Cup opener in South Africa this weekend due to illness.

Two weeks ago, the Swiss rider caught the stomach flu, from which he has not fully recovered. Rather than jeopardizing his future racing by undertaking the extensive travel to and from South Africa, he will stay home and continue preparation for the European World Cups.

"The season is long, and we don't want to risk retarding his recovery still further," said Team Manager Andreas Rottler. "He was clearly not recovered as of the Racer Bikes Cup this weekend, so our decision was clear." Näf pulled out of that race on Sunday after leading the race for the first four laps.

"We'd rather have him at the start as a contender for a win in Offenburg and Houffalize. In order to so, forfeiting one race is a necessity."

Naf added that his pre-sickness form was better than ever before. "If I get the chance to get back to my training and am patient, I should be back at my top level in no time," said Naf. "But competing in a race just to be there, without a chance for one of the top positions, is not a reason to travel all the way to South Africa."

Despite his absence, his Multivan Merida Biking Team will field a strong team at the World Cup including Jose Antonio Hermida, Moritz Milatz, Jochen Kass and Rudi van Hout. All are already in South Africa getting ready for the weekend of racing.

Kurschat surprises with win while Wloszczowska tops women's field in South Africa

Germany's Wolfram Kurschat powers up a climb on his way to victory
Photo ©: MTN National Cup
(Click for larger image)

German Wolfram Kurschat stunned the favourites to secure a dominant victory in the elite men's cross country race at round four of the MTN National Mountain Bike Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on Saturday, while Olympic silver medallist Maja Wloszczowska of Poland, held off the Olympic bronze medallist, Russian Irina Kalentieva, to win the elite women's cross country.

The majority of the entrants were using the event to prepare for this weekend's opening round of the UCI World Cup, to be held at the same venue.

After a poor start, the 34-year-old German Kurschat (Topeak Ergon), who is currently ranked 35th in the world, began to move through the field, riding from 11th place after the first of seven laps and catching the lead group comprising Burry Stander (Mr Price Specialized), Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel (both Scott Swisspower), on lap four.

Kurschat, an agile climber, was in his element on the numerous steep ascents, passing three-man break en route to assuming the lead. He continued to increase his lead, eventually finishing in 1:54:45 seconds. Jose Antonio Hermida's late-race pace saw first Schurter and then Stander drop off on the final lap before he secured the runner-up place. Stander, cheered on by his enthusiastic home fans, finished half a minute later to secure the final podium place and claim top prize for the Under 23 category.

"It was a very good race and a fantastic leg-loosener for the World Cup next week," said Stander. "My plan was to ride hard for the first three laps and then go steady for the rest of the way. It worked out fine, but I did feel my legs are still a bit heavy after last week's Cape Epic. By next week they should be fine though."

"Kurschat was a surprise for all of us. He's a good rider, but normally inconsistent. Hopefully this week was his good week!"

Poland's Maja Wloszczowska
Photo ©: MTN National Cup
(Click for larger image)

Maja Wloszczowska of Poland, fought off a strong challenge from Russian Irina Kalentieva, to win the elite women's cross-country race. After a steady start for the first half a lap, the front group strung out dramatically on the first long climb with Wloszczowska (Bank BGZ) and Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) moving off the front and building a small lead on the tough 4.6km course.

Unperturbed by the mid-day heat, the pair of Eastern Europeans set a fierce pace and marked one another closely on the tight course. But on the penultimate lap the 25-year-old Pole managed to pull clear, eventually claiming the victory in 1:43:19.

Kalentieva was less than a minute back with American Mary McConneloug (Kenda Seven) finishing strongly to claim the final podium spot. Another Pole, Aleksandra Dawidowicz, finished sixth overall and secured the Under 23 category victory.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the cross country, downhill and four cross events at the MTN South African Series #4 in Pietermaritzburg.

Barel out due to injury

Downhiller Fabien Barel (Subaru Pro Mountain Bike Team) is out of competition with an injury he sustained last weekend at the MTN National Series round four in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. He will have to sit out the opening World Cup competition in the same location.

Barel crashed during the practice session last Friday morning. The track was very slippery due to recent rains. And although he crashed at a relatively low speed, he hit his knee on a stump and suffered a dislocation of his knee.

After a visit to the hospital, he was released with a splint and no broken bones, but suspected ligament damage. Barel is travelling back to his home in France where he will rest and recover and then begin preparing for the rest of the season.

Team Massi sends delegation to World Cup

Marga Fullana and Jean Christophe Peraud
Photo ©: Sergio Suarez
(Click for larger image)

The Massi team has sent a delegation of racers to the opening round of the UCI World Cup to be held in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, this weekend.

World Champion Marga Fullana, Anna Villar, U23 racer Darío Gasco and Jean Christophe Peraud will race the cross country while Iván Oulego and Bernat Guardia are signed up for the downhill.

"We go knowing that this is the first competition and we desire to do something great with Marga and Jean Christophe," said team manager Manuel Gómez Ayala. "In the first World Cup, we never know how everyone will be. Afterwards, we can draw conclusions about how we might approach the other World Cups.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the opener of the UCI World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Taberlay & Sawicki win US Cup West round three

The elite men
Photo ©: Michael Darter
(Click for larger image)

The US Cup travelled to Southern California on Sunday for round three at the Sage Brush Safari. An impressive 586 racers made the trek to the East San Diego County venue, which has not been open for several years due to closure from fires. Ellsworth's Pua Sawicki and Sho-Air/Specialized's Sid Taberlay came away with wins in the elite races.

Amgen's Natasha Hernday attacked first, but was countered by Sawicki who quickly distanced the field on the climb up to four corners. Sawicki put the hammer down as she reached the steeper portions of the climb and she soon found herself caught up in the midst of the men's field.

"The course was unbelievable," said Sawicki. "I can't remember when I rode a cross country course that put a smile on my face like Sage Brush did today. I felt strong all day and just rode my own race - it worked out perfectly."

At the end, Sawicki was clearly in a league of her own. She passed about 10 pro men on her way up the final ascent to the top of Los Pinos, and she won ahead of Allison Mann, who gave her IE Bikes sponsor its best female pro finish for 2009.

The elite men's race turned into a slug fest with 34 pros lining up to take on the 28-mile loop that offered over 4,000 feet of climbing. Kenda Cup West series leader Taberlay was looking to rebound after a disappointing sixth place finish at last week's ProXCT race in Fontana. Taberlay brought his teammates: Manny Prado who came into the event fourth in points in the overall standings and Sammy Jurekovic who arrived ranked fifth in points.

Kenda/Tomac/Hayes sent Andy Schultz, ranked second in the series. Before the race, Schultz made it known that he was seeking redemption after last weekend's 12th placed finish at the ProXCT opener in Fontana. The race would turn into a two-man battle between Schultz and Taberlay, and the Australian Taberlay would come out on top, successfully defending his series lead.

Sid Taberlay rides
Photo ©: Michael Darter
(Click for larger image)

"I was patient today mate and weathered the storm of attacks Schultzy was throwing at me," said Taberlay. "I wanted the lead into the last downhill section heading back to the finish."

And strike he did. Taberlay came out from behind Schultz's wheel and laid down a blistering attack. The Kenda/Hayes/Tomac rider did everything in his power to respond, but couldn't match the little Aussie's acceleration up the paved climb. Taberlay was in full time trial mode as he desperately made his way back to the top of four corners, before dropping into the old downhill course that riders navigated back towards the finish, where the Sho-Air/Specialized rider came across the line, notching his second Kenda Cup West victory. Schultz finished just over a minute back and ahead of Jurekovic.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Sage Brush Safari.

Graf and Osl win Swiss season opener

Jurg Graf
Photo ©: Felt International Racing Team
(Click for larger image)

Jürg Graf (Felt International MTB Team) and Elisabeth Osl (central GHOST Pro Team) took wins in the opening round of the Racer Bikes Cup in Schaan, Switzerland, on Sunday after favorites Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida Biking Team) and Sabine Spitz (central GHOST Pro Team) surprised their fellow competitors by not winning their respective races. Spitz took fourth place in the women's race, but Näf pulled out of the men's race due to illness.

"I was up sick on Thursday and knew that I could not fight for victory," said Näf, who also praised the course.

Näf was at the front of the race for four laps along with Martin Gujan (Cannondale Factory Racing) and Graf. Gujan and Graf pushed each other until the end of the seventh lap. That's when Graf attacked Gujan on a climb. Then, it was a one-man show until the end as Graf extended his lead to over a minute at the finish. Gujan finished second and 37-year-old former road pro Alexandre Moos (BMC) took third. The top under 23 racer was Patrick Gallati (Scott-Swisspower MTB Racing) in fourth place overall.

In the women's race, 24-year-old Austrian Osl took off from the start. The Austrian National Champion left the rest of her competition behind.

Throughout the race multiple-time Swiss National Champion Petra Henzi (Fischer-BMC) raced in second place, and she was overjoyed with her finish, saying afterward, "The race was super. I'm really happy." She was two minutes behind Osl.

Swiss champion Kathrin Leumann (goldwurst-power / Sputnik) finished third. Olympic Champion Spitz was already off the pace on the first lap. She finished in fourth place.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Swiss Racer Bikes Cup in Schaan.

Giger takes first round of Bundesliga

Germany's national series, the MTB Bundesliga, kicked off with an Under 23-only round at Goseck. Swiss Fabian Giger (SKS-MiG) and Markus Bauer (Ger/Lexware Racing) dueled until the end when Giger took the final sprint, winning by just one second. Dutchman Henk Jaap Moorlag (De Brink-ten Tusscher) finished third.

On a fast, 5.5km course, Giger and Bauer were part of an initial six-man lead group. On lap five, they attacked and split it apart. The duo worked together and extended their lead up to 50 seconds ahead of a three-man chasing group.

Giger kept cool his cool in the finale. "Markus was very strong today, but I knew that I was a little bit stronger," he said. "So I decided to keep my own rhythm and put everything on the finish."

Bauer was happy to get the second place behind Giger, who finished fourth at last year's under 23 world championship. "[It was] absolutely crazy. It's the biggest success in my career," said the 19-year-old Bauer.

The next round of the International MTB Bundesliga will take place in Münsingen in two weeks on April 17-18. That's where the elite riders will kick off their Bundesliga. Saturday will feature a sprint race, and the cross country will happen on Sunday.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Bundesliga opener.

Scott11 backs new gravity team

Scott Bicycles is sponsoring a new World Cup downhill and four cross team, Scott11. The team compliments the bike manufacturer's existing Scott-Swisspower World Cup cross country squad. Scott11 is a developmental program for both riders and the Scott Engineering department.

"We stepped up for 2009 and became title sponsor to Scott-Swisspower, the brainchild of Thomas Frischknecht," said Scott's Adrian Montgomery. "With Scott11, we took a similar approach by investing in another professional Claudio Caluori, who could mentor and guide young riders on the way up. At the same time, we gain valuable experience we can use to further develop our gravity product and the entire Mountain Segment."

Scott11 Team: Fabien Pedemanaud, Aari Barrett, Nick Beer, Adrian Weiss, Mirco Weiss, Robin Hagen, Emilie Siegenthaler under Manager Claudio Caluori

The Team will ride Scott Gambler DH bikes.

Aussie 24-hour championships this weekend

Australia's elite endurance riders will compete over the weekend in the Australian solo 24-hour championships, to be held at Mt Majura, Canberra. Hosted by Canberra Off Road Cyclists (CORC), the 24-hour championships at the Innabaanya Girl Guide Camp is expected to provide spectacular racing action over a 10km circuit which climbs more than 680 meters above sea level.

There is also a 6+6 category, in which racers may chose to race only six hours on Saturday and six hours on Sunday.

This weekend's event is the only Australian qualifying event for the World 24-hours of Adrenalin Solo Championships, in Alberta, Canada.

For more information, visit www.solo24hour.com.au.

Lopes in BikeRadar dual slalom action

Ibis Cycles rider and four-time four-cross world champion Brian Lopes has signed up to ride in the Mountain Biking UK Eliminator at BikeRadar Live at Donington Park in Leicestershire, United Kingdom, on May 30-31. The Californian racer will face a host of big name riders on the start line, including world downhill champion Greg Minnaar and fellow Santa Cruz Syndicate rider Josh Bryceland.

Other stars on the starters' list include Australian downhill legend Chris Kovarik, 2007 downhill junior world champ Ruaridh Cunningham, World Cup four-cross rider Lucas Mechura and UK downhill and 4X star Nigel Page.

Lopes was dual slalom world champion in 2001 and has won five World Cup dual slalom events, so he's a hot favourite to top the podium, and he can't wait to race at BikeRadar Live.

"I'm really looking forward to coming to England for this dual slalom," said Lopes. "With Will Longden building the course and the backing of the (Mountain Bike UK) MBUK guys, I have high expectations that it should be a great event. The crowds are always first notch in England and they always make it more enjoyable to race.

"Dual slalom has always been an event I've loved, even more than four-cross, so it's great that it's making a resurgence in one the top mountain bike countries. I'll try to bring some California sunshine with me. See you all soon!"

For more information on BikeRadar Live, the biggest ever mass-participation cycling event to hit the UK, or to sign up, visit http://live.bikeradar.com/. The weekend will be packed full of races and challenges, with something for everyone, whether you want to compete, watch your friends and family or just check out some of the world's best riders.

Mountain goats battle in NorCal round three

Celebrations, festivities, warm temperatures, and hard racing marked the third round of the five-race NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing Series, at the new venue of Pilarcitos Canyon in Fort Ord last weekend.

365 high school mountain bikers from 33 schools came from as far as Redding to compete in this race, a testament not only to the quality of the event, but to the commitment these riders and their families show to the sport.

"One thing that always gets me is these kids stop to check on each other when there's a crash. The kids and their families and the coaches are the life of the series. We just help to bring it all together on a challenging and fun course, in an organized structure, while keeping it enjoyable and safe," said Justin Morgan of the NorCal League.

Team Talk

In Division I, Drake Pirates increased their lead thanks to wins by Sofia Hamilton and Roman Brockley, and a fine third place by Leah Catlin. Drake now has 11,619 points, to San Rafael Bulldogs on 11,497, with Nevada Union Miners holding third on 11,350.

In Division II, a close battle rages between Marin Catholic on 5,887, and San Marin on 5,885. Victoria Yoham and Ryan Erler led the charge for Marin Catholic, while Herculaas Botha and Justin Ayala kept their team right on the pace. The impressive Monterey Bay Kingfishers team, now on 5,775, was kept in the hunt thanks to great rides by brother and sister Carter and Ashton Williams, as well as Chase Myers.

A new eight-mile loop that comprises a chunk of Sea Otter Classic trails provided a race course that riders variously described as fast, hilly, technical, not too technical. A climb of around two miles started the lap, and this helped break up the field, but some fast and technical descents gave the bike handlers something to work with, in addition to big smiles and white knuckles all round - in other words, it was classic mountain biking terrain.

John Bennett (El Cerrito) and Shayna Powless (Independent) won the varsity categories while Freshman Bryan Duke (Salinas) and Ruth Winder (Independent) won the Junior varsity division one categories. Andrew Taylor (Contra Costa composite) won the junior varsity boys division two category.

"There are a lot of fast riders here; I just had a good day." Which says it all - all it takes is a good day and those gaps close fast. Talking about his experience racing in the pro ranks of the national series, Bennett said "It's a big step up. We're by no means near the front yet. Hopefully in a few years."

Other winners included Roman Brockley of Drake (sophomore boys division one); Noah Hanagan of Independent (sophomore boys division two); Sofia Hamilton of Drake (sophomore girls); Isaiah Rapko of Berkeley (freshman boys division one); Nick Casaccia of Independent (freshman boys division two); and Sofia Gomez of Los Gatos (freshman girls).

Round four will take place at the Granite Bay Invitational II, in Folsom Lake, California on April 26.

To read more about this race or the series or check out results and standings, visit www.norcalmtb.org.

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