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MTB news & racing round-up for February 25, 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

Sunshine Cup opener looks blue and yellow

Emil Lindgren (Felt International Team) outsprints Periklis Ilias (ISD Cycling Team) for the win
Photo ©: Jan Nemec
(Click for larger image)

Two Swedes, Emil Lindgren and Alexandra Engen, won the opening round of the 2009 Sunshine Cup from Tochni to Kalavasos in Cyprus on Sunday.

In the men's race, Lindgren proved his role as Sweden's next big mountain bike hope after Fredrik Kessiakoff switched from mountain bike to road racing full-time for 2009.

The talented Lindgren suffered a flat tire with about 10km to go on the 48.3km race. He fell behind the group when making the repair.

However, Lindgren overcame his untimely handicap and the 23-year-old, in his first race for his new Felt Team, chased hard and brought himself back into contention for the final sprint against Periklis Ilias (ISD Cycling Team) of Greece. Ilias, just 22 years-old, took second, surprising everyone with his strong ride. He's a relative unknown in the world of mountain biking although he did place 31st at the World Cup finals last fall in Schladming, Austria.

"I did not expect I could win in the sprint because I was a little tired from catching up to the front guys after my rear flat," said Lindgren. "I had to really hurry to get back to them, but it worked. Now I am really happy."

"I have been coming to Cyprus every year since 2005, and this is my first win. I believed in myself and knew I had a chance for the gold."

Alexandra Engen celebrates her win
Photo ©: Jan Nemec
(Click for larger image)

In the women's race, Engen was surprised when she was told she was leading the race. The 21-year-old talent didn't let the pressure get to her and kept herself on pace to take her first victory outside of Scandinavia.

"I'm really happy. I enjoyed the race, my legs felt great today and the course fits me," said Engen. "I did not know how I would feel before the start, but eventually I was in the lead."

"I did not know I was leading until the second feed zone, where I asked how I was doing and got a reply that I was in first. That was welcome news - it was hard to tell where the other women were."

Italian Elena Gaddoni was unable to follow Engen, but secured the second place ahead of Melanie Spath of Germany. Favorite Petra Henzi said she did not try to race at full pace, but instead approached the day as a training ride.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Sunshine Cup round 1.

Jongewaard repeats while O'Shea makes her mark at Anaconda Odyssey

Chris Jongewaard finishes first overall in the 100km
Photo ©: Rebecca Jennings
(Click for larger image)

South Australian Chris Jongewaard led the 100km Anaconda Odyssey MTB Marathon from start to finish to win back-to-back titles in the marathon formerly called the Otway Odyssey, now the second largest mountain bike race in Australia. Women's winner Katherine O'Shea successfully dominated the course and her competitors while leading for the majority of the race.

The start provided the first spectacle of the day with the queue of riders stretching hundreds of metres down the main road led by the seeded riders. A hot men's field including 2007 champion Murray Spink and Olympian Dan McConnell were put to the sword from the very first climb of the day. Similar to last year, the main group was splintered early and was whittled down by 10km with Jongewaard and McConnell taking the lead early.

Jongewaard managed a small break along the Red Carpet singletrack section and extended this into the Shotz Super Loop at the 67km mark. McConnell fought hard and managed to close the gap to under two minutes in the final 13km, but Jongewaard was too strong and smashed the course record to finish in four hours, 30 minutes and 46 seconds.

A tussle between Murray Spink and Adrian Jackson provided a close battle for third with Spink the victor, 10 minutes behind first place. The first four places ended up the same as in the 2008 race.

"This is a good lead-up for the year ahead and a good gauge of how I'm going," said Jongewaard after this win, obviously happy with his result before he goes to South Africa for the Cape Epic in March.

With a 30-minute head start on the rest of the field, the elite women had the rare experience of doing their own race without the hassle of hundreds of men to fight for a good spot on the track. Katherine O'Shea, in her first marathon race, said the other women went out hard in the first climb but like Jongewaard, she led from quite early in the race to win in five hours, 43 minutes and 18 seconds.

Claiming she wasn't feeling that great at the start and giving Jo Bennett credit for being really strong on the climbs, O'Shea powered ahead at the 40km when she said she got a lift from the top men when they started passing her even though they were just too quick to stay with.

Bennett and Emma Colson rode together for some time to in an attempt to peg her back but O'Shea extended her lead nevertheless. Colson rode to a strong second place in familiar surrounds as a local. Using this knowledge to make a break on Bennett, who was competing in her first Anaconda Odyssey, she finished strongly eight minutes behind O'Shea.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Anaconda Odyssey.

Leov and Jonnier claim final South Island Cup wins

Justin Leov and Sabrina Jonnier claimed the final rounds of the New Zealand South Island mountain bike cups in Blenheim last weekend.

In the men's race, Leov defeated the winner of the previous round Danny Hart while Sam Blenkinsopclaimed third.

"My run didn't feel like a normal race run, I felt really unfit but when I got to the bottom my time was pretty good and I ended up winning," Leov said.

In the elite women's race, two-time downhill world champion Sabrina Jonnier of France won with local rider Harriet Harper taking second. Harper enjoyed the weekend of racing and was happy to host the large number of downhill racers on her home track while Harriet Ruecknagel of Germany placed third.

"It's great to see everyone enjoying the track, there aren't many of us who ride in Blenheim so it's awesome to have lots of people to ride with on home ground," Harper said.

This was the final race in the series of three comprising the South Island Downhill Cup, and the last event of the New Zealand MTB Cup. Riders will head to Nelson for the National Mountain Bike Championships from February 26 to March 1 during which downhill, cross country, dual slalom, hill climb, short track and 4X titles will be awarded.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the South Island Downhill Cup round three.

Australian Marathon Championship postponed

Big Hill Events postponed the 2009 Australian National Marathon Championships due to the devastating fires that recently swept the Wandong area. A new date, venue and host for the 2009 Championships are yet to be confirmed by Mountain Bike Australia (MTBA). Current entrants will receive a refund or credit.

Due to the severity of the damage caused by the fires, it is unlikely that Big Hill Events will be able to run a race in Wandong the rest of the year. However, the organization is planning a new Victorian race venue for March 2010 and hopes to host the 2010 Australian National Marathon Championships.

Giant Italia gets first win of the season and adds a rider

Giant Italia Team won its first victory in Canicattini Bagni, Sicily last weekend thanks to a strong performance by Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez. His teammate Diego Rosa finished third overall and was the first Under 23 rider. Mirko Farnisi finished second, 40 seconds behind Gutierrez.

At the Sicily Cup event, the team announced a new rider, Roberto Traficante a former teammate of roadie Gilberto Simoni's on Team LPR.

Mountain biking declines in Eastern US

Joanna Petterson (Maxxis) racing downhill in Windham, New York
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)
The popularity of mountain biking seems to be increasingly on a decline in America's eastern states. But to Daniel McDonald, a member of USA Cycling's ProTour Committee, it's no cause for alarm. In fact, he's downright giddy about it. McDonald oversees the largest series of "decline" racing events in North America: USA Cycling's 17-race Gravity East Series.

Gravity racing is thriving on America's more conservative right coast. In the early days of mountain biking, virtually all national-caliber events where held on mountains and included the gravity disciplines. Star riders like Julie Furtado and John Tomac competed in both the downhill and cross country disciplines and the downhill was often the weekend's most anticipated event. But about 15 years ago, NORBA (the national governing body of US mountain biking at the time) started to de-emphasize ski resorts as national event venues.

Simultaneously, cross country became an Olympic sport and freeriding opened up new and creative vistas for the gravity riders. With cross country no longer coupled to the mountains and downhill riders gravitating toward the non-racing freeride scene, mountain biking essentially split into two separate sports.

At the same time, ski resorts realized the potential of recreational free riding in the summer to turn their ski lifts into 12-month operations. As ski mountains began to hire full-time bike staff, build trails and purchase rental fleets of long-travel full-suspension bikes, they created summer customers who didn't subscribe to the masochistic creed that hitching a ride to the top of the mountain somehow made them lesser riders.

The gravity scene has come full circle with a return of focus on high-intensity racing.

"I had 15 mountains wanting to be a part of the series in 2009 and had to whittle that number down to 11," said McDonald of the USAC-sanctioned Gravity East Series that runs from New Hamshire to Virginia. "It's almost too many."

The Gravity East Series has become the largest of its type in North America. The Series' 2009 schedule features 11 two-day downhill racing events at some of the finest mountains and resorts in America. "The guys in the Tour de France can only dream about the kind of facilities and hotel rooms that we have at Gravity East races," said McDonald.

2009 Gravity East Downhill Series
May 8-9: Massanutten Resort, McGaheysville, Virginia (www.massresort.com)
June 5-7: Wisp Resort, McHenry, Maryland (www.racersedgeonline.com)
June 13-14: Seven Springs Mountain Resort, Champion, Pennsylvania (www.7springs.com)
June 27-28: Windham Mountain, Windham, New York (www.windhammountain.com)
July 11-12: Highland Mountain Bike Park, Northfield, New Hampshire (www.highlandmountain.com)
July 18-19: Attitash, Bartlett, New Hampshire (www.attitash.com)
August 1-2: Sugarbush Resort, Warren, Vermont (www.sugarbush.com)
Aug 29-30: Whiteface 5K DH, Wilmington, New York (www.downhillmike.com)
September 26-27: Blue Mountain Resort, Danielsville, Pennsylvania (www.skibluemt.com)
October 3-4: Mount Snow, West Dover, Vermont (www.mountsnow.com)
October 10-11: Gravity East Series Finals, Plattekill Mountain, Roxbury, New York, (www.plattekill.com)

For more information on the Gravity East Series, see www.GravityEastSeries.com.

Counting down to New Zealand's first stage race

With tyres pumped, bags packed and last minute training done, mountain bikers from around New Zealand were counting down the hours to the start of the inaugural Skins Alpine Epic on Wednesday, February 25.

In New Zealand's first stage mountain bike race, running through February 28, teams of two are battling it out over 259km from Canterbury foothills of Mt Somers through the Southern Alps to Lake Tekapo in Mount Cook/Mackenzie country. Competitors will finish on the shores of Lake Tekapo with the spectacular backdrop of the Southern Alps.

Event co-organiser Nick Ross predicts that first place will come down to a race between New Zealand's top cross-country mountain biker and Olympian Kashi Leuchs who has teamed up with fellow national rep Marcus Roy, and well-known endurance athlete Mark Williams from Queenstown with teammate Scott Wilder, a competitive road cyclist from Christchurch.

Alpine Epic
Stage 1: Mt Somers to Inverary - 35km, 800m ascent
Stage 2: Inverary to the Rangitata River - 35km, 1,250m ascent
Stage 3: Rangitata River to Rangitata Gorge Time Trial - 15km, 150m ascent
Stage 4: Rangitata Gorge to Sherwood Hall - 80km, 2,300m ascent
Stage 5: Sherwood to Tekapo - 62km, 1,950m ascent

Torq diary: Returning to good times

By Tory Thomas

There wasn't too much talking at the top of some of the super steep climbs.
Photo ©: Tim Retchford
(Click for larger image)

It's been another beautiful sunny day in hometown Mount Beauty, a perfect training day... but I'm living under coach's orders for rest, recovery, and more rest. It's difficult being sick any time of year, but it's especially challenging when there are brilliant blue skies and warm golden sunshine, complete with an idyllic light breeze... heaven!

Until my cold happened, training has been going really well. Since Christmas, I've had a dream run in terms of training and health; for the first time in over two years, I've been able to recover and sleep. Suddenly I've been able to train.

I've been pretty sick for the last two years – nothing too dramatic, just an incessant and chronic tiredness and apathy, an exhaustion that seeped in to my life on and off the bike. During this time, I couldn't sleep and I couldn't recover, and not surprisingly, I simply couldn't train. 

Read the complete diary entry.

Three US mountain bike development camps set for spring and summer

As a part of its mountain development program, USA Cycling will host a series of racing-oriented European development camps this spring and summer. The U23 and junior cross-country camps will be based in Kirchzarten, Germany, each running for a three-week period. Interested parties may submit attendance petitions to National Mountain Bike Development Director Marc Gullickson no later than April 1.

The first camp, running May 7-25 will be open to U23 riders only while U23 riders and juniors may attend the second and third camps on May 28 - June 15 and June 18 to July 6.

"These camps bring our cross-country mountain bike development program in line with USA Cycling's philosophy of focusing on developing our top young riders through international race experience," said Gullickson. "This plan will provide European mountain bike racing opportunities to a larger number of riders so that the World Championships isn't the first experience a young rider has racing outside of the US.

"In an effort to fill the World Championship team with medal capable riders, it is important to give these athletes an opportunity to prove they can compete and win against top international fields in advance of their selection to the World Championship squad. The camps will be an important stepping stone for young mountain bike riders to reach the top level of elite racing."

Levels of financial support will vary per rider qualifications. Full financial support will be offered only to 2008 U23 men's and junior 17-18 men's national cross country champions. Riders who qualified for automatic nomination to the 2008 World Championship team and will still be competing in the same age category, will only be required to pay round-trip air fare to Europe. All other attendees will be required to pay round trip air fare as well as an $850.00 camp fee.

One non-funded spot will also be awarded to the top finishing 21- or 22-year-old who places inside the top 10 in the Sea Otter Classic's elite men's cross-country race and another such spot will go to the top-finishing 19- to 20 year-old who places inside the top 20 in that same race. A third non-funded spot will be awarded to the winner of the Sea Otter Classic's junior men's cross-country race on April 19.

Men and women are invited to apply. Riders will be selected based on past international and domestic race results as well as performance at the 2008 National Mountain Bike Talent ID Camp.

Completed petition forms (found here: http://www.usacycling.org/forms/mtb/09MTB_DevCamp_Petition.doc) should be emailed to Marc Gullickson at mgullickson@usacycling.org.

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