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MTB news & racing round-up for January 7, 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

Stander gets an early start

Neethling looking forward to racing at home

Burry Stander racing for South Africa at the World Championships
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

The first round of the MTN South African Cup series will get underway this weekend in Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch, where U23 World Cup champion Burry Stander will make his season debut with his new Team Specialized. He'll be racing the cross country with a field comprised most of fellow racers from South Africa.

"I'm looking forward to the race as it's a good way to gauge my form after the holidays, most of which were spent doing base mileage training in preparation for the Absa Cape Epic at the end of March," said Stander.

"It's quite a technical course with plenty of rocks - making it difficult to find and maintain momentum, so I'll be riding my full-suspension bike," said Stander, who was forced to withdraw while leading last year's race due to a mechanical problem.

Stander's main opposition will come from African cross country champion Ben-Melt Swanepoel, South African cross country champion Brandon Stewart and Max Knox (all DCM Chrome); Francois Theron and Philip Buys (Garmin); Mathys Beukes (MTN Energade); and Renay Goustra (Red Mongoose).

Among Stander's supporters at the event will be girlfriend Cherise Taylor, the 2007 junior road race world championship silver medallist and current South African road champion; and Stander's new Specialized teammate and current cross country World Champion Christoph Sauser, with whom he'll partner at the Cape Epic.

In the absence of current South African champion Amy Jane Mundy (Rocky Mountain) and African champion Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing Activeworx), the women's cross-country event will lack depth, but is still expected to produce a strong contest with the likes of Tania Raats (Fox Maverick), Yolandi du Toit (DCM Chrome), Mariske Strauss (MTN Energade) and Caitlin de Wet (Mr Price Scott).

Offering UCI category 2 points, the event is expected to draw those hoping to earn the points needed to start the first UCI World Cup event of 2009 in Pietermartizburg, South Africa, in April.

In Sunday's downhill event, Andrew Neethling (Trek) will be a marked man by a field of mostly younger riders bristling with ambition and talent. Neethling finished 11th overall in the 2008 World Cup and will be eager to start his new year with a new team on a winning note. The 2007 national champion won this event last year and he is ready to put himself and his bike through its paces on a course that's mostly smooth and fast.

"It's not a very technical course, but it's really fast and narrow which requires quick reaction times so it's sure to provide an interesting contest," said Neethling. "It's always good to race at home and I'm looking forward competing against the top South African-based guys again."

Neethling's biggest challenge for the top step of the podium is likely to come from his brother Jonty Neethling (Morewood), Johann Potgieter (Cannondale) and sub-veteran Gary Barnard (Morewood).

The MTN South African Cup Series is the country's most prestigious cross-country and downhill racing series and comprises five events, including the national championships.

New Zealand national series opens in Rotorua

It was a European affair at the first round of the 2009 Raboplus New Zealand North Island Downhill Cup in Rotorua. Ben Lathrow from England won the elite men's category whilst France's Emmeline Ragot won the elite women's gravity race.

Race Organiser Dave Hamilton was pleased to see a good mix of international contingents as well as a lot of local competitors. "It is great to see a good international flavour alongside the many local riders in the race," he said of the 202 riders pinning it down a track in the Whakarewarewa Forest.

The sun turned up the heat on what would otherwise have been an incredibly muddy track after the previous day's intermittent heavy rain. The track was still sticky and changed throughout the day, forcing riders concentrate on their run to stay on their lines. With a time of 3:30.08, Cathro defeated Cameron Cole by a tenth of a second and Aari Barret by just under one second.

Frenchwoman Emmeline Ragot, racing for the first time in the series, enjoyed her runs and won by a comfortable 7.35 seconds over Gabrielle Molloy. "The track was great, with good technical sections, and I didn't mind the mud at all because I enjoy racing in these conditions," she said. Harriet Harper finished third.

The cross country opening round, held the day before, proved a more domestic affair and was won by Mike Northcott and Annika Smail.

Northcott's win came by just a bike length as he sprinted to the finish in heavy rain ahead of Stuart Houltham. The two had been battling it out with local rider and international road cycling talent and Classics' specialist Clinton Avery, who crashed out of his 20 second lead on a treacherously slippery descent just two kilometers from the end of the race.

In the women's race, Smail took the title by a large margin over first-year elite racer Monique Avery and Nicole Swain.

The next round of the North Island Cross Country series will happen at Woodhill Mountain Bike Park, near Auckland on January 10. Round two of the North Island Downhill Cup returns to Whakarewarewa Forest on January 16-17.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of round one of the New Zealand North Island Downhill and Cross Country Cup.

Kenda / Morewood signs Aussie pair

Nathan Rennie (Aus) used to race for Santa Cruz Syndicate
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)

Australians Nathan Rennie and Mitchell Delfs will represent the Kenda Morewood World Cup racing team on the downhill circuit in 2009.

27-year-old Rennie, a former overall UCI World Cup Downhill Champion and Junior World Champion, is a regular World Cup podium visitor. After several World Cup podiums in 2008, with his highlight being second on home turf at the Canberra round, Rennie is looking forward to the 2009 World Cup and the World Championships.

"I am super happy to be where I am in 2009. I'm stuck in training already and my knee feels good. It won't be long before it will be 100%. I feel like the change for me is for the better for all parties and just want to get racing again," said Rennie.

Delfs, 19, is still one of the young guns on the World Cup circuit. After a good performance during the 2007 World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada, and a fourth place at 2007 Junior World Championships, he was given the opportunity to participate in his first full World Cup season in 2008. Delfs has progressed from race to race and after two top 10 finishes in the second part of the season, he has become a contender for

"It's going to be an exciting year, with a great bike and good factory support to race on. I'm sure there will be a few World Cups with my name on it. With a new team mate as fast as Nathan Rennie I know my riding will improve," said Delfs.

The pair will race the Morewood Makulu in races and train on the Mbuzi, Shova and Ndiza.

SRAM Fund awards money to IMBA

The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) received a US$200,000 grant from the SRAM Cycling Fund. It was the second award from the Fund, which was created on September 30, 2008. During the next five years, the Fund plans to award $10 million in grants to support cycling advocacy programs around the world that focus on improving bicycling.

SRAM President and CEO, Stan Day, acknowledged IMBA's achievements. "It is hard to imagine where mountain biking would be today without IMBA's trail building and restoration efforts over the last 20 years. Mike Van Abel, his staff and hundreds of IMBA grassroots volunteers have a proven track record. We are confident that SRAM's contribution to IMBA will be a powerful investment in the future of mountain biking."

Mike Van Abel, Executive Director of IMBA, talked about how the funds will be put to use.

"We are extremely excited about SRAM's contribution. These new funds will allow IMBA to build more new trails and build them quicker. We will invest $150,000 to add professional staff on a regional basis to bolster local clubs capacity to build and maintain trails, and $50,000 in our new grassroots fundraising program, Team IMBA, which also funds new trails," said Van Abel.

SRAM will announce more grants in the next few weeks.

Trek and Volkswagen end 13-year cycling partnership

By Sue George

Trek / VW's Jeff Schalk won the men's NUE series in 2008
Photo ©: Chris Scott
(Click for larger image)

Trek Bicycle confirmed reports of the demise of its Trek / VW Factory Mountain Bike Team with an announcement that the company had ended its 13-year partnership with Volkswagen of America effective with the close of the 2008 calendar year. The collaboration was one of the longest running and most successful in mountain biking and cycling in general. For mountain bike racers, the team's cessation marks the end of an era in which the predominantly red, black and white colors of Trek / VW were seen nearly every weekend at local, regional and national off-road races in the US.

"This has been a great alliance since its inception in 1995," Trek's Director of Marketing Dean Gore said. "Volkswagen has been a great partner not only to Trek, but also to the sport of mountain biking and cycling in general. Staying with one program for over 13 years is relatively unheard of in the fast-paced world of auto marketing. And even though they have decided not to continue with Trek in 2009, we still feel indebted to VW for their loyalty and support over the years. Volkswagen vehicles took us to a lot of races over the years and allowed Trek athletes to chase a lot of dreams."

Former US national short track champion Sue Haywood, current US marathon and short track national champion Jeremiah Bishop, current US National 24 hour solo champion Chris Eatough, National Ultra-Endurance (NUE) series champions Jeff Schalk and Cheryl Sornson, Ross Schnell and Lea Davison are just some of the many names of riders who grew their careers with the Trek / VW regional and national level mountain bike squads.

What started with the 1996 Volkswagen Jetta Trek, a limited-edition Jetta outfitted with a roof rack and special-edition Trek mountain bike, and a four-man professional mountain bike team, grew into a full strength men's and women's professional and amateur team that racked up a total of 10 World Championships in cross country, dual slalom, all mountain, and 24-hour solo events.

In addition to the teams, the partnership also backed the Ride the Best Demo Tour and the Fit For Women Tour, two programs which offered bicycle test rides at cycling and automotive events throughout the US. Trek will continue to operate both programs without Volkswagen. It will also continue sponsorship of a racing team, one with an emphasis on World Cup and other international mountain bike events. The names on the new World Cup team's roster differ from the now-defunct factory team.

Tracy Moseley and Liam Killeen of Great Britain, Justin Leov of New Zealand, Andrew Neethling of South Africa and Swiss brothers Lukas Flueckiger and Matthias Flueckiger will comprise the new World Cup team. Eatough previously told Cyclingnews that he has one year left on his contract and will be racing for Trek in 2009.

"While the end of Trek/VW stirs up many emotions," said Michael Browne, Trek's Global MTB Brand Manager, "Trek is committed to racing. As sad as we are to see the VW team end, we're really excited to usher in a new era with the new Trek World Cup Racing program, operated by 23 Degrees Sports Management. The World Cup program is global in scope and is the first World Cup team in years to combine highly competitive cross country and downhill racing into the same program."

Näf finishes among strong mountain bike contingent at Flüüger Quer 'cross

Ralph Näf
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)

Mountain bikers put in a strong showing at the Flüüger Quer cyclo-cross race in Dübendorf, Switzerland, on Sunday. They collected six of the top fifteen finishes in the elite men's race.

Multivan Merida's Ralph Näf overcame 30th place starting position to work his way up to the front. He finished second, 21 seconds back, behind Simon Zahner (Rendementhypo Cycling Team). After another 20 seconds, Florian Vogel (Scott-Swisspower Mountainbike-Team) followed for third place.

Lukas Flückiger (Trek) finished seventh while, Marcel Wildhaber (Scott-Swisspower Mountainbike-Team) finished 11th, José-Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida Biking Team) ended in 12th and Martin Gujan (Cannondale) came in 15th.

Next weekend Näf will contest the Swiss national cyclo-cross championships before he heads to South Africa to continue preparations for the 2009 mountain bike season.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Flüüger Quer.

Registration open for singlespeed worlds

Organizers have opened registration for the Singlespeed World Mountain Bike Championships to be held September 16-20 in Durango, Colorado.

The championship race will take place on Saturday, September 19, one day prior to the Tour of Durango. Racers in the worlds race will cover one big, timed loop all over the Durango area, but the non-competitive Tour of Durango will not be timed.

Entries in worlds are open to 500 total racers, and all women will be guaranteed a spot if their entries are postmarked before January 23. Anyone who received the approximately 143 randomly distributed spoke cards at the 2008 Singlespeed Mountain Bike World Championships in Napa, California, is also guaranteed entries as are past winners and those who submit a singlespeed-related film for the 1X1 Film Festival. Everyone else will have to participate in the coloring contest and hope for the best.

For more information, including entry forms for coloring, visit www.sswc09.wordpress.com.

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