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MTB news & racing round-up for January 15, 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

Favorites win South Africa Cup opener

Burry Stander confirmed his world-class status when he charged to a dominant victory
Photo ©: Gary Perkin
(Click for larger image)

Africa's top cross-country mountain bike racer, Burry Stander (Specialized), dished out a world-class hiding when he won the first round of the MTN National Cup Series cross country by more than seven minutes in Stellenbosch, South Africa on Saturday. On Sunday, the downhillers got their turn, and Cape Town's Andrew Neethling (Trek) did not disappoint, despite the hometown pressure he faced en route to winning the opening downhill round.

Resplendent in his new red Specialized team kit, Stander, the 2008 Under 23 World Cup champion, was in no mood for company and took the lead early on, completing the six laps of the technical 8.2 kilometre course through Jonkershoek in a quick two hours, 15 minutes and 24 seconds. Renay Goustra (GT) and Johnny Kritzinger (Schwinn) rounded out the men's pro-elite podium positions in second and third respectively, but were the first two elite men home.

"I had some pressure on me after having a really good year of international results in 2008, so I was kind of the guy with a target on his back today. I wanted to prove a point in my first race and I think I managed that," smiled Stander.

In the women's cross country , local regional champion, Sara Muhl (Jeep) gave her large home crowd good reason to cheer when she captured a comfortable victory over Tania Raats (Bell Equipment), with Julia Colvin (Maverick) a close third.

Neethling, who ended 2008 ranked 14th in the world according to the UCI and who finished 11th in the 2008 UCI World Cup downhill, clocked a time of two minutes and 11.34 seconds for the fast, narrow descent through the forests of Jonkershoek.

Johann Potgieter (Cannondale) secured second place, just less than five seconds back with Neethling's younger brother, Jonty Neethling (Morewood Fox), rounding out the top three places in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd that had braved the hot, dusty conditions.

Rika Olivier's sub-three-minute time gave her a comfortable win
Photo ©: Gary Perkin
(Click for larger image)

Riding a brand new Trek Session 88, which was only released from customs last Wednesday, Neethling set out on his first of two runs to get familiar with the bike with the intention of improving his time with his second and final run.

"I made a few small mistakes near the top on the first run but was really pushing hard in what was basically a 'feeler' run, which I felt was necessary since I was riding not only a new bike, but a new brand and haven't done a race for quite a while," said Neethling who ended up clocking his winning time with that run.

"On the second run, I went out a bit harder at the top, overshot a turn on what is a really narrow course and had a small crash. I thought I could still rescue the run, but a couple of errors further on left me well off my first run time.

In the women's downhill, Rika Olivier eclipsed Gina Nixon and Vicky Phillips to claim the victory.

The next cross country and downhill round of the South African MTN National Cup will take place in Mankele, Nelspruit, on February 7-8.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the cross country and downhill openers of the MTN National Cup.

Houltham and Avery win elite round two races in Auckland

Stuart Houltham and Monique Avery won their respective elite races in round two of the North Island Cross Country Cup series in Auckland, New Zealand, last weekend. Houltham captured elite men's race ahead of Mike Northcott and Gavin McCarthy. The top two riders swapped positions from round one the week prior.

In the women's race, Monique Avery kept Samara Sheppard right on her wheel for much of the race. It wasn't until the final stages that Avery pulled away from Sheppard for a well deserved win at a margin of 55 seconds. Nicole Swain finished third, five minutes back.

Rotorua rider and U19 men's winner Dirk Peters, who placing first in the Under 19 men's category, wasn't deterred by the sandy track. "It was a fun course with some good downhill," said Peters. "I really enjoyed the sandy sections, but the heat made it a testing race."

Event Organiser and Auckland Mountain Bike Club President Marke Jennings-Temple was pleased with the turnout of 134 racers.

Round three of the North Island Cross Country Cup will happen in Wellington on January 18. The weekend will also bring downhill racers to Rotorua for the second round of the North Island Downhill Cup in the Whakarewarewa Forest.

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

Sea Otter earns spot on international calendar

Melissa Buhl (KHS) racing at Sea Otter
Photo ©: Sean Walkinshaw
(Click for larger image)

The popular, four-day Sea Otter Classic will host one of the most important races on the US Mountain Bike Calendar this spring in Monterey, California. With the highest cash purse and one of less than a dozen UCI-sanctioned races in the US, Sea Otter's cross country race is expected to draw a top notch field of elite athletes. The category one race is also part of the brand new US Cup, a nation-wide series, and the Kenda Cup West, a western regional-series.

"Sea Otter is the shining star of the US Cup," said Tom Spiegel, director of west coast operations for the US Cup. "Its high-caliber racing has been making it one of the most important events on the calendar for years. We are thrilled that we can include it in this new national series. With higher stakes, it makes the competition better and a podium spot more valuable."

The four-day event from April 16-19 will feature cross country, short track, super D, four cross and downhill events as well as a tech expo, bike demo area, free ride skills practice area, road races and fun rides - on and off the dirt.

Racers like Manual Prado, who won the semi-pro cross country race in 2007 and was California state champion in 2008, and pro downhiller Kathy Pruitt are among those expected to compete.

Bootleg Canyon's Thompson suffers heart attack

Quadruple bypass surgery scheduled

Brent Thomson, Godfather and Trail Master of Bootleg Canyon suffered a heart attack last Saturday while riding the trails that he has famously cut into the mountains surrounding Boulder City, a stone's throw from Las Vegas, Nevada.

"I try to stay in reasonable shape, and was even riding when I started to feel chest pain and severe shortness of breath," said Thomson while awaiting surgery. "My assistant Andrew helped me out and my son Barret got me to the hospital pretty quickly. Now I'm just waiting to go under the knife."

Thomson was scheduled to undergo the second quadruple bypass of his life on Wednesday. Sixteen years ago he had the same surgery performed due to an unusually high hereditary cholesterol build-up.

Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park consists of an extensive network of downhill and cross country mountain bike trails located in Boulder City, Nevada. The area draws riders from as far away as Japan and Germany. The International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) has certified one of the cross country trails as an Epic Ride, a title given out only 18 times so far.

Bootleg Canyon has also hosted the popular Outdoor Demo Day associated with the Interbike Trade Show, held annually in September.

Thomson's dedication to creating, maintaining and promoting the trails of Bootleg Canyon has created one of the most lauded riding areas in the Southwest. Unfortunately his position comes without a health insurance policy and his expenses are expected to total several hundred thousand dollars. Those wishing to donate to help Thomson can be do so via Paypal (to barretstudio@gmail.com). Well wishers may send messages of support to St. Rose Dominican Hospital - San Martin ER c/o Brent Thomson, 8280 West Warm Springs Rd., Las Vegas, NV 89113 USA.

Dutch officials show support for European championship

By Marcel Slagman

Dutch Federation's Harjan van Dam, Race Organizer Martin Pieterse and Frans Muijzers of Zoetermeer
Photo ©: Marcel Slagman
(Click for larger image)

The Dutch Cycling Federation (KNWU) is supporting the organization of the European cross country and trials championships in Zoetermeer. On Tuesday, KNWU director Harjan van Dam, race organizer Martin Pieterse and alderman of the town of Zoetermeer Frans Muijzers signed an agreement putting that support in writing. The European Championships will be held in Het Buytenpark, near the big indoor ski center Snowworld, from July 9-12, 2009.

"Our federation needs this kind of initiative," Van Dam said. ,"Sport exists thanks to people who organize good events. For us, it is important that mountain biking develops more in The Netherlands, and we are focusing on that."

"When riders like the Belgium champion Sven Nys or the Olympic champions Sabine Spitz and Julien Absalon come to Zoetermeer, it will give mountain biking as a sport in our country good exposure. And we need that.''

Pieterse of Stichting Wielerpromotion Het Groene Hart said that his organization will be ready to do the job in July. "People are excited. The course is 5.1km long. But certainly not flat, which is what many foreign riders maybe will expect.''

New dates for US 24 hour nationals & Ultra-endurance calendar

The USA Cycling 24 hour national championships, originally scheduled for September 19-20 have been moved to October 24-25 and a new venue. They will be held in Phoenix, Arizona, under the guidance of promoter Tucson Racing.

The event remains part of the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendar - Ultra Endurance (MBNC-UE). An updated calendar of the events in the series is below.

USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Calendar - Ultra-endurance
February 14: Mas o Menos 100km (Texas) (XCM)
February 21: 12 hours of Santos (Florida) (12h)
March 7-8: Spa City Extreme (Arkansas) (XCM)
May 9: Dirt, Sweat & Gears (Tennessee) (12h)
June 20: Cowbell Challenge (North Carolina) (12h)
July 4: US Marathon National Championships (Colorado) (XCM)
October 16-18: National MTB Oktoberfest (North Carolina) (8h)
October 24-25: US 24 hour national championships (Arizona) (24h)

La Ruta course unaffected by earthquake

Trudging across at La Ruta
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

A 6.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Costa Rica's Central-North area last Thursday did not affect the course for the La Ruta de los Conquistadores stage race. The Pacific, Central-South and Caribbean areas of the country, which host the traditional course, were not damaged.

The quake, with an epicenter located some 50 kilometers north of San José, destroyed more than 20 kilometers of roads and more than 400 houses, but most of the tourist interest points and tour operations across the nation are still working normally. 20 people have been found dead thus far and more than 40 others are missing at "ground zero" where the quake took place.

Organizers said they appreciated the concern and messages of support following the quake. "It is very sad to see what is happening to our country and our people. It has been a disaster at the zone that was directly hit by the earthquake," said La Ruta's PR Director Luis Rueda.

"Nevertheless, the line that crosses the Costa Rican territory from the Pacific to the Caribbean through the center of the country fortunately was unaffected," said Rueda.

The next edition of the race is scheduled for November 11-14.

TransRockies kicks off Ambassador Program

Chris Sheppard and Andreas Hestler
Photo ©: Dan Hudson
(Click for larger image)
The TransRockies stage race has added a new kind of support to help the majority of racers who come each year with the primary goal of finishing. While riders come to the start line with ample physical and logistical preparation, the singularly wild and rugged nature of the TransRockies means that there are always unexpected obstacles to overcome along the way to the finish line.

In 2009, with the help of some dedicated members of the race's family, organizers are launching the TransRockies Ambassador program, a new on-course rider support program unique among epic events.

The TransRockies Ambassadors are a team of two riders who will ride the course each day from start to finish providing additional mechanical support as needed to help riders fix mechanical issues and get to the finish line. They will start at the back of the field and gradually work their way forward as the stage progresses. Ambassadors will carry an extensive selection of tool and spares and be easily identifiable on course with specific number plates and backpack markings.

The TransRockies Bike Sweep program was initiated in 2008 to make sure the race adhered to the leave no trace ethic after it had passed through. While the bike sweeps carried spares and offered emergency rider support, they were often hours behind the bulk of the field. The Ambassadors will offer this same support from within the field.

To keep racers from skipping out on carrying necessary equipment, a nominal time penalty will be imposed for those needing Ambassador assistance to complete a stage. The program is intended to help riders overcome the worst mechanical issues and provide assistance, advice and encouragement as needed to get everyone to the finish line.

The two riders who will inaugurate this program are five-time finishers Simon Parker and Jim Seethram. "There's really nothing worse for a TransRockies participant than getting evacuated off course to the finish line," said Parker. "The Ambassador Program will hopefully build upon the TransRockies camaraderie and spirit of cooperation and will help some riders avoid the sweep and have the great TransRockies experience they imagined when they signed up."

For more information on the TransRockies, visit www.transrockies.com.

Torq team diary: Breaking the curse

By Tory Thomas & Katherine O'Shea

Katherine O'Shea rode well from the start.
Photo ©: Tony Fetch
(Click for larger image)

For most of the Torq team, the start of the 2008-2009 Australian mountain bike season has been really hectic. It's been an awesome experience flying and driving around Australia attending races as a team; however as is the experience of most athletes, I think most of the team has found it really tricky to cram so much racing and travel (and all the other bits of life) in to such a small time frame!

We recently had a team training camp in Mount Beauty, Victoria, after Christmas, and after such a hectic start to the Australian race season, it was sheer bliss to spend a week in my hometown with friends just riding, swimming in the river, hanging out at BBQs, and more riding!

During this time of year, Mount Beauty (and nearby Bright) is the ideal training area for mountain bikers - there are beautiful alpine climbs for long road rides, endless fireroad trails for off-road adventures, awesome flowing and technical singletrack, and lots of rivers and swimming holes to cool off burning leg muscles! So long as you're armed with some good sunscreen, fly repellent, and a good eye for dodging snoozing snakes on the roads and trails, Mount Beauty is training Nirvana.

Read the complete diary entry.

El Reto del Quetzal race registration to open

The start of the El Reto Del Quetzal
Photo ©: Netzer Quan
(Click for larger image)

The El Reto del Quetzal race is getting some new dates and more singletrack for 2009. The Guatemalan event will happen next on October 9-11.

"The route for this year will have some changes. We have found more singletrack," said race's Netzer Quan, who is expecting the event to sell out again.

Registration for up to 100 teams will open on January 19. For more information, visit www.elretodelquetzal.com.

Tahune MTB Marathon

Set in the beautiful Huon Valley of Southern Tasmania and featuring some new trails, the Tahune MTB Marathon will cover a one lap, 100km loop that starts and finishes at the world-renowned Tahune Airwalk. The February 7 event will also feature a 50km option.

The event is regarded as one of the tougher marathon events in Australia; it will also double as the Tasmanian Mountain Bike Marathon Championships, marking the first time that an Australian state has held its own championships in the marathon discipline.

Sid Taberlay (Team Sho-Air), an Australian now based in California, will race in preparation for the upcoming American mountain bike season. He'll take on dual Olympic silver medallist (rowing lightweight in Sydney and Athens) Simon Burgess.

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

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