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MTB news & racing round-up for March 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

Absalon making season debut in Banyoles

Julien Absalon will make his season debut this weekend
Photo ©: Team Orbea
(Click for larger image)

Two-time Olympic champion Julien Absalon will begin racing this season during the second Superprestigio Massi round in Banyoles, Spain, on Sunday. For Absalon, the race will be more like training as he prepares for his season's goals: the World Cup and the World Championships.

"I'm ready. I want this mountain bike season to begin," said Absalon. "But Banyoles isn't one of my goals; it's only training for the first round of the World Cup. I'll race in a few events like this one in March, just to check my form."

The first high priority date on his calendar is the April 25-26 weekend with the World Cup in Offenburg, Germany. "The first three rounds in Offenburg (Germany), Houffalize (Belgium), and Madrid (Spain) are all-important for the rest of the season. I want to be in perfect shape for them."

Absalon describes the Banyoles course as fast with its short climbs and twists. "It's more like a cyclo-cross course. It's tough. There's no way to catch your breath. It's a good way to get ready for bigger challenges."

Team Giant Italia's Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez
Photo ©: Team Giant Italia
(Click for larger image)
Absalon's Orbea teammates, Iñaki Lejarreta and Rubén Ruzafa, raced last weekend to third and fifth places at the opening Superprestigio Massi round in Avilés. They will join him again this weekend.

"Iñaki and Rubén are highly motivated this year. They also have the World Cup in mind," said Absalon of his teammates. "They want to be among the top ten cyclists, and I think they'll make it."

Other favorites expected for the men's race on Sunday include Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez, Diego Rosa, José Antonio Hermida, Jean Christophe Peraud and Cédric Ravanel. In the women's race, all eyes will be on Marga Fullana to repeat her win from last weekend's round in Avilés.

Osl delighted to team with role model Spitz on Central Ghost team

Elizabeth "Lisi" Osl
Photo ©: Team Central Ghost Pro
(Click for larger image)

Austrian Elizabeth "Lisi" Osl is starting her season with the German Central Ghost Pro Team, which also includes one of her role models, Olympic Champion Sabine Spitz. The two will race together at the third round of the Sunshine Cup on Cyprus this weekend.

Spitz is pleased to have Osl on her team. "Lisi is a young athlete, already racing with the world's best, but still with much potential. She fits so perfectly into our team concept," said Spitz.

For Osl, racing alongside Spitz will be fulfilling a dream. "It is an honor for me into race with central Ghost. Between me and Sabine are still worlds of difference in ability and experience, and I can learn a lot from her. I also have the feeling that the team is a good community," said Osl.

The team has its eye on the World Cup rankings this season, and Osl hopes to re-visit the podium in World Cups and World Championships as she did at age 16, when she won silver in Kaprun, Austria.

Osl has also finished sixth at a World Cup in Champery, Switzerland; earned silver at the U23 race in the European Championships in Turkey, and finished third at the U23 World Cup in Fort William, Scotland. At the Olympic Games in 2008, she finished 11th, and earlier last season, she was eighth at the World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy.

Costa Rican Cycling Federation announces Pan Am roster

Paolo Montoya
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

The Costa Rican Cycling Federation (FECOCI) selected six riders to represent Costa Rica at the Pan American Mountain Bike Championships from March 17 to 23 in Santiago, Chile.

The team will include three cross country riders and three downhillers.

Sho Air-Specialized's Manuel Prado and Giant-Italia's Paolo Montoya will represent the Central American country in the elite men's cross country, while local cup rider Alberto Coto will take part in the masters' competition.

National Champion Álvaro Hidalgo will race the elite men's downhill while Jean Carlos Aguero and Juli├ín Tenorio will contest the Under 23 downhill division.

"It is an honor to be part of the national team for the first time. I will do my best and will train wisely this coming days to do the best I can at the Pan Ams," said Prado, who has lived in California in the US during the most of his mountain bike career.

Costa Rica's highest hopes for the "ticos" will be focused on the 24-year-old Montoya, who won a silver medal at the 2008 Pan Am Championships in Argentina.

"I've been doing my job since I started this season. I was just waiting for the official news of having made the team," said Montoya. "I think I'm ready and will fight for the first place this time." Montoya won the first round of the Costa Rican cross country cup last Sunday in the city of Cartago, and he was second at last year's La Ruta de los Conquistadores while Prado finished fifth at that best-known Costa Rican mountain bike race.

Evil Bikes & MS-Racing join forces

Evil Bikes and MS-Racing joined forces behind a new UCI mountain bike trade team, for Evil Bikes/MS-Racing, for 2009. Its roster includes a mix of young talent and experienced podium riders who have been selected to represent Evil in the company's launch onto the World Cup scene.

"MS-Racing has been working on building of our vision of a mountain bike team for almost five years, and we have worked with a couple of partners in the past. After we won the 4X team overall and women's 4X overall title in 2008, we felt stagnant somehow and knew it was time for a change; new partners, new visions and new input," said Team Director Markus Stöckl.

"Evil Bikes is a new company but with experts behind the scenes who have been influencing mountain biking for a while now. From our first meeting I knew they shared the same passion and vision for the sport that is needed to build a successful team."

19-year old Canadian Stevie Smith joined Evil at the New Year and since then has been putting in runs on the new Revolt downhill frame. The Vancouver Island pinner is looking to follow-up on his breakout 2008 year in the elite field and hopes to step onto a World Cup podium this season.

Another new addition to MS-Racing's roster is Filip Polc. The 26-year-old Slovakian rider has been turning in solid results for many seasons on the World Cup circuit. The Polcster is a rarity these days in that he competes in World Cup downhill and 4X events as well as the occasional Mega Avalanche event. Piloting the new Evil Faction frames in 4X events, Polc is looking to jump back into the podium mix in 2009.

24-year-old downhill ace Matti Lehikoinen returns to the MS-Racing Team for a second season. The Fin brings a strong resume to the program with two World Cup wins under his belt and a 2007 World Cup second place overall ranking. Coming off a bit of a tough 2008 season that began with broken vertebrae and ended with both wrists broken, Lehikoinen has been rehabilitating and preparing for the 2009 campaign in Austria.

The team will kick the season off in South Africa for round one of the UCI World Cup Series and it will also contest the World Championships, US Open and other select international events.

Evil Bikes/MS-Racing will compete on Revolt frames for downhill and Faction hardtail frames for 4X.

UCI announces registered mountain bike teams

The UCI announced its full list of registered mountain bike teams for the 2009 season including 90 teams from three continents - America, Europe and Oceania - and 18 countries.

Cross country teams comprised 57% while 36% were downhill and 4X teams. The final 7% included mixed teams with more than one discipline represented.

Last year, 96 teams were registered. There were 66 in 2007, 29 in 2004 and 30 in 2000, which was the first year for UCI mountain bike team registration.

The US and Italy registered 14 teams. Germany signed up 12 while France and Spain counted 10 and eight teams respectively. Ireland registered a team for the first time while Australia made a comeback this year with two new teams.

UCI Registered Mountain Bike Teams for 2009
Australia: Discovertasmania.com, Torq Performance Nutrition
Austria: MS Evil Racing
Belgium: Lingier-Versluys Team, Team Saeco
Croatia: Mammoth Racing Team
Czech: Ceska Sporitelna MTB, Merida Biking Team, Scott & Hagget MTB Team
France: BH-Suntour, Breiz Mountain, Keops, Lapierre International, Lapierre Powered By Saab Salomon, Morzine-Avoriaz 74, Subaru Mountain Bike Pro Team, Team Scott Valloire Galibier, Team Sport Bike, Team Sunn
Germany: Cannondale Factory Racing, Central Ghost Pro Team, DS-Rennsport, Ghost A.T.G. Pro Team, Multivan Merida Biking Team, SKS M.I.G. Team, Solid Aclass Factory Team, SRM Stevens Team, Team Bulls, Team Marin Bikes, Team Mayer Stevens, Topeak Ergon Racing Team
Ireland: Just Reid Race Team
Great Britain: 2Stagefactory, Animal Commencal, Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense, Norco World Team, Rocky Mountain UK
Italy: Ancillotti Doganaccia Racing Team, Argentina Bike Gravity Team, Colnago Cap Arreghini, Dytech DH, Felt International MTB Team,
Giant Italia Team, In Corpore Sano-Gravity Globe-Covre Team, Infotre - Leecougan, Iron Horse-Kenda-Playbiker, Sunshine Racers ASV Nals, Surfing Shop, Team CBE Tecnoimpianti A.S.D., Torpado-4US, TX Active Bianchi
Netherlands: De Brink-Ten Tusscher, Trek-Brentjens Mountainbike Racing Team
Norway: Team Etto Hoydahl, Team Fokus-Danica, Team Proteinfabrikken-Ktm
Poland: CCC Polkowice, JBG-2 Professional MTB Team
Russia: Format-Udmurtia
Slovenia: Fumic.Brothers.International, MBK Orbea
Spain: Cemelorca-Trek-Lorca Taller Del Tiempo, Conor - Camping La Siesta, Massi, Motril-Sierra Nevada, MSC Bikes, Orbea,
Trek World Racing, XMS-Devinci World Cup Team
Switzerland: Fischer-BMC, Scott 11, Scott-Swisspower MTB-Racing, Suspension Center, Team Bikepark.ch, Team Vario Racing
Ukraine: ISD Cycling Team
United States of America: Duncan Riffle Racing, Giant Mountain Bike Team, GT Bicycles, Kenda Morewood, Kona, Luna Pro Team, Monster Energy / Specialized / Mad Catz, Santa Cruz Syndicate, Specialized Factory Racing, Specialized Team America, Subaru-Gary Fisher, Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Bicycles, X-Fusion-Intense, Yeti Fox Shox Factory Race Team

New Zealand's longest running race draws 1,300

Stuart Houltham (Palmerston North)
Photo ©: cycle-photos.com
(Click for larger image)
On Saturday, 1,300 riders from 10 countries will line up for the Southern Hemisphere's longest running mountain bike race, the Merida Karapoti Classic. The Wellington race was established in 1986. A full field will take on the rugged course through the heart of the Akatarawa Ranges.

"We had more than 1,500 people apply to race this year," said event manager Michael Jacques. "We'd love to let all of them ride, but Karapoti is a tough challenge in a remote environment and we simply can't cope with more."

Defending champion Stuart Houltham will be wearing number one, but he'll have a hard time holding onto the pole position. "If there is a favourite," said Jacques, "it would be Stu, because he once again races at Karapoti with a week-old national championship title. So he's the form rider."

Houltham, however, won't have things all his own way. A strong Australian contingent from the Flight Centre Merida team is headed by Tim Bennett, Nick Both and Adrian Jackson. Both and Bennett have both runners-up at Karapoti, while Jackson is the reigning mountain bike orienteering champion. Local Wellington riders, Gavin McCarty and Wayne Hiscock will also be in the mix.

Fiona Macdermid (Palmerston North) took out the pro women's race.
Photo ©: cycle-photos.com
(Click for larger image)
The woman's race might prove to be the most interesting. Former Karapoti winners and New Zealand reps Fiona Macdermid and Jenny Hopkinson-Smith will be renewing their rivalry. Macdermid is the defending champion while Hopkinson-Smith the course record holder; a record that Macdermid missed by just six seconds last year. But both will have to be wary of fast-improving Palmerston North rider Nic Leary, and also Aussie triathlete-turned-mountain biker Jo Bennett who will be looking for a husband and wife double with her husband Tim.

Saturday's weather is forecast for rain; conditions that Jacques says should favour the top Kiwi riders. "Karapoti is tough any time," says Jacques, "but when you add rain and mud it becomes a year to remember."

Upper Hutt Doctor Alistair Rhodes is keeping his streak of 22 Karapotis going this year, and Wellington bicycle retailer Francis Hoen will start his 20th edition. Add in the fact that the race's founders, the Kennett brothers - Paul, Simon and Jonathan - will be riding a triple tandem.

Odette Ford-Brierley, 11 years-old, will return for her third crack at Karapoti. She first rode the event as a two-year-old on the handlebars of her father Bill's bike. Then as a seven-year-old, she completed the race with Dad again on a tandem. This year she tackles the event on her own bike for the first time.

At the other end of the scale, 72-year-old Alan Etheridge is the oldest-ever entrant for the race.

Bryceland captures first pro victory

Santa Cruz Syndicate's Josh Bryceland won his first race as a professional at the Innerleithen Winter Series in Scotland last weekend. It was Bryceland's first race of 2009, too. His win came on a wet, rooty and technical track with a tight, steep section at the top.

"It rained pretty hard through the night and a lot of roots had become exposed and slick," said the 19-year-old Bryceland. "My goal was just to put in a smooth and solid run because that is what I am trying to work on this year - consistency."

Bryceland felt good on the track during practice runs and was happy with the lines he picked out in preparation for the final. "I didn't make any major mistakes and when I did this gap over a stump the crowd got pretty excited and cheered me on hard through the last section."

He was the final rider down and clinched the win ahead of Tom Braithwaite.

Pietermaritzburg to host Tipping Point premiere

The Tipping Point captures the restless soul of downhill mountain bike racing
Photo ©: Gary Perkin
(Click for larger image)
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, home of downhiller Greg Minnaar, will host the world premiere of The Tipping Point, the latest movie from American filmmaker Clay Porter on Thursday, April 9 at the Cascades Nu Metro Cinema.

The premiere will coincide with the opening round of the 2009 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. Minnaar and his co-stars will begin a new racing season a few hundred metres from the cinema the following day.

The Tipping Point is part documentary, part summary of the 2008 downhill mountain bike World Cup Series and part window to the world of Minnaar and his rivals as they travel across the world to scenic high ground and do battle on rugged bikes with hydraulic disc brakes and 20cm of front and rear suspension down steep, rocky mountainsides; taking risks, breaking bones, gracing podiums, looking cool and chasing dreams.

Porter's previous films include F1RST, Between the Tape, and Synopsis and Hypnosis.

Tickets for The Tipping Point premiere cost 50 Rand each (about US$5) and will be available at the door.

Aussie nats awarded to South Australia

Mountain Bike Australia (MTBA) awarded South Australia the rights to host the five-day Australian Mountain Bike Championships at Eagle Mountain Bike Park for the next three years from 2010 to 2012.

"Mountain bike riding is increasingly popular both here in Australia and around the world, and I'm thrilled that South Australia is going to be home to the sport's national championships for the next three years," said Sport Minister Michael Wright.

It will be the largest event ever hosted by the Eagle Mountain Bike Park, which previously held the World Police & Fire Games and the Australasian Masters Games in 2007.

The park will make infrastructure improvements to prepare for the championships including upgrading access roads, establishing a permanent 4X track, expanding the downhill course finishing area and upgrading existing courses.

"This is another great result for South Australia and further strengthens our reputation as the centre of cycling in Australia," said Tourism Minister Jane Lomax-Smith.

The first event will be held at Eagle Mountain Bike Park, at Leawood Gardens in the Adelaide Hills, on January 13-17, 2010, just prior to the Tour Down Under ProTour road event. The final day will overlap with the Tour Down Under's prologue event, the Down Under Classic, on January 17.

The 2012 event will double as a qualifier for the Australian team selected for the London Olympic Games.

Thomson memorial held in conjunction with St. Patty's Day Feast

Bootleg Canyon mountain bike legend Brent Thomson, who died of complications following a heart bypass surgery last month, will be honored with a ride, bonfire and toast from his friends and supporters on Saturday, March 14 after a day of racing and riding. The memorial will be tied to the St. Patty's Day Feast #2 competition, scheduled for March 14 to 15.

A super D race will be held on Saturday, with a downhill following on Sunday.

Donations are still be accepted to help Thomson's survivors cope with medical costs over the past few months.

Sawicki adopts a team

The Yucaipa high school mountain bike team
Photo ©: Ron Sawicki
(Click for larger image)
While training and living in her new home town of Yucaipa, California, cross country and endurance racer Pua Sawicki hooked up with the newly formed Yucaipa high school mountain bike team. The team is part of the SoCal interscholastic cycling league which was started this year by Quinton Easton. According to her husband Ron, Sawicki is now coaching the team.

"She works with them on everything from technique to nutrition," said Ron Sawicki. "She almost always brings along our dog Koa, who runs along with the boys as they train and has become the team mascot."

Just before the season opening race, Pua taught them important skills like maintain their bikes and fixing a broken chain on the trail.

The team is made up of around 20 boys and has no girls yet, but they're recruiting. Its two other coaches are head coach Mike Bagg who teaches Geometry & computer science and Scott Kennedy who teaches English & digital publishing.

Ouchterlony proves his recovery

After a disappointing 2008 season, Kona UK's Scottish expat James Ouchterlony got his 2009 season off to a flying start with a convincing victory in the 12th Fuertebike Marathon held on the island of Fuerteventura on February 21.

Ouchterlony conquered a 70km loop course with a series of hills in the last 10km. He settled in at the front of the lead group from the start and set a relentless pace, which rapidly whittled the front group down to just three riders; Ouchterlony, Orbea's World Cup cross country star Ruben Ruzafa and Italy's current Marathon Champion Mike Felderer.

With 10km to go the attacks started. Ouchterlony comfortably matched Ruzafa's increases in pace, but Felderer lost touch and then sight of the lead two. Ruzafa, Spain's current cross country champion, kept the pressure on, constantly attacking Ouchterlony, who responded easily each time. With 7km to go, Ouchterlony successfully countered what was to be Ruzafa's last attack, and he rode away to win in 2:25 with a one-minute advantage. Felderer was third, a further 1:30 in arrears.

Ouchterlony's win came after a 2008 that frustrated him with an underlying throat infection that would not go away during the second half of the season. Then during the off season, he took a few months of rest to speed his recovery along.

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