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MTB news & racing round-up for March 18, 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

Wiens to defend Leadville 100 title against Armstrong and possibly Landis

Armstrong raced both the Leadville 100 and the 12 hours of Snowmass last fall before starting his comeback on the road
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)
Last year's Leadville Trail 100 race pitted seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong against local and then five-time Leadville winner Dave Wiens. It was a tough battle, but in the end Wiens triumphed. However, Armstrong will get a chance at revenge on August 15 as both racers are planning to start the 2009 Colorado event according to organizers. The 2007 Leadville runner-up Floyd Landis may also join them.

The Leadville 100 covers a 50-mile out and back course with 14,000 feet of elevation change throughout. A lottery determined on February 1 who will get the 1,000 race entries.

"Everyone wants to ride with the man," said Race President Ken Chlouber, referring to Armstrong after his participation in last year's race and his commitment to be at this year's starting line.

In 2008, Wiens of Gunnison successfully defended his title by beating Armstrong by just under two minutes and setting a new course record of 6:45:45. Wiens has won the "Race Across the Sky" every year since 2003.

Dave Weins on his way to a win at Leadville in 2007
Photo ©: Wesley & Garrett Geer
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Last year was Armstrong's first finish in a competitive bike race since he retired following his seventh straight triumph in the Tour de France. Shortly thereafter he announced his comeback as a professional road racer. The Leadville 100 will slot in just after the Tour de France, which Armstrong intends to race with Team Astana in July.

"Lance may be the only racer I know of who will be using the Tour de France to train for the Leadville Trail 100," joked Chlouber.

However, Armstrong may not be the only racer with Tour de France experience in attendance. In 2007 Wiens broke the seven-hour mark for the first time in front of second-place finisher and five-time Tour de France participant, Floyd Landis, who won the Tour de France in 2006, at least until his title was revoked after a positive doping test. Landis, who has made a post-suspension comeback with Team Ouch, could also contend this year's Leadvile.

Discuss on the Cyclingnews forum.

Nash cancels retirement plans

Katerina Nash (Luna Women's MTB) riding third,
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)
After finding out that her knee injury is not as bad as she had thought, Katerina Nash cancelled her plans to retire and will instead concentrate on racing in North America.

"It looks like she'll be able to continue training and racing at the level she did last year," said Luna Mountain Bike Team spokeswoman Alison Dunlap.

In the coming months, the 31-year-old Nash will target races such as the two Canadian World Cups, the BC Bike stage race and the contests in Downieville, California.

In the autumn, she will race cyclo-cross, including the USGP series, select World Cups and the World Championships, which happen to be in her native country of Czech.

"Instead of trying to do every event of every series, she is going to focus on more select events, aiming for more podium finishes and victories," said Dunlap.

Nash won several events last year and finished first overall in the US National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) short track series. She was also second in the cross country series.

DCM Chrome team supports developing South African talent

DCM Chrome's men's team
Photo ©: DCM Chrome Team
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A new force in South African mountain biking, in the form of the DCM Chrome team, has been gathering momentum over the past few months. With 10 riders, mostly up-and-coming, the new team is officially complete.

"There is so much mountain bike racing talent in this country and unfortunately a lot of that talent goes to waste because riders lack the means to train scientifically, ride the most appropriate equipment and compete at events that offer high international standards," said team owner and mining executive Ian van der Walt, CEO of DCM Chrome, an international chrome and manganese mining business.

"The team plans to change that by giving talented riders full support in every respect and making sure they ride the races that matter, both in South Africa and abroad," said van der Walt, a passionate cyclist himself.

Brandon Stewart, Max Knox, Ben-Melt Swanepoel and Jacques Janse van Rensburg form a formidable quartet that mixes young talent and seasoned class. Their priority disciplines will be marathon and stage racing, but Stewart, Knox and Swanepoel are all accomplished cross country racers too, while Van Rensburg splits his racing between mountain biking and a promising road racing career.

Rourke Croeser, Bryce Munro and Adriaan Louw are three top male teenage talents backing them up. Justice Makhale, South Africa's top black mountain bike racer, is also on the team which boasts two women: Yolandi du Toit, who is making a smooth transition from a road career and Shannon van der Walt, an aspiring marathoner.

The two women on the DCM Chrome team
Photo ©: DCM Chrome Team
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Van der Walt's philosophy is one that embraces giving the riders the required tools and appropriate preparation and support to be able to reach their potential. Where necessary, Van der Walt purchases equipment to ensure the riders have the best bikes and gear available. The riders have a full-time cycling-specific coaching service and they will race Cannondale Taurine SL bikes with custom-built DT Swiss wheelsets.

The team's race schedule will include high profile South African races such as the Cape Epic and the National Cross-country and Marathon Series events as well as major international events, including the UCI MTB World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, the Sea Otter Classic in California and the BC Bike Race in Canada.

"We've had a good start to the year with a number of podium finishes and we'd like to believe we have a good chance of getting plenty more this year, not just in South Africa, but abroad too," said Van der Walt. "Our team philosophy is all about nurturing young South African talent and we've got plenty of that in our ranks. Now it's a matter of giving them the right opportunities to showcase that."

DCM Chrome will also serve as title sponsor for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup round from April 10-12. It is also one of cross country world champion Christoph Sauser's personal sponsors.

Team DCM Chrome: Max Knox, Brandon Stewart, Ben-Melt Swanepoel, Jacques Janse van Rensburg, Justice Makhale, Bryce Munro, Rourke Croeser, Adriaan Louw, Yolandi du Toit, Shannon van der Walt with Manager Kandice Buys, Coach Bruce Diesel and Technical Supporter Doug Paterson.

Bromont World Cup facilities getting upgrade

Rafael Alvarez de Lara Lu racing the 4X in Bromont
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)
The Mondial du Vélo and the Bromont National Cycling Centre are collaborating on an upgrade to of the facilities and programs for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup round to be held in Bromont on August 1 - 2.

To prepare for the World Cup, organizers and their partners will have invested over CAN$200,000 over two years in order to create three totally new courses for the competitions. All circuits will feature upgrades for 2009 to make them truly World Cup level, with the award winning 4X course being turned into a permanent installation.

"This will be one of the only permanent 4X runs in North America," said Richard Deslandes, President of the Organizing Committee. "It will provide Canadian athletes with a place to train and practice for the World Cup and World Championships."

Prior to the World Cup, a Canada Cup will be hosted on the courses as a test event during the Canada Day weekend (July 4 - 5), providing a first look at the all-new cross country course. The first ever Canadian National 4X Championships will be held that same weekend, inaugurating the newly upgraded 4X course at the du Lac site of Ski Bromont.

"This event will allow Canadian athletes to obtain valuable international ranking points," said Deslandes, "as well as test out the circuit prior to the World Cup."

Bromont is one of only two North American stops on the World Cup circuit and it is one of only four total "triple" rounds, which host cross-country, downhill and 4X events. It is located in Quebec's Eastern Townships region, approximately one hour's drive east of Montreal.

Gutierrez defeats two Olympic champions in Italy

Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez (Team Giant Italia)
Photo ©: Team Giant Italia
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Team Giant's Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez won the opening round of the Internazionali d'Italia in Montichiari on Sunday.

Initially, five racers led the men's race: Ralph Naef (Multivan Merida), Olympic champions Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Miguel Martinez (Felt), Marco Aurelio Fontana (Cannondale) and Alvarez. Martinez seemed to be able to go more quickly than the others on lap two, but Alvarez, Absalon and Fontana quickly caught him. Naef seemed to suffer and dropped off, leaving the four to compete for the victory.

On lap three, Alvarez increased his pace and gapped the others as he did last weekend in Banyoles. Absalon tried several times to join him and gained back about 15 seconds, but the Spaniard's pace could not be matched.

"I tried to follow him, but he was so strong today," said Fontana. "After almost two laps I had to slow down a little bit and Martinez passed me."

Alvarez took the win in 1:41:48 with Absalon second at 36 seconds. Martinez hung for third at 1:00 while Fontana finished fourth.

Colnago Cap Arreghini's Nathalie Schneitter won the women's race just ahead of Eva Lechner (Colnago Arreghini Esercito) and Marielle Saner Guinchard (Team Bikepark.Ch).

See Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the Internazionali d'Italia in Montichiari.

South African national titles awarded

Burry Stander was in a class of his own in winning
Photo ©: MTN National Cup Series
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Burry Stander (Mr Price Specialized) lived up to his pre-race favourite status and won his seventh-successive national title when he dominated the elite men's race at the South African cross-country championships in George on Saturday. Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing Momentum) won the women's race, collecting her second-ever elite national title.

On the gravity side, Johann Potgieter (Red Bull/Von Zipper) continued his George-based winning streak that started in 2006, as he went on to win the downhill title. Anka Martin took the women's title as the first South African finisher behind race winner Helene Fruhwirth (Morewood).

Stander, the current Under 23 World Cup Champion not only retained his national Under 23 national title, but beat the elite men convincingly, coming home more than seven minutes ahead of runner-up Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin adidas). According to Stander, who regularly records such large winning margins in South Africa, the difference between him and his African rivals isn't as much physical as it is mental.

"Physically, these guys are superb athletes, but I just have better conditioning and confidence from focusing my career on cross country racing and not racing so often," said Stander, when asked why he was so much quicker than his domestic rivals.

"Racing regularly abroad at a quicker pace, as I have done for the past two years, gets you onto a slightly higher physical level, but it's the mental jump that's biggest and most important," said Stander, agreeing that the continued fascination with marathon and stage racing in South Africa was largely to blame for the lack of depth in cross country racing, the only mountain bike racing discipline contested at Commonwealth and Olympic Games.

Yolande Speedy was a model of consistency
Photo ©: MTN National Cup Series
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Speedy won the battle of the eras as well as the national elite women's cross country title when she beat former multiple national champion Erica Green to the gold medal. Speedy, a Beijing Olympian, scored a commanding victory over Green, a former double Olympian (Atlanta and Sydney), who at 38, has made a return to competition, largely in preparation for next week's Cape Epic.

Speedy was a model of consistency, clocking very even lap times throughout. "It was a very smooth, steady race. Everything went well.

Johann Potgieter lived up to his pre-race No. 1 ranking
Photo ©: MTN National Cup Series
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The downhill course proved to be one of the most physically demanding in the country, with plenty of berms, jumps and a high percentage of pedalling required. The 22-year-old Potgieter clocked a first run time 3:25.02 down the challenging 2km course, giving him the early lead by more than two seconds over Jonty Neethling (Fox/Morewood).

Potgieter's second run was more than a second slower than his first and a motivated Neethling improved his time by just under a second, making it a tight finish between two of the pre-race favourites with Potgieter ultimately taking the gold by a second-and-a-half from Neethling.

Potgieter, who also won the national title in 2006, proclaimed Sunday's result as the highlight of his career thus far.

In the women's event top Austrian racer, Lene Fruhwurth (Morewood), ranked 18th in the world, captured the overall victory with a quick time of 4:12.38. However, it was runner-up Anka Martin, who was the fastest of the South Africans in 4:14.16 and was awarded the national title. Martin has been one of the country's leading female downhill racers for the past few years, but seldom competes locally as she's based in the United States where she races for her team.

The national championships, which took place in the forests at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountain range in temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius, doubled as round three of the MTN National Cup, Africa's only national downhill racing series. Round four will be in Pietermaritzburg just before the opening round of the UCI World Cup the first weekend in April.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the South African cross country and downhill national championships.

Rysenko collects birthday present victory while Engen wins three of four

Alexandra Engen and Periklis Ilias
Photo ©: Armin Küstenbrück
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Swede Alexandra Engen and Ukranian Sergiy Rysenko earned victories in the fourth and final round of the Sunshine Cup in Voroklini on Sunday. With her win, Engin locked up the overall series title, but in the men's race, Greek Periklis Ilias overtook the men's series lead from Emil Lindgren.

By the last lap, the men's competition appeared to be effectively decided. Alexander Wetterhall (Focus) had started an early attack and was out for a long solo effort, about one minute ahead of a five-man chase group.

Sergiy Rysenko (ISD Cycling) then escaped off the front of this group while his teammate Christoph Bischof stayed in the group and controlled attacks.

"Alexander Wetterhall attacked directly after the start and he was so fast, that we couldn't follow," said Bischof.

Rysenko was looking good for second place until Wetterhall got a flat and had to run to the next technical zone to change his wheel. The Ukrainian champion Rysenko got so close that when Wetterhall jumped back on his bike after the repair, it was just ahead of his Ukranian chaser.

After his technical difficulties, Wetterhall appeared to lose his rhythm and a bit later, he could not follow an attack launched by Rysenko on an uphill section.

The elite men's field
Photo ©: Armin Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)

"I had super legs today. Even though I had bad luck at the end, it was a great day for me," said Wetterhal. "Shit happens. After changing the wheel, my legs were very stiff and I was not able to follow Sergiy."

At the end, eight seconds separated Wetterhall in second and winner Rysenko, whose win was perfectly timed to coincide with his 29th birthday.

"It is a nice birthday present for me, even though it came through the bad luck of Alexander," said Rysenkol. "I felt very strong today and I'm really happy to get a win in Cyprus."

Periklis Ilias, also from the ISD Cycling Team, crashed on the first lap and lost contact with the chasing group. He ended up in sixth and took the overall win ahead of his teammates Rysenko and Bischof.

Racing over the hills at Voroklini.
Photo ©: Armin Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)

In the women's race, Lene Byberg (Specialized) and Alexandra Engen (Merida) were at the front working together after less than one lap. Their pairing was an advantage given the strong winds out on the course, and they soon extended their lead to one minute.

"For awhile, we worked together because we didn't want more women with us," said Engen.

Then, on the second of four laps, in a downhill section, Engen created a small gap between her and Byberg and kept it all the way to the finish.

Byberg was a little stronger on the uphills, but when the trails turned down, she deliberately kept is safe following an injury from a crash during last week's round in Amathous.

"I couldn't follow Alexandra on the downhills," said Byberg. "That normally should not happen with my full suspension bike," she joked, "But with my injured right wrist, I was playing it safe. I felt very good on the climbs."

At the end, just 10 seconds separated the 26-year-old Byberg and the 21-year-old Engen.

"To win again, that makes me super satisfied," said Engen. "I knew, my form was better than last year but I couldn't have expected three victories in this series. What that means for the bigger races, I don't know. We will see." Engen took the overall classification with three wins out of four races.

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

Gunn-Rita diary: Just about ready to pop

World marathon champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa
Photo ©: Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa
(Click for larger image)

One week remains before my due date and the tension is increasing daily. My belly is hard as a rock, and sometimes feels like it's going to explode. I go for walks every day and still swim two to three times per week. I'm not in any kind of pain, so it wouldn't be right to just sit at home and wait.

The days at home are passing quickly even though we're full of anticipation about meeting the little fellow who is inside my belly. With a certain amount of exercise, a few treatments, meetings of various kinds and a few local lectures here and there, I hardly have any empty time. Of course, I do notice that my energy level is a lot lower than normal, but I try to plan my days so there's some time for rest and relaxation on the sofa between on onslaughts.

Kenneth is exercising for the both of us these days. He needs to stock up on fitness, as he says, so he has a reserve when it's his turn to watch the child once Mother is on the go again. We had a gorgeous day of spring here in Sandnes yesterday. I got to swim and go for a long walk, while Kenneth was out on a long distance ride. He meets many cyclists on his rides these days, so quite a few have obviously started their preparations for the Nordsjørittet race.

Read the complete diary entry.

Win streak ended at Motatapu Icebreaker

Tony Hogg leads out Marcus Roy and Kashi Leuchs early in the race.
Photo ©: Derek Morrison
(Click for larger image)

Kashi Leuchs ended Marcus Roy's four-year consecutive winning streak at the Motatapu Icebreaker on Saturday. The race was billed as a Roy versus Leuchs showdown and didn't disappoint. It was three-time Olympian Leuchs' first attempt at the event, which followed a 50km route through three remote and spectacular high country properties between Wanaka and Arrowtown.

"Marcus and I have done a lot of riding together and I know how strong he is so it feels good to win today," Leuchs said. "I went into this event without a lot of expectation and I'm really pleased to have won it."

Leuchs said it was the landscape that most inspired his ride, "It's an amazing race - with incredible scenery and a really great vibe." For Roy, finishing second in the race was not all bad - he kept his record course intact.

"It was a tough race. We had a fast start and I got sucked into chasing hard with Tony Hogg who led out the start. Eventually I realised I had to settle into my own race - to set my own pace," Roy said. "Kashi went by coming up to midway and from that point, I knew it was his race."

Unlike Leuchs, Roy just failed to go under the magic two-hour mark this year, finished in 2:00.11, but still more than three minutes ahead of third-placed Tony Hogg, of Dunedin.

In the women's race, Sara Macdonald claimed her fourth annual title.

Elite men
1 Kashi Leuchs       1.58.41
2 Marcus Roy            1.30
3 Mark Williams         9.20

Elite women

1 Sara Macdonald     2.29.25
2 Emily Mizaga          6.04
3 Christina Sergeant   31.13

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