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MTB news & racing round-up for March 20, 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

Zakelj overcomes serious accident to return to racing with MBK Orbea

Tanja Zakelj climbs a hill
Photo ©: Luka Zele
(Click for larger image)

Under 23 women's cross country world champion Tanja Zakelj, 20, has returned to racing this spring despite a serious accident after the final World Cup race of the 2008 season last September.

While at home helping with a project in Slovenia, she accidently had two of her fingers on her left cut off. A third was badly damaged.

After the accident, she was immediately transported to the hospital by helicopter and had her fingers surgically reattached in a five-hour operation.

Recovery was painfully slow with several complications, but with the help of her coach and everyone around, she completed many long days of physiotherapy in time to resume an adjusted training program in February.

In the meantime, her former team, MBK CRNI VRH gathered new sponsors, registered with the UCI and reinvented itself as MBK Orbea.

Despite the doubts of her coach Luka Zele and team manager Primoz Strancar, Zakelj returned to racing last weekend at the Internazionali d'Italia - Trofeo Giorgio Senini. She exceeded all expectations and finished ninth overall and first in under 23 category, only 6:01 down.

Zakelj is looking forward to defending her rainbow jersey in Australia.

MBK Orbea Team for 2009: Tanja Zakelj, Nina Homovec, Luka Mezgec, Luka Kodra, Blaz Znidarsic, Matjaz Budin, Nejc Rutar (DH) Staff: Primoz Strancar (team manager), Luka Zele (coach), Marko Galjot (mechanic)


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Luka Zele

Olympic hopefuls support Dalby Forest World Cup bid

Top British mountain bikers visited Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire as the final preparations are being made to submit a bid to hold a UCI Mountain Bike Cross Country World Cup event there in May of 2010.

Organisers have been encouraging cycling fans to support the bid by cheering on British Olympians - or taking part themselves - in the Dalby round of the British Mountain Bike Race Series cross country mountain bike race set for May 10. The race will serve as a test event for the proposed World Cup and will be the first to use the new World Cup course.

Olympic hopefuls Lilly Matthews and Sebastian Batchelor both visited Dalby to show their support for the venue.

"The new World Cup course at Dalby Forest will be fantastic. It is a brilliant venue for cross country racing," said Batchelor, a York-born Olympic Academy racer for Halfords Bikehut. "The layout of the course is great for anyone who wants to watch the racing, and there are lots of other facilities for a great family day out."

Organizers believe strong attendance at the test event will strengthen the venue's bid.

Cycling governing body British Cycling, landowner The Forestry Commission, UK Sport and regional development agency Yorkshire Forward are preparing to submit the 2010 World Cup bid. If the bid is successful, Yorkshire Forward has pledged to invest in the development of mountain biking in Yorkshire by developing a network of six new trail centres in the region and employing a new Go-Ride coach to inspire and nurture young Yorkshire cyclists.

Countdown to Cape Epic

Mixed team rider Yolande De Villiers leads
Photo ©: Sven Martin / SPORTZPICS
(Click for larger image)
The start of the Cape Epic is just around the corner, on Saturday, March 21. Now in its sixth year, the race will begin with a prologue on the slopes of Table Mountain in Capetown, South Africa, and will finish eight days and 685km later at the Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West.

1,200 athletes from 46 countries will participate in the African stage race, the only stage race categorized as hors categorie or "HC" by the UCI. Mountain bikers are coming all the way from nations like Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Sweden and Venezuela to earn points and have an epic race experience. Throughout the week, the 600 two-person teams will climb 14,663 meters, the equivalent of two trips up Mount Everest.

Returning for the 2009 edition is a team time trial prologue of 16.5km on the slopes of the designated world heritage, site Table Mountain. Teams will depart at 30-second intervals and race against the clock to determine their start seeding for stage one, which begins in Gordon Bay the following day.

Fires raged across Table Mountain earlier this week and forced the cancellation of practice sessions on Thursday; however, practice sessions on Friday and the prologue itself on Saturday will continue as scheduled.

The first three teams racing during stage six in 2008
Photo ©: Sven Martin / SPORTZPICS
(Click for larger image)
In 2006, the Cape Epic became the first ever team mountain bike stage race at which UCI points were awarded. The race's HC designation draws some of the sport's top racers, including World cross country champion Christoph Sauser, Olympic gold medallist Bart Brentjens, Olympic silver medallist Jose Hermida as well as the 2007 Cape Epic winners and runners up in 2008, Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm. The race will also see Under 23 UCI World Cup winner Burry Stander, Kevin Evans, and David George showcasing some of South Africa's best talents. Multiple-time World Champion and World Cup winner Alison Sydor is also expected to return.

The racers will team up to form duo men's, women's, mixed and masters teams.

The Cape Epic is a massive logistics project with organizers pitching over 1,400 tents per day and transporting 275 tons of equipment from stage town to stage town. Twenty-seven heavy-duty trucks and transporters and over 700 crew, volunteers and supplier representatives are involved in implementing the largest mountain bike stage race in the world.

Read the complete preview.

Sauser's Epic cause

By Nic Lamond, in Stellenbosch, South Africa

Young riders in Stellenbosch
Photo ©: www.flipper.co.za
(Click for larger image)

The kids racing around the BMX track on an otherwise lazy Stellenbosch afternoon earlier this week looked like they were born on bikes; their legs spinning, their arms pumping the jumps and their bodies laying their bikes over in the corners. But the truth is their skills are all newly-acquired – thanks to a charity led by mountain bike World Champion Christoph Sauser.

On the eve of the Cape Epic - the eight-day mountain bike stage race held on the southern tip of the African continent - friends, donors, microphones and cameras gathered in the shanty township of Kayamandi on the outskirts of Sauser's "summer" training home, Stellenbosch. Those on hand wanted to see what had happened since Sauser, nicknamed "Susi" and Specialized teammate Burry Stander rode together in last year's race to raise funds to establish a BMX track in the impoverished community.

"Less than a year ago, we were pushing these kids around the car park here. We had to teach them to pedal forward. They were pedalling the bikes backwards because it was easier!" Stander said as kids whizzed around the track.

The idea to create a charity came to Sauser in the build-up to last year's Cape Epic when no-one in Specialized's cross country team was ready to take on the demanding stage race. By chance, Sauser ended up at a dinner sitting next to a passionate sportsman and agent for change in his community, Songo Fipazo (who will be riding his first Cape Epic in 2009). With these humble beginnings the Songo.info charity was born, and donations streamed in to build the BMX track that now surrounded us.

Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser
Photo ©: www.flipper.co.za
(Click for larger image)

With the kids flocking to the complex after school and the BMX track a reality, Sauser and the South African U23 Champion Stander are eyeing a much bigger prize. They want an entire cycling club to rise from the dusty township streets, and they're well on the way to making it happen.

After Stander pulled out of the race last year due to injury, the Cape Epic will see the Specialized duo in Team Songo.info again. This time they'll be riding to raise funds to establish the cycling club (with bikes and a van to transport the team to races). The new initiative is called Cycling4Kayamandi and Specialized has already come on board by donating a fleet of bikes - over 50 so far.

As the kids tire and the BMX track clears out, a group of older riders gear up for an outride with Sauser and Stander each on one of 25 brand-new mountain bikes. Their energy is contagious. Who wouldn't want to ride with the two stars?

"In the era of professional cycling, it's not often a World Champ puts his hand up and says he wants to ride for a charity," said Specialized Sports Marketing Manager Bobby Behan, who was on hand to support the day's activities.

For more information about the charity, visit www.songo.info.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by www.flipper.co.za

Thredbo: last chance to race Down Under before going overseas

Jared Graves heads for the win
Photo ©: Evan Jeffery
(Click for larger image)
The 2009 Oceania Mountain Bike Championship in Thredbo heralds the final chance for Australian and New Zealand riders to race Down Under before heading overseas for the upcoming World Cup series starting in April. A majority of the World Cups will provide the perfect international run-up before many return to Australia later in the season for the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships in Canberra in late August and early September.

Racing got underway Friday evening with the four cross. Favourite and BMX Olympian Jared Graves proved he was back in form on the mountain bike by winning the Oceania title. Hot on his heels were two Canberra BMX riders; young 16-year-old Ryan Henderson slipped past Leigh Darrell for second while Darrel finished third. Australian National Champion Caroline Buchanan came out to win the women's four cross while Sarsha Huntington followed her into second. Young BMX rider Cherie Simpson closed in to finish a credible third.

Heading the Australian contingent in Saturday's men's cross country race will be Victoria's Dan McConnell, who represented Australia at the Beijing Olympics. Canberra's Dylan Cooper is also expected to force the pace along with New Zealand's National Champion Stu Houltham, who is reported to be in good form.

The elite women's cross country will again be a close battle between Launceston's Rowena Fry, the current Australian national champion and national series winner Katherine O'Shea of Victoria. O'Shea is hoping for an early birthday present before turning 30 on Sunday. Former Australian national champion Tory Thomas will be back on the racing track along with Bendigo's Joe Wall and Sydney's Zoe King. New Zealand's in form riders Sara MacDonald and Jeannette Gerrie will hope to upset the Aussie contingent.

The under 23 divisions hold vital importance with the winner gaining an automatic entry for the upcoming World Championships. With only Castlemaine's Lachlan Norris and Canberra's Gracie Elvin already assured of a spot, the promise of racing worlds could be just the incentive needed for Bowral's Charlton Durie or Adelaide's Therese Rhodes to get to the front. New Zealand's Samara Sheppard from Wellington has been flagged as a podium contender in the under 23 division after winning the Under 19 Oceania title last year.

Read the complete preview of the Oceania Championships.

Chilean favorites hope to excel at home during the 13th Pan Am Championships

Cristóbal Silva (Team ADO-Cannondale)
Photo ©: Cristóbal Sahr
(Click for larger image)
The Pan American Championships will take place in Farellones, just 15 minutes from downtown Santiago, Chile, on March 20-22. It will bring together more than 200 riders from countries of North, South and Central America to contest cross country, downhill and 4X titles in elite, under 23, junior, cadet and master categories.

Chile is pinning its own hopes on riders like Olympian Christopher Silva to help it defend the three titles the country earned at the 2008 Pan American Games. That's where Silva won the elite men's cross country.

"I will race with all the pressure of defending the title," said Silva, "but I hope that being a local will be to my advantage."

Foreigners expected to challenge Silva include US National cross country and Super D champion Adam Craig, La Ruta de los Conquistadores winner Paolo Montoya and Leonardo Paez, who has finished fourth at the UCI World Marathon Championships.

In the women's cross country, Chilean Olympian Francisca Campos will battle Canadian Catherine Pendrel, who finished fourth at the Olympic Games and won a World Cup in Bromont last year. The Americans will bring national champion Mary McConneloug and fellow Olympian Georgia Gould.

Read the complete preview of the Pan American Championships.

Team Jamis to open season at Pan Ams

Two-time Olympian Seamus McGrath will spearhead Team Jamis in opening its season at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, this weekend.

"Usually guys pick a low key local event to find their racing legs and test equipment, but with Seamus, who hasn't competed since last summer's Olympic Games, he likes to prepare at home and come out ready for the season's biggest events," said Jamis mountain bike product manager Craig Hoyt.

McGrath will be traveling with the Canadian National Team to Chile before returning briefly home to Victoria, British Columbia, to continue training.

The rest of Team Jamis will meet up with McGrath to debut at the first round of the US Pro Cross Country Tour (ProXCT) in Fontana, California, on March 28-29.

MonaVie-Cannondale adds Bishop and three others

Jeremiah Bishop
Photo ©: Team MonaVie / Cannondale
(Click for larger image)
Building on the success of last season, the MonaVie-Cannondale Cycling Team added four riders to its roster as it continues to fulfill its mission to undertake epic racing around the world.

Current US National short track and marathon champion Jeremiah Bishop is the best-known of the team's additions. Bishop will be joined by two-time US Collegiate National Champion and former ITU Winter Triathlon World Champion Benjamin Sontag and Utah-based Alex Grant. Burke Swindlehurst (of the Bissell Pro Cycling Team) will also cross over from road racing on a part-time basis.

"Joining the MonaVie-Cannondale Team presents an opportunity to focus on my favorite form of racing - epic racing - and meet the challenges of the world's toughest mountain ranges and top international competitors," said Bishop. "It's an opportunity I couldn't resist." Bishop plans to compete in the US Pro Cross Country Tour (ProXCT) and select events of the Kenda Cup East series.

The legendary David "Tinker" Juarez will return to the team for 2009 along with Bart Gillespie, Susan Butler, Mitchell Petersen, Bryan Alders and Leana Gerrard.

The riders will race team-issue Cannondale Scalpels. Its nine riders will compete in epic races such as the Cape Epic, BC Bike Race, Intermontayne Challenge, American Mountain Classic and La Ruta de los Conquistadors. The team will also attend select US Cup and NUE100 events.

Sho-Air/Specialized signs Plaxton

Max Plaxton
Photo ©: Team Sho-Air / Specialized
(Click for larger image)
The Sho-Air/Specialized cross country team signed its newest member, Canadian Max Plaxton. He joins current members including five-time Australian national champion and Athens Olympian Sid Taberlay, former US U23 cross country national champion Sammy Jurekovic and endurance specialist Manuel Prado.

Plaxton will race the US Cup series and the two Canadian World Cup rounds before hitting it hard for 2010.

"The guys at Sho-Air have been unbelievable," said Plaxton. "2008 was a hard year in terms of getting the door slammed in my face by the industry. I really considered going back to school and hanging my cleats up until Scott Tedro [the team's owner - ed.] threw me a life line."

"From what I have seen, this team is like family and I look forward to racing and hanging with a great group of people."

Plaxton turned heads in 2006 when he won the bronze medal in the Under 23 cross country race at the Pan American Championships. He is a five-time Canadian national champion and has twice raced as part of the Canadian team on the way to winning the world championship team relay.

"It's our goal to provide our riders with a healthy environment so they can focus on riding and racing," said Team Sho-Air manager Ty Kady. "It's all about family for Scott, and he wouldn't have it any other way."

"To see a rider of Max's caliber become of victim of the industry and left out to dry isn't something new to us, so we were glad to lend a helping hand. We're hoping for some big things from our younger riders in the next few years. Max and Sammy J are only 23 and we think in the right environment, they can be Olympic-level riders," said Kady.

Plaxton will make his debut with the Sho-Air/Specialized team at the opening round of the US ProXCT in Fontana, California, on March 29.

DS-Rennsport team continues

Team DS-Rennsport
Photo ©: Team DS Rennsport
(Click for larger image)
After some uncertainty, the DS Rennsport team will continue for 2009. Director Robert Dorn announced that the team will back three racers German Torsten Marx, Swiss Balz Weber and Austrian Steffi Wiedner. The team is surviving despite the departure of two of its major sponsors at the end of 2008.

"We negotiated for a long time. We appreciated the confidence of the sponsors who kept their faith in us," said Dorn after securing new sponsorship from the firm of Schiller Automation Genkingen and Austrian bike manufacturer KTM. DS Racing Ltd., a clothing manufacturer, will stay on as title sponsor.

The team will focus on the Bundesliga German national series and European World Cups.

"We will contest the races in 2009 with a limited travel budget. With our central location we can get to many interesting races, where our three riders will show their capabilities."

Nädele Rico will serve as team manager while Robert Dorn and Friedrich Schneider will advise the team.

Team Torq Diary: Going fast for the short and the long

By Katherine O'Shea

Jo Wall and Katherine O'Shea
Photo ©: Tony Fetch
(Click for larger image)
I am writing this diary entry as the 2008-2009 Australian National series comes to a close.

My race results recently have been like riding a roller coaster. On the low side, I had a technical at the Australian Championships in Canberra that robbed me of the chance to race to the best of my abilities and therefore truly challenge for the Green and Gold jersey. On the high side, I have been able to show my strengths at both marathon and Olympic cross country racing formats.

Four short weeks after the frustrations of the Australian Championships, the Torq Nutrition crew was assembled at the picturesque seaside town of Apollo Bay, situated on one of the world’s best drives, The Great Ocean Road. This was my first marathon-style race, and I was taken by surprise that my pre-race nerves were greater than that for cross country events, even with no other expectations other than to finish. The 100km event started by the sea and climbed into the surrounding Otway ranges. The finish line was at a once thriving forestry town that is evolving into a mountain bike destination called simply enough, Forrest.

Read the complete diary entry.

New Terra Australis set to begin

Victoria's High Country is set to host the inaugural Terra Australis Great Southern Land Mountain Bike Epic from March 29 through April 4.

A high class field will tackle the 550km over the seven stages. Riders from all states of Australia plus overseas riders from Colorado and the United Kingdom will compete. Heading the field are three well credentialed teams. Dan McConnell who represented Australia at the 2008 Beijing Olympics has teamed up with elite cyclist Luke Fetch as part of the Torq Performance Nutrition Team.

Hot on their heels will be the BMC Racing team of Troy Bailey and Joel Donney. Bailey has been a fixture on the Australian mountain bike scene for over a decade and recently became the World Solo 24-hour Champion at the World Championships in Canada in the 35-39 male category. His race partner for Terra Australis Donney finished second in the under 25 male category after riding the race of his life at the same event.

The Pink jerseys of the Total Rush team will also be vying for overall honours with Mark Fenner and Sam Bach confident of a good showing. Both are extremely competent mountain bike riders with Fenner collecting a bronze medal at the recent World Championships.

"The seven stages will see elite riders and weekend warriors travel through the pristine wilderness of Victoria's High Country. Falls Creek, Dinner Plain, Bright, Beechworth and Wangaratta will all host stage finishes," said organizers.

For more information, visit www.terraaustralismtbepic.com.

US Cup adds fun rides

The western portion of the US Cup is introducing Just for Fun (JFF) Rides as a way to bring more mountain bikers into the fold of racing. Mountain bike legend Ned Overend, 1990 cross country World Champion, will lead the first ride at Fontana on March 29.

The no pressure, non-scored event is for the first time rider/racer looking to get their feet wet, while riding some of the less technical sections of the course that the pro cross country riders will race later that day. JFF rides are open to all ages and skill levels, but organizers request that riders have some experience on a bicycle, be free of health problems and be able to ride for 15-30 minutes.

"The whole concept of the JFF is to give people some exposure to the sport of mountain biking at a low pressure and much less technical level than that of our more hardcore race enthusiasts," said US Cup Marketing Director. "We are hoping that friends, family and kids of racers will bring out their bikes and join us for an abbreviated lap out at Fontana."

"I think the concept is great, and I hope it really starts to gain momentum," said Overend, "because I think it's what the sport needs to bring in more riders at the entry level."

Participation will cost US$25. For more information, visit www.mtb-uscup.com.

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