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MTB news & racing round-up for May 9, 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

Neethling among growing crop of top South African downhillers

By Sue George

Andrew Neethling (Trek World) races to third
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)
It's not an easy route for South Africans to make it to the top ranks of international downhill competition, but several of the nation's downhillers have proved it is possible. After the first World Cup, held in Pietermartizburg, South Africa, in April, Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) leads the men's rankings and Andrew Neethling (Trek World Racing) is ranked 11th. Joanna Petterson sits in ninth in the women's rankings.

"I think we are seeing more growth," said the 24-year-old Neethling to Cyclingnews. "Obviously with Greg's help, there is a lot better knowledge of downhill racing."

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"It is possible now to make it big. It takes a lot of money coming from South Africa to get to all the World Cups, and the exchange rate makes it tough," said the rider who goes by the nickname "Needles".

"However, our riders need to gain international experience. When our kids go somewhere for just one race, usually the World Championships, it's the most technical track they've ever seen and they struggle. It's not just that they are inexperienced, but it gets to their heads.  I don't see them ride the way they ride at home.  I know they're fast.  Unfortunately, it's a big stage for them to step on to."

Andrew Neethling
Photo ©: Sven Martin
(Click for larger image)
Coming overseas and spending time is like an internship.  It took me a few years to gain the experience."

Fortunately, some of South Africa's up and coming talent got some practice against the world's best at the World Cup opener last month in South Africa. "To come back home and race as a pro was awesome. My mom came and she's never been to a race that big." Neethling was disappointed with his 14th place finish, but still happy with the overall experience.

"It was really positive to have the World Cup return to South Africa. The last time was in Stellensboch in 1998." Neethling is one rider who was influenced by having a World Cup so close to home as he was coming of age. "That was before my time racing, but I was on a hardtail and I did the citizen's downhill associated with the World Cup. We got a little practice in on the same track as the pros. I also helped some people build the last drop into the finish that year."

Neethling, who has been racing as a pro since 2003, said cycling had good TV coverage in 2002 for the nationals, but then it died off; however, he said what is helping the current boom in popularity is a dedicated cycling show on the local sports channel. He pointed out that cross country racing is also doing well.

"The guys at home are now riding domestically as professionals, often racing marathons. Corporations are buying into it, and [cross country star] Burry Stander has really helped us. The strength and knowledge you need to do well in cross country is huge, so it's good to see Burry up there."

Moseley & Minnaar to try for another World Cup win in La Bresse

By Sue George

Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)
After a month off the World Cup circuit, the world's best downhillers will return to action for round two on May 9-10. Located in the Vosges Mountains, La Bresse, France, which has previously hosted the French Cup, will be the venue for this weekend's downhill-only event - the first downhill round in Europe for 2009.

The winners of the first round, held in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) and Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) will return to defend their World Cup leads while also aiming for another win.

In the men's race, the South African Minnaar will be challenged by Australian Michael Hannah (GT Bicycles), Brits Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) and World Champion Gee Atherton (Animal Commencal), Australian Samuel Hill (Monster Energy / Specialized / Mad Catz), and New Zealand's Justin Leov (Trek World Racing) - just to name a few of the 229 men signed up.

Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)
The women's field will be much smaller, with just 41 racers, but that doesn't mean Moseley won't have her work cut out for her. Frenchwomen Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Center), Sabrina Jonnier (Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Bicycles), Floriane Pugin (Iron Horse-Kenda-Playbiker) and fellow British racer Fionn Griffiths (Norco World Team) and American 4X World Champion Melissa Buhl (KHS) will be racing, too. In contrast, World Champion Rachel Atherton will not be competing as she awaits shoulder surgery.

The course starts off on the road at the top of Bouchaux (930m) and drops 300m to finish in the La Bresse town center after 1.3km. The track starts with a smooth first section and finishes with a rocky section

Qualifying is scheduled for Saturday and finals will happen on Sunday.

Dirt Sweat & Gears draws record numbers

Jeremiah Bishop (MonaVie / Cannondale)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The Dirt Sweat & Gears race in Fayetteville, Tennessee, is about to set an attendance record for 2009. This year's race, to be held on May 9 has attracted nearly 400 riders, a 20 percent increase over last year.

With a record high US$11,000 on the line, over 110 miles to travel and a massive field of racers, the men's elite field could get a serious reshuffle from previous years. Mountain bike hall of famers Nat Ross and Tinker Juarez will be absent, but fresh off his second place at the Cohutta 100, US Marathon National Champion Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale / MonaVie) plans to test the mettle of Rocky Mountain climbing goat Josh Tostado (Bach Builders) and young gun Brandon Draugelis (Cannondale Factory). Tostado and Draugelis will be returning to the rocky, rooty singletrack of the Cotton Mill Preserve.

Getting back to the 100-miler format of the ultra endurance world, Bishop's efforts could be well tested. In addition to Tostado and Draugelis, the likes of Harlan Price (Independent Fabrication), Evan Plews (Scott) and Ernesto Marenchin will be on hand to ensure an interesting day.

Pua Sawicki (Team Mata)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)

The women's race will have a new addition. Daniel Musto (Kenda / Tomac / Hayes) is ready to give favorites Pua Sawicki (Team Mata) and Rebecca Rusch (Specailaized/RedBull) a serious run for the top step. Musto's third place finish at this year's Cohutta 100 has her in prime shape after the long Michigan winter. Sawicki's 2009 cross country racing efforts and Rusch's globe-trotting stage racing will put them in position to defend their previous places on the podium.

Niner Factory team riders Dejay Birtch and John "Fuzzy" Mylne will be gunning for a best two out of three at Dirt Sweat & Gears. The shonky singlespeeders will see who can best each other to take the title as each has claimed the highest honors in consecutive years. 2008 saw a friendly battle that ended up with a role reversal as John "Fuzzy" Mylne took first place from his travel partner Dejay Birtch, who won in 2007. Greg Martin (Spot/Dale's) hopes to dethrone his rivals and move up from two third place finishes in previous years.

DSG is the fourth stop (of eight) on the US Mountain Bike National Calendar (MBNC) Ultra Endurance calendar.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Jean-Francois Quenet

Dalby Forest holds World Cup test event this weekend

Over 500 racers will take part on Sunday in the second round of the British cross country series, which also serves as a test event for bringing the UCI World Cup to Dalby Forest in 2010.

In the men's race, British Olympians Liam Killeen and Oli Beckingsale will be joined by Team Halfords Bikehut rider and National Under 23 Champion David Fletcher, Australian Olympian and Torq Australia UCI Team leader Dan McConnell and Irish Olympian National Champion Robin Seymour.

In the women's race, British Champion Jenny Copnall will battle it out on the new course with riders such as New Zealand Olympian Rosara Joseph, Olympic road racing star and Team Halfords Bikehut rider Sharon Laws, round one runner-up and New Zealand Marathon Champion Jenn O'Connor, Australian Series Champion and Torq Australia UCI team rider Katherine O'Shea and 2007 Australian National Championship bronze rider Kate Potter.

British Cycling, the Forestry Commission, UK Sport, Welcome to Yorkshire, regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, North Yorkshire County Council and Ryedale District Council have partnered to support the World Cup bid and associated test event. The organizations are calling on spectators to show their support for the bid by coming out to watch the racing action.

Racer Bikes Cup heads to Solothurn

The third round of the Swiss Racer Bikes Cup will draw about 700 cyclists to the Old Town area of Solothurn on May 9.

In the men's race, Swiss stars Nino Schurter, Florian Vogel, Matthias and Lukas Flueckiger, Jürg Graf, and last year's overall winner Martin Gujan are expected to contend for the win along with Italian Marco Aurelio Fontana, who finished eighth in last weekend's Houffalize World Cup. Vogel won the Racer Bikes Cup round in Tesserete and leads this year's standings. The young Marco Arnold and Patrick Gallati are two others to watch.

In the women's race, 23-year-old local Nathalie Schneitter has a chance for a victory at home. "For me, this race is special and my fan club will be on hand to motivate me." She'll race Swiss champion Kathrin Leumann, Petra Henzi and Italian Eva Lechner, who finished four last week in Houffalize.

Along with the cross country racing action will be an expo and BMX and mountain bike dirt jump contests.

Massanutten kicks off Gravity East series

The Gravity East series will kick off this weekend May 8-9 with the Yee-Ha! at Virginia's Massanutten Resort. Now in its third year, the highly anticipated 2009 Gravity East program will account for 18 events in two disciplines, on 11 mountains, spread across six states.

Last year's Yee-Ha drew entries from 23 different states and Canada, and this year, the race will use the same course that featured in the 1997 UCI World Cup.

"Every rider, from beginner through expert, gets to ride on the World Cup course," said promoter GeorgeWilletts, who doubles at the resort's Night Skiing Manager during winter months. "The only difference is that we now run through the upper rock garden with its off-camber slab, instead of around it like they did in 1997. It's a great course and people flock from all over to ride it."

Unlike many races, the Yee-Ha! is run rain-or-shine, and indeed ran in wet conditions last year. "The mountain's sandstone base drains well and supports wet weather racing easily," said Willetts.

Among the riders already committed to compete are Ecuador's defending Gravity East Champion Alejandro Ortiz (Team Nema), former National Champion Gerrit Beytagh (Morewood Bikes), 21-year-old up-and-comer Willem Von Cooper (Mongoose Tribe) and a trio of junior phenoms: Richie Rude Jr. (Team All-Ride), Michael Gross (Team DROP) and privateer Alex Couture.

For more information, visit www.massresort.com/v.php?pg=221.

West Virginia Association sponsors trail system of the year program

The West Virginia Mountain Bike Association (WVMBA) has kicked off a new "Trail System of the Year Program" which will award the most deserving trail system in the state. This will be determined by number of volunteer trail work hours per year, trail conditions, system layout, trails for different ability levels, etc. This award will consist of a US$500 cash prize that will be used to further trail improvement, along with a "WVMBA Trail System of the Year" sign to post at the winner's main trailhead.

Applications are due by August 1. For more information, visit www.wvmba.com.

Cowpie Classic wraps up SoCal League series

The start of the JV Boys race.
Photo ©: Michael McClure
(Click for larger image)

The Southern California Interscholastic Cycling League successfully completed its inaugural series with the Cowpie Classic event, held at the Stump Grinder Dirt Club private mountain bike area, at Los Olivos on May 4.

"To say it's been way better than expected, or I'm ecstatic, would probably be understatements. It really couldn't have gone better. A lot of local people put an immense amount of work and talent into making this series happen, but without Matt Fritzinger and the NorCal League we simply couldn't have done it. His formula and experience created our success, it's that simple," said Quintin Easton, president of the SoCal League.

The SoCal series, which is funded primarily by the Easton Sports Development Foundation, attracted more than 100 high school students from 14 school and composite teams in its inaugural four-race series, beginning March 8. Racing categories included Varsity, Junior Varsity, and Freshman / Sophomore combined. The events generated such enthusiasm that some students traveled up to six hours to race.

The Newport Beach Composite team led the series from start to finish, despite sustained pressure from the Hemet High School riders. Yucaipa High School finished a close third. Newport Beach team coach, James May, said "The kids were awesome. I'd love to take credit, but really it was the kids, and a great group of parents. The kids did a lot of it on their own, they organized a lot of their own training, they're very motivated, and they're a really fun group to work with."

May is a teacher at Corona del Mar High School. His next move, he says, is to expand the scope of the team, adding relevance at a more recreational level to kids who are just interested in learning about the sport and who have no feeling yet for racing.

The California Interscholastic State Championships will be held at Boggs Mountain in Cobb, California, May 17.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Cowpie Classic.

BikeRadar Live: Sign up for Whyte Night night-time enduros

By BikeRadar

The Whyte Night night-time enduros at BikeRadar Live on May 30-31 are your chance to have a laugh with your mates and take on a 5km purpose-built trail designed by four-time national champion Will Longden. You can choose between a four-hour race or a more gruelling 12-hour challenge, both starting at 8:00 pm on Saturday and with a share of £5,000 up for grabs.

And we're offering you the chance to sign up for the enduros for a special reduced price of just £25 – that's a £15 discount. This price includes weekend access to BikeRadar Live and camping. Simply enter the promotional code 06EN01 while booking. (Offer valid for first 500 people who register).

The rolling open land which surrounds the Donington race circuit will link up several woodland areas with both natural and manmade technical sections to keep riders on their toes. Expect twisting singletrack, rock gardens and more. The track will be a fun challenge for all levels of rider.

Those participating will also get a BikeRadar Live T-shirt, ChampionChip timing system, access to competitor/quiet camping area, toilets near start/finish line, showers, secure 24-hour bike lockup, well-lit changeover area, light charging facility (near start/finish line), dedicated bikewash (10:00 pm–8:30am), overnight catering facilities, medical cover, marshalling and rider care.

Registration will take place from 6:00 pm-9:00 pm on Friday, May 29 and from 10:00 am-4:00 pm on Saturday, May 30, including rider indemnities, number board and timing chip pickup. A race briefing will be held from 7:30pm-7:50pm and prizes will be awarded at 2:00 pm on Sunday, May 31.

The 12 and 4 hour competitive and fun categories include Team (Four male riders), Team (Four mixed, at least one female), Pair (Male), Pair (Female), Pair (Mixed), Solo (Male), Solo (Female), Team singlespeed (Male), Team singlespeed (Female), Solo singlespeed (Male) and Solo singlespeed (Female).

For more details and tickets see the BikeRadar Live site.

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