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MTB news & racing round-up for May 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

Peat collects record-breaking World Cup downhill win number 17

By Rob Jones

Steve Peat riding
Photo ©: Kathy Sessler
(Click for larger image)

Vallnord, Andorra, seems to be a good place to make mountain bike history. Last year, the Atherton siblings won three World Cups with Rachel taking the women's downhill, Gee the men's downhill and Dan the men's four cross. This year, during round three of the UCI World Cup, Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) took his second consecutive win in the men's downhill and the 17th of his illustrious career, breaking Nicolas Vouilloz's record for most World Cup wins, and extending his lead in the overall standings.

Australian Bryn Atkinson was the first to go under 2:26 and set the first strong time.  Atkinson's time would prove to be hard to beat, as rider after rider came close but could not budge him from the hot seat.

It took Michael "Mick" Hannah, 20 riders later, to finally knock Atkinson out of the lead.  Hannah, who had been sick during the week, crashed during qualifying and started 17th from last.  His run on the upper part of the course was strong, but it was in the rough and technical lower half where he really shone, making up 1.5 seconds in the final 400 metres to take the lead with a time of 2:23.71.

Brendan Fairclough (Monster Energy-Specialized), four riders later, came within 35-hundredths of a second of Hannah, and that proved to be the pattern for the next dozen riders - close to or ahead of Hannah at the top, but losing ground in the lower section.  It wasn't until round one winner and Peat's teammate Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) that Hannah was displaced, by a quarter of a second.

World Cup overall leader Steve Peat
Photo ©: Kathy Sessler
(Click for larger image)

"I didn't crack the top as well as I wanted," said Minnaar, who would finish third.  "And a couple of corners in the middle were a problem.  It's good to be up there for points, but I think Steve's running away with it."

The field was down to three riders, with Peat the next up.  The World Cup leader was even with Hannah through the upper sections, but really came into his own in the woods, knocking 1.41 seconds off the leading time.  World champion Gee Atherton (Animal-Commencal) followed and came within an infinitesimal two-hundredths of Peat, but it wasn't enough. Atherton ended up in second.

However, Sam Hill (Monster Energy/Specialized), the fastest qualifier, was still to come, and he was everyone's favourite, after showing he was clearly in tune with this track, both in training and qualifying.  The favouritism looked to be justified, when the Australian went through the upper portion 1.6 seconds faster than Peat, and enter the final sections two seconds ahead.  But then disaster in the form of a crash in the woods, and Hill's chance for his first win of the year disappeared, while Peat saw his dream of a World Cup record realized.

"It was really close," said Peat.  "I didn't think I had the best time, I thought for sure that Sam would beat it.  I had a couple of little bobbles and didn't think I was carrying speed.  I needed a bit of luck, but you can see that he crashed, and that's it ... history being made."


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Kathy Sessler

Two World Cups in a row for Jonnier

By Rob Jones

Elite women's downhill podium
Photo ©: Enric Moran Gimeno
(Click for larger image)

Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) took her second consecutive downhill World Cup win in Andorra last weekend, and overtook Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) for the lead in the women's series.

Jonnier, who also qualified first, faced a drying track, which was getting loose and dusty at the top. Three days of hard riding and racing were rutting out the lower, wooded portion and creating braking bumps, which pounded the riders as they pushed to shave extra tenths of a second from their times.

Canada's Micayla Gatto was the first woman off, and proved that her qualifying time was an anomaly by posting a sub-three minute 2:57.77 time that would hold up for nearly half the field, before American Melissa Buhl finally bumped her from the hot seat with a blazing fast 2:51.20.

Buhl didn't get much chance to enjoy her spot in the Hot Seat, because five riders later, Japan's Mio Suemasa took the top time below 2:50 at 2:48.60.  Suemasa was immediately surpassed by Myriam Nicole of France, by two-tenths of a second, who in turn was supplanted by veteran Celine Gros (Morzine-Avoriaz 74).

But the final three were still to come.  Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Center), the former Junior World Champion, was third fastest in qualifying, and knocked two seconds off of Gros' time.  Next up was World Cup leader Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing), who was well back of Ragot on the upper half of the course, but came back strongly in the technical bottom section to pull to within two-hundredths of the second by the bottom.

Jonnier was on fire, fastest at both intermediate splits and a staggering four seconds fastest by the finish line.  She dropped nine seconds from her qualifying time.

"I felt good all week here, and in the final even stronger than last week," said Jonnier, "but I was also extremely nervous, as I do not normally qualify well, so I was feeling the pressure.  I felt very comfortable on this track, and confident with the way my bike was set up.  It's great to be back in the World Cup lead, after an only average ride in South Africa."

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the men's downhill, women's downhill, men's four cross and women's four cross World Cup races in Andorra.

See the latest World Cup standings for men's downhill, women's downhill, men's four cross and women's four cross after this weekend's round three of racing in Andorra.

Kurschat celebrates a birthday win in German Bundesliga

Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon Racing Team)
Photo ©: Armin M. Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)
Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon Racing Team) won the third round of the MTB-Bundesliga International, a hors categorie (HC) race, in Heubach, Germany. On his way to collecting the perfect birthday present, Kurschat defeated Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Jean-Christophe Péraud (Team Massi).

"Incredible," was the only word Absalon found to describe Kurschat's performance on the climbs during the laps of Heubach's 4.3-kilometer course. "On the second lap, he joined me at the top of the climb, and again on the third lap and the fourth lap. On the fifth lap, when I got a 50-second gap, I though, ok, now I won't see him again, but he did bridge back up. And he did the same again on lap six."

The French star Absalon kept getting away on the four-minute downhill section, but birthday boy Kurschat kept catching back up on the climb.

On the seventh and final lap, Kurschat passed Absalon in the middle of the climb, and that's where the race was decided. Absalon was losing air in his tire and instead of catching him on the downhill like had been happening, Kurschat's advantage grew to 1:59.

"In the middle of the race, I thought that I would have no chance today. I kept my rhythm, and I couldn't do anything else," said Kurschat, who noticed that the spectators at the top of the climb kept singing "Happy Birthday" each time he passed. Race day was his 34th birthday and the day he'd take his second win of the season.

Osl goes it alone

Women's podium
Photo ©: Armin M. Küstenbrück
(Click for larger image)
Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost Pro Team) crossed the finish line of the women's race after a long solo ride ahead of Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon Racing Team) and Nathalie Schneitter of Switzerland. The up and coming Osl rode alone from the beginning of the race.

"I just decided to go," Osl said and climbed away. Kalentieva, who resides near the Heubach race course, tried to follow, but was unable to stick to Osl's pace. The Russian has won the Bike the Rock race three times and has a lot of fans in the area.

"My training is targeted for the Madrid World Cup. I could not go at a high intensity today so I had to ride my own rhythm," said Kalentieva. "When Natalie (Schneitter) closed the gap, the race became exciting."

Schneitter had a chain problem on the first lap and afterward, she had to chase. In the last lap, she caught Kalentieva and went into the downhill ahead of her. Just before the final corner, Kalentieva passed Schneitter for second.

"That was her experience," Schneitter said. "It's not great to lose second place so close to the finish line, but I'm happy with my chase effort."

While Schneitter and Kalentieva were fighting for second place, "Lisi" Osl was celebrated her victory and watched the duel on the big video screen. "It looks good for Madrid, even though it is a very different kind of race. I enjoyed the competition today. The atmosphere was fantastic."

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Bike the Rock Bundesliga race in Heubach, Germany.

US Open draws downhillers from around the globe

Kathy Pruitt (Jamis)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)
The seventh annual US Open of Mountain Biking, kicking off on May 22, is drawing some of the world's best gravity racers to Diablo Freeride Park in Vernon, New Jersey.

Reigning US Open champion Steve Smith will be looking to defend his title against a stacked field of international contenders. "I'm really looking forward to coming back to Diablo and defending my title," said Smith of Team Evil Bikes/MS-Racing. "The US Open track is sick and so are all of the other trails that I've ridden there. It's always a good time."

After narrowly being edged-out by Smith last year, former World Champion Sam Hill is gunning to dethrone him and claim this year's win. "I am excited about attending this year. It is a fun track to ride and the atmosphere is more relaxed than the World Cups."

Fresh off of a strong fourth place finish at the La Bresse, France World Cup, British Downhill phenom Brendan Fairclough will also be there. "This will be my second US Open." To earn a top spot, Fairclough will need a strong showing to fend off top World Cup rivals including teammate Hill, Gee Atherton, Dan Atherton, Bryn Atkinson, Brian Lopes, Jared Rando and Kyle Strait.

Returning in 2009 to capture the title that eluded her in 2008, is and highly decorated pro racer Kathy Pruitt (Jamis Bicycles) will return to defend her 2008 title in the women's race. She take on a talented field including Olympic BMX bronze medalist Jill Kintner, Melissa Buhl and Katrina Strand.

To complement the highly contested downhill, organizers have added a new Giant Slalom discipline featuring a US$7,500 pro-purse and nearly $15,000 in amateur prizes. Designed by the Diablo Parklogic Team, the new Giant Slalom course features a series of banked turns careening down the lower mountain of the park.

In addition to the racing, on Sunday, trials legend Jeff Lenosky will be onsite performing a stunt show. For more information, visit www.usopen-mtb.com.

Tracy Moseley: Defying gravity

By Sue George

Tracy Moseley
Photo ©: Trek World Racing team
(Click for larger image)

British downhiller Tracy Moseley is back at the top of her game after an off-season move to the new Trek World Racing team.  Moseley led the women's UCI World Cup rankings after a win at the opener in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and a second place at round two in La Bresse, France. This past weekend, she finished third at the World Cup in Andorra.

The life of a pro downhiller can be challenging - something Moseley knows firsthand. During her nine years of racing for the Kona Team, Moseley's racing operation was largely a one-woman show.  She handled her own travel logistics, arranged for her own race mechanics and ordered and tracked all of her spare parts.  This year, since she switched over to the new Trek World Cup racing team, all she has to do is race.  The focus has been paying off.

"It's been a big change in that last year I organized everything. I had a lot to do that took significant time and energy.  Now [Team Manager] Martin [Whiteley] takes care of the entire travel schedule and ordering our parts.  There is less for me to worry about. 

"It's fantastic because I have more time to train and more time to rest and I can focus on being in the best condition," said the 30-year-old, who admitted not being in charge took a little getting used to.

Another important change for Moseley is having male teammates.  Having men to chase is a big help for women racing the downhill World Cup circuit.  World Champion Rachel Atherton has proven that with lots of time spent learning the techniques from her brothers Gee and Dan.

"It's been great to have guys to ride with.  Rachel has always had her brothers to ask about lines and to help her progress her riding whereas I had to find people in the pits and ask, 'Can I come and do a run with you?' Now I've got Andrew (Neethling) and Justin (Leov).  I can tag along with them and discuss lines.  I will learn a lot more and hopefully be on a more level playing field with Rached again.  I'd like to challenge her more this year."

Moseley will have to wait a little while before that challenge can occur. Atherton suffered nerve damage to her shoulder this winter during a crash while training in California.  She will soon undergo surgery and face a several-month recovery time before she can return to competition.

Read the complete feature.

Team Torq diary: A busy month

By Katherine O'Shea

Quite a big bird in South Africa.
Photo ©: Katherine O'Shea
(Click for larger image)

A month isn't a very long time in race season. It is hard to believe that Dan McConnell and I have already been on the road for four weeks, following the circus that is the mountain bike World Cup circuit. Ours days have been full with training, eating well and recovering, with some sightseeing thrown in for good measure. In fact, the days feel so full that I am not sure how I managed to fit work into my schedule back home. I'll tell you about our adventure so far.

As soon as we arrived in South Africa after our 16-hour flight from Melbourne, Australia, we sensed the difference in culture and lifestyle, with the segregation between rich and poor very obvious. However, we felt safe and found everyone to be pleasant and helpful. But we were intrigued how so many people could afford "Pimp my ride" vans with the most incredible paint work and shiny alloy wheels.

We stayed in a guest house called "A Room with a View" and that was certainly no understatement. The view of Pietermaritzberg was amazing from the manicured grounds of the house, which included a pool and tennis court enclosed by some particularly secure walls. The house also came with a maid called "Happy" who had the most gorgeous smile and looked after us exceptionally well. Initially, it felt awkward having someone make your bed, do your dishes, wash your clothes and do all the other domestic duties (although I have dreamt of it at home).

Read the complete Cyclingnews diary entry about O'Shea's travels to South Africa, Germany, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

US Gravity Tour heads to the Rocky Mountains

After a successful inaugural event in Port Angeles, Washington, the US Professional Gravity Tour (ProGRT) sets its sights high in the Rocky Mountains. This weekend, the ProGRT will drop into the picturesque mountaintop town of Angel Fire, New Mexico, where it will double as a Mountain States Cup and feature UCI category-2 racing for both the downhill and the four cross.

Americans Curtis Keene & Katie Holden captured the first round wins of the US ProGRT at the opening event.

Team Maxxis / Rocky Mountain committed to British NPS round two

Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis / Rocky Mountain)
Photo ©: Enric Moran Gimeno
(Click for larger image)

Llangollen will host round two of the British National Points Series (NPS) downhill on May 30-31 on a steep course that drops 1,000 feet. The Maxxis / Rocky Mountain downhill race team recently committed to the event, which it will use to help prepare for the upcoming World Cup in Fort William, Scotland. The team is bringing New Zealander Cameron Cole, American Luke Strobel and current women's UCI World Cup leader France's Sabrina Jonnier.

For more information, visit www.npsdh.com.

Shasta race added to Northern California series

A cross country and downhill race at Mt. Shasta Ski Park on July 18 and 19 has been added to the Northern California Championship Series calendar. The series now boasts nine cross country events, six downhills, five super Ds and two short tracks.

"We had all the events in this year's series all set back in February," said Vic Armijo of Team Bigfoot, coordinator of the series, "but then the folks at Mt. Shasta decided to hold an event and approached us about being in the series. When they told me that the downhill would have chair-lift service and that the timing would be done by their ski racing crew, well, it just made perfect sense!"

This season long points series will culminate at the finals at the LaGrange Fall Classic in Weaverville.

For more information on the race, visit www.shastabasecamp.com and for more information on the series, visit www.teambigfoot.net.

BikeRadar Live: Minnaar to race dual slalom

By BikeRadar

Cruz control: Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate)
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)
Three-time World Cup downhill champion Greg Minnaar has confirmed he will be riding in the Mountain Biking UK Eliminator at BikeRadar Live.

The South African is no stranger to dual slalom racing and rode to victory at the 2008 Sea Otter Classic festival, Crankworx festival in Whistler and Jeep 48STRAIGHT contest in Utah.

The Santa Cruz Syndicate rider's "big air" style is inspirational and he always takes the time out to speak to his fans. He has been a firm favourite in the UK since earning his stripes on the national downhill circuit with Team Animal Orange at the turn of the decade.

Since then, Minnaar has gone on to become one of the most consistent and successful riders in the world, winning his first World Cup in 2001 and then the World Championships in 2003, followed by two more World Cup titles to date.

"I really have fun racing slalom, so to add another one to our calendar makes me pretty happy," said Minnaar.

Be there on May 30-31 to see him go head-to-head with the world's best in a bid to become MBUK's Eliminator champion.

Track designers Will Longden and Dave Wardell will begin construction later this week and are looking forward to the biggest names in mountain biking heading for Donington Park in May.

"It's going to be a fantastic event and to have Greg along doing battle with Gee and Dan Atherton and all the other guys is going to make it a unique spectacle not to be missed," said Longden.

BikeRadar Live is the biggest ever mass-participation cycling event to hit the UK, and will take place at Donington Park in Leicestershire. The weekend will be packed full of races and challenges, with something for everyone, whether you want to compete, watch your friends and family or just check out some of the world's best riders.

For more information on BikeRadar Live, visit http://live.bikeradar.com.

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