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MTB news & racing round-up for May 24, 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

World Cup racing returns to Spain

By Rob Jones in Madrid, Spain

Last year, the men's start
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)
Madrid is the final cross country of the UCI World Cup spring campaign and the last chance for riders to shine at this highest level of competition for two months, so the competition will be intense on Sunday.

As one of the more unique World Cups on the circuit, Madrid offers the highest level of competition in the center of a major capital city.  Held in the 1,800-hectacre Casa de Campo park, the event brings out tens of thousands of spectators, who can easily access the site by subway right next to the course.

Favorite Margarita Fullana (Massi)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)
The seven-kilometre course does not feature the long climbs of some of the more mountainous venues, but is by no means easy.  Multiple short, sharp climbs and fast, hardpacked straightaways mean that there is nowhere to rest on this circuit.  Add in the usual blazing sun, high temperatures and dust, and this becomes a race of attrition.

However, this year may see the first ever wet World Cup in Madrid.  Rain moved in Friday evening, and continues to fall sporadically through training on Saturday, with temperatures falling over ten degrees (Celsius).  While the hardpacked dirt is not likely to turn into mud bogs, it is making some downhill sections slick, and the formerly fast singletrack surprisingly slow.

"It was surprising how much extra effort it takes," said Georgia Gould (Luna).  "You can feel it just dragging you back."

Jose Hermida (Multivan)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)
World champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized) agreed, "The ground doesn't become really soft, but it pulls on the tires, making it that much harder.  Burry [Stander, Sauser's Specialized teammate] and I found that the steepest climb wasn't rideable on our first lap, but by the end of the ride it had already dried up enough to ride it."

The weather forecast calls for it to stay cooler, with the possibility of rain again for race day.

For the men, World Cup Julien Absalon (Orbea) is the clear favourite, coming off two straight victories and as the defending champion in Madrid.  However, he can be beaten, as number two ranked Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon) discovered last week in a German national series event.  The course doesn't suit Kurschat as well (he prefers longer climbs), and the German rider is suffering from a cold, but he will still be a podium contender.

Look also to round one winner Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), who has stated that winning here in front of his home crowd is a major goal for 2009.  Of course, the Team Specialized duo of Stander and world champion Sauser can never be counted out – Sauser is particularly hungry, because he is without a win so far this season in World Cup action.

Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain/Maxxis)
Photo ©: Dave McElwaine
(Click for larger image)
On the women's side, defending champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) is missing after having had a baby this spring.  This by no means suggests that the competition will be any less fierce.  World champion and World Cup leader Marga Fullana (Massi) stated as early as round one in South Africa that her goal was to build up to peak form for her home race in Madrid.  She showed that she is well on her way, after winning the last World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium.

Looking to score the second World Cup win of her career will be Canada's Catharine Pendrel (Luna), who finished a close second to Fullana in round three, and is also moving into top condition.  The rain and mud could suit Pendrel more than Fullana.  Other contenders include Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon), round one winner Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost Team), 2008 World Cup champion Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and China's Ren Chengyuan.  Any of these riders could prove to be the winner.

In the World Cup rankings, Absalon holds a strong 160 point lead over Kurschat, so a change in the men's jersey holder is unlikely.  The women's race is much closer, with Fullana only 70 points in front of Osl.

See plenty of photos previewing the elite cross country race or check out coverage from the junior men's and junior women's races.

Atherton recovering after surgery

World Champion Rachel Atherton (Animal Commencal) is back at home after a successful surgery on her injured shoulder. She is recovering well and itching to get back to training.

"I was in surgery for eight hours, and everything went well apparently," said Atherton on her blog. "A total of 30cm of nerve was taken from my left leg and grafted into three different places in my shoulder, front and back."

"I'm so stoked – I can't believe how well I felt even the next morning – the surgeon has worked wonders. I'd like to thank everyone for their messages of support and hope to be back action as soon as possible."

Atherton was kept under observation at the hospital for two nights after surgery before she was sent home to continue her recovery. She injured her shoulder in a head-on crash with a pick-up truck during training in California this winter.

"My leg is quite sore and part of my foot is numb because obviously it has no nerve going to it, but my shoulder is already growing bigger with each second, I am sure!"

Enough racing for Payet

Florent Payet
Photo ©: Gary Perkin
(Click for larger image)
The Subaru Professional gravity racing team may be looking for a new rider. In the past week, Florent Payet decided to call it quits for the season.

Payet told his managers he wasn't capable of sustaining the physical and mental pace required to complete a full World Cup season and that he needs to refresh himself in order to come back stronger next year.

"The whole team is very disappointed, but wishes him all the best in the new challenge that is facing him," read an official team statement. "On the team side, we will find out this week if we will hire another rider for the rest of the season."

Sauser diary: Home for two weeks

Cyclingnews welcomes its newest mountain bike diarist, world cross country champion Christoph Sauser of the Specialized Factory Racing team. Join us in following Sauser's season as he tries to defend his rainbow jersey.

Swiss cows
Photo ©: Christoph Sauser
(Click for larger image)
To date, I have been following several Cyclingnews riders' diaries from my chair. Now it is my first time on the writing side, which takes a little bit more time.

It is the second week that I am at home, after a two-and-a-half-month long road trip. When I left for South Africa at the end of February, there was still a lot of snow around the house, and now the lawn is in desperate need of mowing for the first time. But how can I start mowing when the lawn mower is still at my brother's for service? I guess it will have to wait until after the Madrid round of the World Cup or in the meantime, maybe I can break down the fence and give my uncle's cows a new, heavenly and very green spot to eat?

Beer in a big bible
Photo ©: Christoph Sauser
(Click for larger image)
And yes, all the Swiss cows are wearing bells. Do they wear them in case they disappear and need to be found or are they just a tourist attraction? This was the number one question from visitors all last week, during a Specialized press launch here in my home town Sigriswil, Switzerland. I was pretty busy eating, drinking and riding with journalists, Specialized engineers and marketing people from all around the world.

It was good fun, but my butt needed to get kicked on Thursday when it was time to do a few five minute low RPM strength intervals on the road bike. The day after the launch, I met Ned Overend on a big mountain in the rain and fog. Sure Ned was at the launch, too. He looked like he was getting bored taking the gondola for the downhill runs the whole day and instead opted for some cross country fun!

Read the complete diary entry.

World championships getting ready to go Down Under

Jared Graves won the 2008 Canberra World Cup four cross race
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
(Click for larger image)
Preparations are well underway in Australia's capital for the 2009 UCI World Championships set for September 1-6 in Stromlo Forest Park, Canberra, Australia.

The event will feature an all-star cast of the top men and women riders from around the world including current cross country World Champions, Christoph Sauser of Switzerland and Margarita Fullana of Spain; Four cross champions Rafeal Alvarez De Lara Lucas of Spain and Melissa Buhl of the United States; and downhill champions Rachel and Gee Atherton of the United Kingdom. Australia's own Nathan Mummery in the trials will also be on hand for the trials.

Australia will have a good shot at some titles with favorites like two-time downhill world champion Sam Hill, Olympian BMXer and four cross racer Jared Graves and World Cup four cross winner Caroline Buchanan.

Competitors from over 40 nations are expected to compete in what will be the first World Championships in Australia since they were in Cairns in 1996.

The scene for the World Championships was set in August of 2008 when international and Australian talent battled it out at Canberra's own Stromlo Forrest Park in the first World Cup held in Australia in over a decade.

For more information, visit www.mtbworldscanberra.com.au.

South African series concluding in Pretoria

Johann Potgieter
Photo ©: MTN National Cup Series
(Click for larger image)
After four rounds of fast-paced racing around the country, titles are being decided this weekend at the fifth and final round of the MTN South African National series at Fountains Reserve in Pretoria. The cross country happened Saturday and the downhill will wrap up the racing on Sunday.

In the downhill, Western Cape riders will be out to continue their series dominance when they race the track at Fort Klapperkop, Pretoria on Sunday.

Leading the charge is South African champion Johann Potgieter (Red Bull Von Zipper), who has been the most consistent throughout the series, posting either the fastest or second-fastest times at six of the eight rounds (there are two rounds per event). His current total of 1,205 points is well clear of the rest, but he'll still be strongly challenged on the technical, dry, rocky course.

In the absence of Andrew Neethling (Trek Global Racing) and Jonty Neethling (Fox Morewood), who are both racing in Europe, fellow Capetonians, Gary Barnard (Fox Morewood) and Louis Bresler-Knipe will head up the challenge to make a dent in Potgieter's consist record.  Also expect a strong showing from Dirk van Schalkwyk on his home course as well as Pietermaritzburg-based Kelvin Purchase.

As usual, the junior men should be among the overall podium contenders, led by South African champion, Pierre van der Merwe (Morewood Monster Energy). Timothy Bentley and Kenneth Sinclair are also likely to be in the mix for top spots.

The course is relatively short and steep, with sub two-minute times expected for the top finishers. It is likely to suit aggressive riders like Barnard and Potgieter and the narrow nature of the course means there's little or no room for error.

In the women's series, Victoria Phillips, Gina Nixon and Rika Olivier have been doing battle for top spot at most of the events this year and Sunday is expected to be no different. Phillips has a relatively commanding lead in the Series, but will need to have a good result in Pretoria in order to secure the title.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for coverage of the cross country race coming soon!

Reality TV goes mountain biking

Reality television is going downhill and getting dirty. Red Bull is sponsoring a new reality online television series called "The Atherton Project" which will track the exploits of the famous downhill racing siblings Dan, Gee and Rachel as they compete in the 2009 UCI World Cup series and the World Championships in Australia where Rachel and Gee will try to defend their 2008 crowns.

The series will take a close look at life away from the training routines and competitions and promises to leave no aspect of family life untold. Mountain bike film maker Clay Porter will be the man behind the camera as he follows the siblings around the globe.

In the first installment, viewers meet the family during winter training in California. The episode tracks their progress all the way to South Africa where two of the three competed in the first round of the UCI World Cup.

To view the episode, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvw_VhnM_vo&feature=channel_page. Additional episodes will be released every other week.

Remembering retired pro Steve Larsen

By Gary Boulanger, BikeRadar

Steve Larsen lines up for a race in 2003.
Photo ©: Matthew Bronner
(Click for larger image)
Former Motorola road pro racer and two-time National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) mountain bike champion Steve Larsen suffered a fatal heart attack during a running workout in Bend, Oregon May 19.

Larsen, 39, owned Steve Larsen Properties in Bend. A Davis, California native, the father of five transitioned from mountain bike racing to triathlons, winning an Xterra race and participating in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. He retired from professional competition in 2003.

Former all-rounder Joe Parkin has several memories of Larsen. The pair raced together as juniors in northern California in the mid 1980s.

"During the 1990 Milk Race, he was on the US national team and I was riding as a pro for ADR/Tulip," Parkin told BikeRadar. "I was riding tempo and he kept attacking. I kept upping the tempo. I remember asking [US team coach Chris] Carmichael to have Steve quit attacking!"

Parkin also recalls a NORBA race in Traverse City, Michigan in 1995.

"Pretty sure I got the better of him, but that would have been one of the FEW times," he said. "Steve was one of those guys I probably would never have hung out with but was always happy to see, either on the start line or at Interbike, Sea Otter, etc.

"He was a true competitor and I was happy for all his successes," Parkin added.

According to the Davis Wiki, Larsen began cycling in 1984 just as Greg LeMond was becoming a household name. He entered his first cyclo-cross race and bronzed in 1986 at the first Junior National Championship in Santa Cruz, California. Larsen went on to road race through the Junior National Team Program in Europe before moving up to the Amateur World Championships with the U.S. team.

Larsen got his first professional contract for the Motorola squad around 1991 and relocated to Italy where he raced professionally for almost four years and became a highly respected road racer, riding alongside teammate Lance Armstrong.

Cyclingnews passes on its condolences to Larsen's wife Carrie and his family.

Join the forum thread in memory of Larsen

Top field for Anaconda MTB Enduro - Red Centre

Over 260 competitors will participate in the Anaconda MTB Enduro around Alice Springs and the MacDonnel Ranges next week over five days and seven stages from May 25 to 29. Stages will range from a 45-second hill sprint up Anzac Hill to a 70km marathon from Owen Springs Plain to a night-time singletrack stage.

Adrian Jackson is returning to defend his title in the men's race, and this time he's bringing Flight Centre Merida teammates Nick Both, Tim Bennett and James Kennedy. Throwing down the gauntlet again will be Perren Delacour, 2008 runner-up as well as third place getter Matthew Flemming in addition to the likes of Ben Mather, Ben Hogath, James Williamson and Shaun Lewis who'll be accompanied by his Mongoose teammates.

The women's race will be equally as exciting with Naomi Hansen returning with the goal to go one better and take the win. She'll be challenged by Jodie Willett, currently ranked number two nationally. Proven Red Centre expert with a second in the Croc Trophy, Bennett is definitely a contender as is Jane Ollerenshaw, Erica Gurner and Lee Schultz.

California crowns high school champions at Boggs Mountain

The first full state championships for high school mountain bikers took place last weekend, at Boggs Mountain, in Cobb, California, when 374 students from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Redding converged for the California High School Mountain Bike Championships. With 39 teams, including six composite teams, students from more than 50 schools participated.

"Once again these kids, and their parents, and the coaches leave me speechless with admiration. We now have more than 600 school kids competing in California high school leagues. The SoCal riders did just great; we can see there is a lot of talent already in that league. There is so much going on in high school mountain biking, but as the pinnacle of what we are doing, this event made me proud," said League director and founder Matt Fritzinger.

New faces from the upstart SoCal League made their mark, getting all the way to the top of the results in some categories and showing that although the NorCal riders benefit from the depth and intensity of the competition they have created for themselves, the talent pool covers the entire state.

If the event had a theme, it was camaraderie. The intensity of the racing made it clear that everybody was riding as fast as they could, but the stories about riders stopping to help fallen colleagues, and the excitement for the success of others showed that this event was about much more than winning.

Apart from the state championships, the event at Boggs Mountain served as the final round of the NorCal series. The Drake Pirates team held onto the lead they had enjoyed all season to deservedly claim the Division I title, ahead of the San Rafael Bulldogs and Nevada Union Miners. "We made some adjustments this year to increase the commitment of the riders to the team. The kids adapted and it's worked out really well for all our coaches. Right now I'm ecstatic and exhausted," said Paul Chourre, head coach of the 34-rider Drake program, about 10 seconds before his riders dumped a cooler full of ice on him. Team Director, Dan Freeman, said, "It's great to bring the trophy back to Mt Tam, where the sport of mountain biking began."

In Division II, the San Marin High School team finished strongly to earn the title after a season-long struggle with Marin Catholic and the Monterey Bay Kingfishers, who took second and third respectively. "Winning was a goal for me this year, but I never really talked about it with the kids as I didn't want to pressure them. We got so close last year, it was evident it was a possibility," said Adam Nuyens, head coach of the 12-rider San Marin team.

The six-mile woodland loop through Boggs Demonstration Forest provided a broad ranging test of talent, suited best to the all-round rider with good bike handling skills. The most difficult section was a short, very steep, singletrack climb, called The Wall. Some said the course seemed less technical than last year, but all agreed the swoops, jinks and turns of the singletrack made it a lot of fun. The trails were dry, the dust was up, and it was hot - somewhere in the 90s - for much of the day.

California State High School Champions
Varsity Boys: John Bennett (El Cerrito)
Varsity Girls: Shayna Powless (Independent)
Junior Varsity Boys Division I: Bryan Duke (Salinas)
Junior Varsity Boys Division II: Andrew Taylor (Contra Costa Composite)
Junior Varsity Girls: Courtney Crosta (Woodcreek)
Sophomore Boys Division I: Roman Brockley (Drake Pirates)
Sophomore Boys Division II: Peter Morris (Newport Beach)
Sophomore Girls: Sofia Hamilton (Drake Pirates)
Freshman Boys Division I: Isaiah Rapko (Berkeley High)
Freshman Boys Division II: Herculaas Botha (San Marin)
Freshman Girls: Sofia Gomez Villafane (Los Gatos)

Kovarik & Co. confirmed for BikeRadar dual slalom

By BikeRadar

Team Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense will be racing in the Mountain Biking UK Eliminator slalom at BikeRadar Live on May 30-31.

The Chain Reaction team is made up of Australian downhill racing legend and World Cup winner Chris Kovarik; 2007 junior World Champion Ruaridh Cunningham; World Cup four cross rider Lucas Mechura; top UK downhiller Matt Simmonds; UK BMX and 4X rider Lewis Lacey; and team boss, and UK downhill and four cross star, Nigel Page.

"We're excited to be competing in the MBUK Eliminator dual slalom," said Page. "It looks like the BikeRadar event will be one of the biggest on the calendar this year in the UK, and dual slalom is always great racing and brilliant for the spectators, as the racing is always close."

"As it isn't so important to get out of the gate first, like it often is in four cross, I think we’ll see the best four cross and downhill riders competing head-to-head on a course that suits both."

"With Will Longden and Bullhead [GT rider Dave Wardell] designing the track, it should be a good one as they're very experienced racers and know what the riders want."

MBUK Eliminator – the lowdown

Starting early on Saturday May 30, pro riders will race head-to-head for the chance to win big money and the kudos of being crowned BikeRadar Live's dual slalom champion.

And if you fancy having a go at the MBUK Eliminator yourself, you can book now for the open event on Sunday.

BikeRadar Live is brought to you by Future, the makers of MBUK, Cycling Plus, BikeRadar.com, What Mountain Bike, Cyclingnews.com and Procycling.

For more details and tickets see the BikeRadar Live site.

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