The 2011 USA Cycling Professional Gravity Mountain Bike Tour (US Pro GRT) kicked off over the weekend with the NW Cup in Port Angeles, Washington. The event, which took place at Dry Hill, was anything but dry as the skies opened up about an hour before the final runs got underway.
After grabbing the top spot in the seeding runs, Danny Hart (Giant Factory Off Road Team) and Jill Kintner (Transition Racing) descended onto the podium's top steps to take the early leads in the US Pro GRT men's and women's standings.
The Giant Factory Off Road Team swept the men's podium. Hart descended to victory with a time of 2:50.07 to best his teammates, second- and third-place finishers Andrew Neethling and Duncan Riffle.
On the women's side, Kintner opened up defense of her 2010 US Pro GRT title in dominating fashion. With a 3:16.91 on the slick course, she bested Canadian Miranda Miller (Santa Cruz-SRAM-Pinkbike) by four seconds. Katherine Short (Cove Bikes) was third.
The next stop on the US Pro GRT will be the Highland Bike Park event in Northfield, New Hampshire on May 14-15.
A different kind of year with old and new challenges for veteran pro
One of the keys to a long and enjoyable pro cycling career is bit of variety. Kelli Emmett, 34, in her fifth year with the Giant Factory Off-Road Team, knows this as well as anyone. Emmett turned pro in 2000 after two years of amateur racing and is nearing the likely final few years of her career.
Speaking of her 2011 season, she said to Cyclingnews, "This year is different. At the beginning of the season, the team came to me and said, 'What do you want to do this year?' It was awesome to have that opportunity and not have a team say, 'These are the races you'll be doing'."
Emmett, who is originally from Michigan but lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was given a blank slate on which to create her perfect season. That should mean lots of motivation to do her favorite races and some new ones, too.
"If I can turn out better results and enjoy what I'm doing, it'll benefit Giant, too. I'm going to Leadville this year (for the Leadville 100), which is a new challenge for me. Leadville will be a big focus, I'd like to win it and to also check out the vibe."
One of her favorite races, the two-day contest at Downieville, is also on her schedule. It annually includes two big days of racing. "(Teammate) Carl (Decker) and I had great races there last year. We both won one day and the overall, but I didn't win the downhill - I was second in that. This, year I want to win both events."
Another major goal is the US Mountain Bike National Championships, which will be held this year in Sun Valley, Idaho in mid-July. "I've always been slightly disappointed by my non super D national championship races. With the lower elevation, I'm hoping for a top three this year."
Other events on her schedule include the marathon national championships in Bend, Oregon,...
Short track and cross country US National Champion Todd Wells (Specialized) is predicting an interesting cross country race at the Sea Otter Classic on Saturday afternoon at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. Wells finished third in the elite men's short track on Friday afternoon after his teammate Max Plaxton rode to victory.
The 2011 Sea Otter cross country course is shorter - less than five miles - per UCI regulations. Organizers took out some of the singletrack that had featured in last year's course.
"Last year, we split up pretty quickly, but this year, we only go up to the top of the Laguna Seca Raceway hill where the dual slalom is once per lap, whereas last year, we went up it twice," said Wells. "I'm not sure how it will stay together. In a road race, a hill breaks up a group, so in a mountain bike race where there is a dirt, singletrack climb, it'll surely break up somewhat."
Racers will likely face very windy conditions and with plenty of road sections, including a portion of the paved raceway, so drafting will be important for riders who have the opportunity to do so.
"The course is not selective - there is a bunch of drafting and resting," said Adam Craig (Rabobank), who finished fourth in Friday's short track. "The fastest guy will still win, but it'll be a tactical race for sure."
The tactics that may play the biggest role are those involving teammates. In 2010, Wells worked with teammates Burry Stander and Christoph Sauser to dominate the elite men's cross country.
"While the short track course was fast and selective, the cross country course has a lot of drafting," said Wells. "It will be a benefit to have a strong teammate like Max. Hopefully, we'll be able to do the same thing tomorrow and win again."
"I'm excited for tomorrow," said Wells. "The past few years, I had Burry (Stander) and Christoph (Sauser), but they are in South Africa getting ready for the World...
Rabobank-Giant's Katie Compton was racing in fourth place in the cross country at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California, on Saturday afternoon when her race came to an abrupt halt. To those spectating and even to her fellow competitors, Compton seemed to suddenly and mysteriously disappear from the race. She was last spotted in the midst of a solo chase with just over two laps to go in the seven-lap race.
"Compton was stung by a bee and went into anaphylaxis immediately after the sting," said her husband Mark Legg to Cyclingnews.
"Fortunately a spectator had an Epi Pen which stabilized Katie until the paramedics arrived to administer more meds."
It's not the first time Compton has battled severe medical issues which have terminated her races. For a time, she was plagued by sudden onset severe muscle cramps - a problem she has since resolved after much research and experimentation.
She also had to end a US Pro XCT race in Birmingham, Alabama a few years ago due to a severe asthma attack that led to hospitalization.
According to Legg, the last time Compton was stung by a bee during racing was at the Val di Sole World Cup in Italy last July. In that race, the sting happened on the final lap, and she was able to finish fourth.
"(It was) another scary medical situation for Katie," said Legg. "Apparently her bee sting allergy has progressed worse than we expected."
Compton begins her travel to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on Sunday. She will race the first UCI World Cup of 2011 there next weekend.
To see more of our coverage of the Sea Otter Classic, please click here.
Merida Flight Centre rider looking for second national title in as many weeks
24 hour mountain bike world champion, Jason English, will be riding for a fourth-straight Australian Solo 24 Hour National Championship at Stromlo Forest Park in Canberra this weekend.
A member of the Merida Flight Centre Mountain Bike Team, English is hoping to take his second national title in consecutive weeks after winning the Australian Marathon Championships in Wyaralong, Queensland, last Sunday.
English said the race consistently attracted Australia's elite riders with lure of a national title always increasing the pressure on track.
"It's definitely one of the toughest races on the Australian calendar and strategy plays a huge part in staying in the hunt, especially during the early hours of the morning when fatigue starts to kick in," he said.
English explained last week's victory was a great confidence booster but this weekend's event presented a very different prospect.
"I took a lot of positives from last week's win but 24 hour races require different tactics," he said.
"Pacing is much more critical in longer races, you don't just go flat out and hope to finish this race well. There are far more variables and it's not always the fittest athlete that wins."
2011 marks the first year the event has been held at the Stromlo course.
"The change in venue from previous years makes the race more unpredictable as some riders will have had more time on track than others," English said.
"Stromlo is tough course with some hard, technical riding. It has some tough climbs but it's also one of the fastest tracks in Australia."
The Australian Solo 24 Hour MTB Championships will take place at Stromlo Forest Park, Canberra, this Saturday, April 23 at 12 noon. One of the most popular events on the Australian mountain biking calendar, the event is recognised as a tier one title for endurance specialists.
Windham, New York, was scheduled to host a triple round of the 2011 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup on July 8-10, but organizers there have cancelled the four cross event. The cross country and the downhill races will go on as scheduled.
2011 will mark the second year that Windham is hosting a mountain bike World Cup - it will be stop number seven in the international series.
"Despite the success we achieved in 2010 with the four cross event, we had to make the difficult decision not to include it in this year's schedule at Windham," said Race Director Nick Bove.
"Since our venue is a ski mountain, the course has to be dismantled for the ski season and completely rebuilt each year, making it too cost prohibitive to continue."
"This decision will allow us to devote more resources, both financial and human, to the downhill and cross country events, which promise to be even better than last year for both racers and spectators."
The 2011 edition of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano will get under way this weekend with the first round of cross country, downhill and four cross in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
After Pietermaritzburg, the four cross specialists will meet up again in Fort William, Great Britain and Leogang, Austria in June, then Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada in July, before the finals of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup which will take place this year in Val di Sole, Italy in August.
Windham organizers are planning many community events again this year, including cross country and downhill racing for all levels of ability, a block party and a concert.
"We received so much positive feedback last year about all of the community events we offered and we're promising to deliver more fun activities for the entire family again in July," Bove said.
Wells and Batty victorious at Sea Otter cross country
Todd Wells (Specialized Racing) and Emily Batty (Subaru-Trek) won the third round of the USA Cycling US Pro XCT at the Sea Otter Classic on Saturday in Monterey, California. Max Plaxton (Specialized) and Batty now lead the US Pro XCT series after three rounds.
Wells won Sea Otter by 53 seconds ahead of teammate Max Plaxton. Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale Factory), Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant Offroad) and Sam Schultz (Subrau-Trek) rounded out the top five finishers.
"It's my first win this year and I've never won the Sea Otter cross country," Wells told Cyclingnews, "although I've been coming here for about 15 years. I'm glad to finally get a win."
After his performance in Monterey, California, Plaxton has a 10-point lead over Bishop in the US Pro XCT Standings. Wells, Schultz and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek) fill out the top five positions. Stephen Ettinger (BMC Mountain Bike Development) is the top Under 23 rider, sitting in eighth place, 240 points behind Plaxton.
In the women's race at Sea Otter, Batty edged Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro) by one second at the finish line. Katerina Nash (Luna Pro) was third, completing the course two minutes and 46 seconds behind Pendrel. Lea Davison (Specialized Racing USA) and Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Trek) filled out the top five finishers.
Despite being even in overall points, Batty has taken the overall lead in the US Pro XCT standings in a tie breaker over Davison by virtue of owning a first-place finish this season. Gould sits in third place 20 points behind the leaders. Pendrel and Chloe Forsman (BMC Mountain Bike Development) round out the top five women...
Luna rider finishes race despite being out of contention after flat
Luna's Georgia Gould was in the four-woman lead group of the elite women's cross country race at the Sea Otter Classic on Saturday in Monterey, California, when disaster struck. She burped her tire, which left it low on air pressure. Another burp turned into a proper flat.
"I burped it and then I panicked and instead of stopping and adding CO2, which would have been the best thing to do," said Gould, "I kept riding and on the bumpy ruts. As I exited the pavement, I burped it again and then it came unseated. When I tried to re-inflate it, it wouldn't re-seat."
Gould's flat happened at a most inopportune location - right after a tech zone. Racers can only progress forward on a course, which meant she had to run about half a lap to the next tech zone.
"It wasn't bad luck. It was me - my own mistake," she said to Cyclingnews after the race.
If Gould had had a spare tube with her, she might have quickly repaired the flat and been back on her way, possibly even in time to regain the leaders. The problem was that Gould was without a spare tube.
"I always carry tubes with me. This is the one time I was like, 'oh it's a 15-minute lap'," said Gould. "It was total karma. I will ALWAYS carry tubes now. Maybe five tubes and eight CO2 cartridges, and hey, maybe even a pump strapped on my bike."
Gould, who had won the short track at Sea Otter on Friday, was a little hard on herself, but she'd learned her lesson.
"I was so annoyed at myself for being a bonehead. I was thinking, ok, fine, now you don't get to sit in on the track, you have to pedal the whole thing on your own."
And while some racers might have given up and saved their energy for next weekend's World Cup after falling out of...