By Rob Jones and Sue George
U.S. cross-country national champion Georgia Gould became the hero of the opening weekend of the National Mountain Bike Series held near Phoenix, Arizona, after she won all three women's endurance events.
The Nova National has a long history as the season opener for North American mountain biking, stretching back to the early nineties, when John Tomac and Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) were racking up wins in the Specialized Cactus Cup. Held at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, the organizers have access to a network of permanent trails through the sage brush and cacti.
Gould's dominance started Friday when she took the opening time trial. Looking mid-season fit, she was the only woman to go under 23 minutes. Despite being a little more tentative than some of the other women on the drop-off descent before the climb, Gould rode powerfully, winning by 20 seconds over teammate Katerina Nash.
"It was a good ride for me; I felt consistent," she said. "It was a bit of a funny course - you can only go so fast or you overcook the turns. There were a couple of times that I had to slam on the brakes in the middle of a turn, but overall I felt pretty smooth. I tried to be steady, because even the 'long' climb was only a couple of minutes."
On day, two Gould won the short track;; breaking free from a lead group of four which also included Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Haywood), Nash, and Kathy Sherwin (Titus).
"I noticed that I was getting a gap before the last turn in the gravel, so I started to push it when I got onto the pavement," explained Gould, who then increased her lead over the final three laps to cruise in for the victory.
Gould made it three for three with a win in the cross country on the final day. She took an early lead after a gap opened on the first singletrack climb, and she never looked back. She won in front of Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven Cycles) and Susan Haywood (Trek/VW). Haywood was showing a strong return to cross country form in her season debut.
Kabush showed his Pan Am form
Like Gould, Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) also won the Pan Am Mountain Bike championships in Argentina three weeks ago. Although he wasn't quite as dominant on the men's side, Kabush still took an impressive two victories this weekend.
The only endurance race Kabush didn't win was the time trial in which Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher - on a Gary Fisher 29er with a single chain ring) took a nine second victory over Adam Craig (Giant).
But Kabush showed his form in both the short track and cross country races by emerging victorious from a field of nearly a hundred riders. A good start was essential to avoid getting hung up in traffic and choking on dust. Kabush, counted among the winningest short track racers in history, leapt off the line to grab the holeshot onto the gravel and opened up a slight gap by the end of the first lap of the short track. He was quickly joined by a group containing Horgan-Kobelski, Wells, Craig, Sam Schultz (Subaru-Gary Fisher), Jeremiah Bishop (Trek), Ryan Trebon (Kona) and Ross Schnell (Trek). This group worked together to build up a gap on the rest of the field, and soon started to catch the tail end of the field, which was being steadily pulled from the race. Eventually the group splintered and Kabush broke away for a win over Wells and Horgan-Kobelski.
In the cross country, the race ultimately came down to a battle between Kabush and Wells, with both looking strong. In the end, it was Kabush who would solo in for the win, after dropping Wells in the second half of the final lap. "I felt really comfortable on the third lap, and then I took over the pace on the fourth and kept winding it up," said Kabush. "(Wells) stuck with me, though, and I was getting a bit worried, but the back side of the course was pretty rough, and I got a gap on a step up before a steep climb."
Look for more of Kabush and Gould in less than two weeks at Sea Otter in Monterey. For full coverage of NMBS #1, click here.