By Dave McElwaine in Park City, Utah
Mountain biking action in America's National Mountain Biking Series (NMBS) resumes this weekend in scenic Deer Valley, Utah. With the World Championships just completed in Val di Sole, Italy and the BC Bike Race about to kick off, this may be a weekend for some up-and-coming talent to find their way onto an NMBS podium.
That is exactly what happened earlier this season at the Sea Otter Classic while all the top racers were at a World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium. Most of the NMBS series leaders will be in attendance at Deer Valley, but podium spots will be up for grabs.
Racing at Deer Valley is normally quite taxing, as racers face altitudes from 7,500 - 9,000 feet. With the weather forecast in the 85 to 90 degree (Fahrenheit) range, this weekend's event could shape up to be a suffer-fest.
At the last stop on the NMBS circuit in Santa Ynez, California, racers faced temperatures in excess of 100 degrees for three straight days. Women's cross-country series leader Georgia Gould (Luna Women's MTB Team) succumbed to heat stroke and was taken to a hospital to recover.
Men's series leader Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis) has a commanding 70 point margin over Barry Wicks (Kona). With Wicks absent this weekend, the likely challenger will be Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru/Gary Fisher), who won last year's event here. With big doses of climbing, the course plays right to JHK's main strength.
Both Kabush and JHK will have just flown back from the World Championships so they should be on an equal footing.
"It'll be nice to regroup [in Deer Valley] and then head out east," said Kabush, after racing in the World Championships with a bad cold.
Last year Jeremiah Bishop (Trek / VW) provided the primary competition for Horgan-Kobelski at Deer Valley. Bishop often seems to get faster around this time of year and uses his considerable descending skills to his advantage at ski area venues like Deer Valley.
Former US National Champion Ryan Trebon (Kona) will be making an appearance at Deer Valley. Trebon's main focus this year has been a mix of mountain and road events to prepare for cyclo-cross season. "I feel good and am looking for a good result at Deer Valley," said Trebon.
Trebon certainly has the horsepower to ride with anybody. The question will be how the Ventura, California resident handles the altitude and the huge climbs.
Sam Schultz (Subaru/Gary Fisher), Carl Decker (Giant) and Ross Schnell (Trek/VW) will all be looking for strong rides this weekend.
The women's event will be an exciting Luna shootout. Luna has been the top women's team at every World Cup this year, and at the World Championships Catherine Pendrel, Georgia Gould, and Czech National Champion Katerina Nash finished an amazing sixth, ninth, and 12th respectively.
Both the US's Gould and Canada's Pendrel will be representing their countries at the Olympics in Beijing. Nash narrowly missed out securing a spot for the Czech Republic, due to an untimely knee injury sustained at the NMBS race in Fountain Hills, Arizona.
Last year at Deer Valley, Gould immediately went off the front and rode one of her typical time trial to victory. Team-mate Shonny Vanlandingham, who finished second last year, has turned her attention exclusively to X-Terra and will not be racing at Deer Valley.
While Pendrel has beaten Gould on more than one occasion this season, Gould's confidence at home, plus her experience on the Deer Valley course, will make it a difficult task. While team-mate Katerina Nash currently leads the cross country series, the NMBS series rule that allows racers to drop one race result will still give Gould a shot at repeating as series champion.
Never to be counted out are the Subaru/Gary Fisher duo of Heather Irmiger and Willow Koerber. They finished 29th and 40th respectively at Worlds and are likely Deer Valley podium candidates. Irmiger, a good climber, finished fourth there last year.
Finally, keep an eye on two other Canadian women. Nineteen year-old Emily Batty (Trek Bicycle Store) finished sixth in the Under-23 category at the World Championships, which follow two victories in the Canada Cup Series and an NMBS podium this season. Mical Dyck (Trek/VW) has also won on the Canadian Cup circuit, and has gained valuable experience racing at the World Cups this season.
Read the complete preview, including more information on the short track and gravity events.