By Steve Medcroft
Australians ruled the seventh round of NORBA racing at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia this past weekend. After junior Australian National Team members Daniel Johnston and Val Britton went one-two in the Junior-X race (see story below), Mick Hannah (Haro Bicyles) and Katrina Miller (Jamis Bicycles) swept the Mountain Cross event, Jared Graves (Yeti) and Miller again took Dual Slalom, and Hannah and Graves went one-two in the Downhill.
Australian National Team coach Damien Grundy was on hand at Snowshoe and says he's optimistic about the team's form as they get ready to head to World Championships in Livigno, Italy (August 28 to September 4, 2005). “It's looking good. We've got some riders really coming around at the right time.”
But even with Aussies clogging the podiums, the weekend, which started foggy and wet and ended under postcard-perfect blue mountain skies, had plenty of opportunity for other nation's riders to take glory for themselves. The venue hosted the full slate of possible series races -- Marathon, Mountain-Cross, Dual Slalom, Cross-Country, Super D, Downhill and Short-Track.
In the competition for series titles, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru – Gary Fisher) once again traded away the Cross-Country series lead with Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis) when he crashed on a rooty downhill in the first five minutes of Saturday's muddy race and had to DNF with mechanical problems (JHK was not seriously injured in the crash and placed third in Sunday's Short-Track). Kabush's principle challenge in the race then came from a highly motivated Jeremiah Bishop (Trek/VW). Snowshoe is Bishop's home course (Bishop lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia) and after winning Thursday's marathon, he seemed hell-bent of scoring a double-victory for the weekend.
Bishop flatted in the final lap of the race though and had to run with his bike for what he says was a mile or more. The reason: his CO2 canister had shaken off the bike in the first lap. No worries though; he remembered where the canister fell and kept running until he found it again. Unfortunately, by the time he aired the tire and got back on the bike to chase Kabush, the Canadian National Champion had decided to tap the reserve he said he'd been squandering in the first two laps (of three). Kabush ended up two minutes ahead of Bishop at the finish line.
Kabush now holds a comfortable lead in the series; JHK will need to win by more than a 32-point advantage in Mount Snow to take it from him. Kabush doesn't take his advantage for granted though. He reminded himself in his Cyclingnews.com diary that anything can happen next week and the series win will only be decided in the final race.
Bishop, by the way, lined up for Sunday afternoon's Short Track race trying to up the bar he set for himself in Brian Head when he placed first in the marathon, second in Cross-Country and seventh in Short Track. Not to take away from the accomplishment of his even placing well in all three races in one weekend but Bishop managed only seventh again in Short-Track.
One series that is no longer in question is the NORBA Marathon. Only seven races long and with its finale last Thursday in Snowshoe, endurance phenom Monique Sawicki (TeamMATA) held a commanding four hundred-point lead going into the final race and ended the series with yet-another individual win (her third in 2005). Sawicki has an incredibly promising career ahead of her; she was defending NORBA marathon champion and won the NORBA Solo 24-Hour Championship in Spokane, Washington early this year.
In the men's race, Trek team-mates Chris Eatough and Jeremiah Bishop rode off the front of the pack and finished twenty-seconds apart, forty-five minutes ahead of third place. Eatough said that even though he was close to Bishop and they traded the lead several times, they rarely ever saw each other because of the fog. "The visibility was like fifteen yards."
In Downhill, the last man down the mountain, Mick Hannah, beat series leader Jared Graves by three seconds to win his first NORBA victory since 2001. "This was an awesome confidence booster going into Worlds," he said. "After winning the Four-Cross on Friday, it's been a sick weekend."
The revelation of the weekend though was Christopher Herndon (Specialized/Cane Creek), who earned his first-ever NORBA podium at Snowshoe - not one podium, but two mind you. Herndon, who lives in Etowah, North Carolina and has competed in every NORBA in 2005 except Brian Head, had never placed better than a tie for ninth in any NORBA event. He says that his first podium, a fifth place in the Mountain Cross competition, didn't feel like a victory since it came on the back of a couple of other competitor's crashes. His second place in the Dual Slalom felt a lot better. He qualified sixteenth then held off challengers through all the early brackets. Even though he lost in the finale to Graves, Herndon says he cherishes his Dual Slalom podium. "I really feel like I earned it today," he said.