By Dave McElwaine
The mere mention of the Cactus Cup brings smiles to thousands of mountain bikers who remember the grand-daddy of stage races back in the 1990s. At its peak, it drew 10,000 racers and 75,000 spectators to Arizona's Pinnacle Peak Park, and later to McDowell State Park. Races were also held at other venues in the United States, and in foreign countries as far away as Japan.
The Mountain's Edge Cactus Cup is set to premier this weekend within 20 minutes of "The Strip" in Las Vegas, Nevada, with over US$25,000 in prize money. It is timed to piggyback onto the hugely successful Interbike trade show which draws in excess of 50,000 bicycle industry retailers and sponsored racers to Las Vegas. The event will feature four stages over three days; The Exploration Peak Time Trial, Super D, Fat Tire Criterium, and Cross Country race sponsored by Titus Bicycles.
One of the driving forces behind the rebirth of the Cactus Cup is Ravi Rajcamoor who is the Managing Director of Swagger, the Georgia-based company who is producing the race. Swagger is one of the largest organizers of road criteriums in the United States. Rajcamoor had also been the Promotions Director at Specialized for some of their Cactus Cup's in Arizona.
Rajcamoor commented on the new Cactus Cup "We have a long history in cycling and our commitment is to grow mountain bike racing. Our intent, 100% is to have the race in Vegas for the next several years. Our goal is to grow the race."
Many legends in the sport of mountain biking raced in the Cactus Cup when it was the largest mountain bike race in the world. John Tomac, Ned Overend, Tinker Jaurez, Shawn Palmer, Thomas Frischknecht, Cadel Evans, Missy Giove, Juli Furtado, and Alison Dunlap are among those who battled in the Arizona desert every spring.
Tinker Juarez (Mona Vie / Cannondale), 47 years-old, is still actively racing and will compete in the cross country race on Sunday. Juarez, a former US National Champion, Pan Am Games Gold medalist, member of the US Olympic team to Atlanta (1996), member of the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame and 2007 24-Hour Solo Mountain Bike Champion has fond memories of the race.
"The best thing about the Cactus Cup is that it was a well organized and big event. It started the path to develop bigger and better events and happened before the Norba Nationals...they did a great job bringing in a lot of international riders and everybody in the US that wanted to get good recognition. It is definitely one of those races no one wanted to miss."
He added "If the (new) Cactus Cup can do what it did in the past, which is to bring in the international racers it will bring back international recognition to the American mountain bike racing scene. It would be great if we could bring in the racers, media, international attention, and sponsors back onto US soil. There are several road races now that are doing this and I'd like to see it happen for mountain bike racing, too."
It appears that Juarez will have his wish, as World Champion Christopher Sauser has been confirmed for the race. Sauser, a Swiss national, won the World Cup race at Vallnord, Andorra this season, then went on to win the World Championship at Val di Sol, Italy. He finished second overall in the World Cup standings after last weekend's race in Schladming, Austria.
It is a game-changer whenever Sauser is in the race, as the Swisspower duo of Florian Vogel and Nino Schurter found out at the Fort William World Cup earlier in the year. Sauser dragged them around the course for two hours, nearly but not quite breaking the elastic many times. Vogel won a sprint finish but was quick to praise his countryman, "Nino and I were pretty much on the limit on the climbs; Sauser was so fast on the climbs but he could not quite drop us."
Two Americans will likely test Sauser's skill on American singletrack. Carl Decker (Giant) recently won the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) Super D Championship. Decker has also been highly competitive in the cross country and short track events, appearing on many podiums this season. He races rally cars in the off-season with team-mate Adam Craig, and is likely to put any cash winnings into their race car according to Craig.
Ross Schnell (Trek/VW) is making quite a name for himself as an all-around mountain bike racer. Even Craig has admitted he admires Schnell's ability to shred singletrack. Schnell won the brutal Downieville Classic All-Mountain race this season, then capped things off with a victory at the NMBS Finals on 11,000-foot Brian Head Mountain.
Decker's team-mate Kelli Emmett will head up the women's field. Emmett has won at Sea Otter this season as well as on the NMBS circuit. At the Santa Ynez NMBS race, she got her first ever cross country victory. In addition, she has several lifetime Super D wins and is considered one of America's elite in that event. Emmett was also the 2007 World Single Speed Champion, and will forever have the requisite large tattoo to prove it.
Read the complete preview.