By Steve Medcroft
1,582 competitors registered for the U.S. National Mountain Bike Championships in Mammoth Mountain, California last weekend. Though mostly cool and windy weather, stars and stripes jerseys were awarded in one-day pro/elite, semi-pro, expert, and junior expert category downhill, mountain cross, super d, short track, cross country and marathon competitions.
Elite-level racing kicked off Thursday with a 66-mile marathon. Chris Eatough (Ellicott City, MD) who won the NORBA National Championship Series and Jay Henry (Avon, Colo.), who had beaten Eatough in two NORBA marathons this season, were the pre-race favourites. But semi-retired former national cross champ and Olympian Travis Brown lined up and took the race for himself. Not without adversity though: in the first of three laps Brown, along with Henry, Eatough and Michael McCalla were led off course by the lead moto and had to work their way back through the field before starting the second lap. After that, Eatough says he just didn't have enough recovery in his legs after a brutal 24 Hours of Adrenalin Solo World Championships (Sept. 3-4, which he won) to mount a more convincing challenge. For Brown, the race would be the opening day of three contests during the weekend; he raced Saturday's singlespeed cross country and Sunday's short track.
In the women's Marathon, NORBA series Champion Monique Sawicki (TeamMATA) fell to the World-class pace set by defending marathon national champion Gretchen Reeves (Rocky Mountain/Business Objects).
In Friday's cross country Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna Chix), who dominated the NORBA series in 2005, got off the front and looked to be soloing to an easy win. But she flatted in the final miles, which featured a particularly long and treacherous downhill. The reduction in Vanlandingham's speed allowed second-place Mary McConneloug enough momentum to get on the Luna Chick's wheel and when Vanlandingham was thrown off her bike at the transition between dirt trail and paved finishing straight, McConneloug slipped around for the win. Vanlandingham ended up running her bike across the line to salvage fourth.
In the men's race, there was no challenge to Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru/Gary Fisher). JHK ended up almost four minutes ahead of second-placed Todd Wells (GT/Hyundai). Third place Adam Craig (Giant), who had been the highest-placed American in international competition in 2005 with a 21st at World Championships and 7th at the Fort William World Cup finals, says he rode in 'survival mode' because he wasn't recovered from traveling mid-week from Scotland. Behind Walker Ferguson (Scott USA), the ageless Ned Overend (Specialized) battled Jay Henry to earn the fifth and final podium spot.
Saturday's mountain cross was all about world champions. Current world champ Jill Kintner rode smoothly through her brackets and final to take the women's race. On the men's side, the absence of newly crowned world champ Brian Lopes, left room for 2004 world champ Eric Carter to make a comeback. After a year on the sidelines with back-to-back injuries, an emotional Carter (Mongoose) won ahead of teammate Brian Schmith. He said the win lets him put the 2005 season out of his mind and head into winter recommitted to racing.
In short track, a front flat again derailed a leader; but this time in the men's race. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski got off the front in a race that started sluggishly until a relative unknown - Durango-based Cody Peterson (3D Racing) - blew it apart with a huge attack over a section of the route that ran up the final 100 meters of the super-steep mountain cross course. JHK's flat left Todd Wells attacking and Adam Craig chasing. Of course, with Craig's teammate (2005 elite national road champion) Carl Decker sitting ten seconds behind, the cycling gods smiled on Craig. "I was feeling like a total dick for sitting on Todd but that's what you're supposed to do when you have teammates," Craig said about his tactic of coasting behind Wells and refusing to work at the front of the race. The move was decisive though; Wells had no energy left to follow ultimate winner Craig's final attack up the mountain cross course and came second.
In the women's short track, Shonny Vanlandingham left nothing to chance. Still bandaged from her crash on Friday, she set a strong early pace and rode the last half of the twenty-minutes-plus-three-laps contest fifteen seconds ahead of Dara Marks-Marino (Ford/Specialized) to take home the national championship jersey fate stole off her back in the cross country race.
Speaking of jerseys, Sunday's short track was Alison Dunlap's final pro cross country appearance. In an emotional call-up ceremony, her team presented her with a custom jersey that represented her many accomplishments; world and national championships, World Cup and her two appearances in Olympic cross country.
To close out the weekend, two young riders took the downhill national championships jerseys on Sunday afternoon. 20-year-old Cody Warren (Haro), 2003 junior national champion beat the second-best time by eight seconds – after stumbling at the top of the course. To put how good his run was into perspective; the next ten results were separated by less than ten total seconds!
23-year-old Melissa Buhl (KHS) took the women's title. The KHS pro has come second in everything from NORBA downhills, mountain cross, dual slalom and Jeep King of the Mountain competitions in 2005. "I was close, close, close all year. This feels really good," she said after her win.
See complete race reports, photos and results here: