Sun Valley, Idaho, will host the US Cross Country Mountain Bike National Championships from Thursday, July 14 through Sunday, July 17. The nationals move to a new location after being run the past two years in Granby, Colorado.
2011 marks the first year the gravity national championships will be held separately; those title events will not occur until mid-September.
Over the course of the long weekend, approximately 900 pro and amateur racers from at least 30 states will compete for titles in cross country, short track and super D.
Georgia Gould (Luna) and Todd Wells (Specialized) are both returning to defend their cross country titles.
Gould is fresh of a fifth place podium finish at the World Cup in Windham. "I am excited to be racing in Sun Valley this weekend," said Gould to Cyclingnews. "I used to live here in Ketchum and I'll be racing in front of a hometown crowd!"
"My fitness is good, and I am prepared to defend my title," said Gould. "I know it will be a tough race - everyone is gunning for that shot at the stars and stripes."
She named Lea Davison (Specialized), Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Trek), Katie Compton (Rabobank-Giant) and Kelli Emmett (Giant) as likely to be the strongest contenders, but added, "I'm sure there will be others. I never count anyone out."
One woman who will be missing is Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven/NoTubes). The two-time Olympian and former multi-time national champion is out of competition due to illness.
It remains to be seen as to whether Davison will continue to build on her early season form while Irmiger, a former national champion, has had a tough season so far without her usual top results. Compton has logged some solid World Cup results, and Emmett will be fresh off a weekend at Downieville.
In the men's race, defending champion Todd Wells (Specialized) is the hands-down favorite.
"I'm definitely ready to defend my titles. It's been a good year so far and I feel like I had good form," said Wells to Cyclingnews. "The Windham and Mont-Sainte-Anne weekends were goals for me and I'm feeling fit and ready to go." Wells has consistently been the top overall American performer at the World Cups so far this season.
"I've been good at the World Cups. With those races, there are so many others to push you. It's maxed out the whole time," said Wells. "At nationals, the field isn't as deep so riders can start easier and ride their own pace. It's more like a time trial."
Unlike Gould, Wells will be making his first trip to Sun Valley.
"I've never been to Idaho before. I'm excited to go to a different venue. It's nice that it's 3,000 feet lower than our previous national championship (in Granby, Colorado). They designed the course to be more like a World Cup format with a shorter lap and punchier climb."
In 2010, Wells became the first pro to win national titles in both mountain bike cross country, short track and cyclo-cross disciplines.
Wells' perennial challenger and former national champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek) has not seemed as fast this year. Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) struggled last year after knee surgery and rehab, but seems to be steadily gaining form. As another former national cross country champion, he also knows how to win.
But the man most like to cause an upset may be former cyclo-cross national champion Ryan Trebon.
"There are the obvious fast people and then there is Ryan Trebon, who was up there last year," said Wells. "He was good at nationals, and he's been able to train - not doing so many mountain bike races. He comes from a lower elevation and will likely be even more competitive this year when you consider what he did at a higher elevation last year."
Finally, Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) and Stephen Ettinger (BMC Development) are two other riders who can not be counted out. Schultz had a break through year in 2010 and Ettinger is this year's newest sensation on the domestic racing scene. Finally, don't count out Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale), who is racing fast in cross countries and marathons this year.
The elite cross country races will happen on Saturday afternoon. They will compete on a sub-four mile course starting and finishing at the River Run Lodge at Mt. Baldy.
Look out for all the same contenders in the men's and women's short track.
However, in the women's race, Gould pointed out another rider to watch. "In the short track, I think all the same people will be strong, but don't count out my old teammate Chloe (Forsman). She has been riding well and she is a very savvy racer."
All eyes will, of course, be on Katie Compton (Rabobank-Giant) who will start the race as defending national short track champion.
Wells is the defending short track men's national champion.
The elite short track races will happen on Sunday afternoon. The short track course is just over 1.25 miles and also happens based at the River Run lodge.
The super D titles will be contested bright and early on Sunday morning on a course just over six miles long. Defending champion Kelli Emmett is the favorite in the women's race while men's defending champion Mike West is not registered thus far. With or without him, Emmett's teammates Adam Craig and Carl Decker are two other favorites.
Sun Valley is fully behind the national championships. Throughout this week, there is a Ride Sun Valley mountain bike festival being held in conjunction with nationals. There are guided rides each day and a Fat Tire Crit in Ketchum Town Square on Thursday evening with $7,500 up for grabs.
For more information on the week's activities, visit the Ride Sun Valley web page.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for race reports, photos and full results all weekend.