Canadian Geoff Kabush (Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), a perennial all-star of North American racing, has been the man to beat for at least the past five years. Last season, he proved that he is still improving by winning his first World Cup cross country race in Bromont, Quebec. If all the stars in the Quebec sky align properly at the 2010 World Championships in Mont Sainte Anne, Kabush should have a serious shot at the rainbow jersey. With the USA Pro XCT season about to kick off in Fontana, California, Cyclingnews' Dave McElwaine caught up with Geoff in Southern California.
Geoff Kabush has won at Fontana every year it has hosted a national-series event, for four total victories. With his experience, the 32-year-old seems to reliably come into each season with solid form. He is hoping to continue his winning streak this weekend, but isn't taking anything for granted.
When asked what is the key to his domination, Kabush humbly said, "Well, first I wouldn't say I have exactly dominated in Fontana even though on paper it looks that way. I have certainly come out on top but I have been the lucky benefactor of some tactics, others' bad luck, and maybe once or twice I have actually had the legs."
In past editions of Fontana, Kabush has battled the likes of Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Ryan Trebon and the "Sho-Air Mafia" (as called previously by Kabush) of Sid Taberlay and Max Plaxton. This year, Kabush expects many of the same challengers, but he added a few new ones to his watch list.
"I think Sid and Max will definitely be at the front of the race again as they both have the skills and shape and have shown that. It is always the usual suspects as well with Todd (Wells) and JHK but I think Sam Schultz is going to be playing an increasingly larger role in the outcome of the national events and hopefully internationally as well. There are also a few other Canadians flying under the radar that will surprise as well."
Eyes on the prize
In September, the World Championships will be held in Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec, Canada, and Kabush thinks it would be the perfect place to win his first rainbow striped jersey.
"I think it is easy to see that with the Worlds in Canada that Mont Sainte Anne is going to be number one on my list this year,"he said. "I have a history of success there and I will be very motivated."
"I am not going to focus on thinking about getting the rainbow, but I will be focused on the process of doing everything I can to put myself in position to have a chance. If I do that and I have a little luck you never know; certainly I will have a lot of people cheering for me, which helps."
Kabush is not the only Canadian with a realistic shot at a gold medal at worlds. "I think the Canadian team is as strong as ever when you look at the balance overall. The atmosphere and camaraderie is great amongst us and I think if everyone rides to their abilities, it will be a great event for Team Canada. I don't like making predictions or putting expectations on riders but I think we are all quietly confident."
Anchoring the women's side of the team in Quebec will be Catharine Pendrel, Marie Helen Premont and Emily Batty.
In addition to the World Championships, Kabush will contest the World Cups. Asked to pick his favorite, Kabush replied: "There are a lot of great courses, so it is hard to pick a favorite. Obviously the Canadian races are near the top, and I favor the course with more technical, flowing singletrack. Offenburg (Germany) has a great layout, and I am looking forward to the Dalby course (a new World Cup venue for 2010 in the United Kingdom ). I wish we could go back to Canberra (Australia) though." That's where the worlds were held in 2009 and the locale has also hosted World Cups.
For the first time in years, the consistently strong Kabush seemed to struggle at some mid-season races in 2009. But then he went on to sweep the Windham and Mount Snow national series weekends, and he won his first World Cup in Bromont, Quebec, Canada - all over consecutive weekends.
"I am always trying to learn year to year how I can improve, and I still feel like there is a lot of room for me. Last season was a bit of a mystery at times though."
"I came in strong and with all the early travel I just got a bit off-kilter. I was glad to have a mid-season break and was maybe a little lucky that I had time to regroup, refocus, and get back on track. I even surprised myself how strongly things turned around. It seems so hard when you are struggling but when things go right it just seems easy."
Racing in the US
Although he is Canadian Kabush spends a lot of time racing in the US. Cyclingnews asked Kabush for his take on the recent developments with the US national series. In 2009, the series was taken over and run by the US Cup. After a rift during the off-season, USA Cycling took over management of the 2010 national, five-race US Pro XCT series, with all events offering UCI points. The US Cup will continue to run the Fontana round of the US Pro XCT, but the organization has decided to focus instead on an alternate three-race national series - sans UCI points, but offering more prize money - called the Triple Crown.
"Personally I have been lucky that I have had enough success that I can focus on the World Cups so it hasn't affected me greatly. It has, however, been really unfortunate for all the developing riders as it has been extremely difficult for those riders in a lot of ways," said Kabush of the frequent changes to the US national series.
Nonetheless, Kabush was optimistic. "It feels like things are coming back into focus, and the racing is moving in a positive direction. UCI points are only one of several issues. Most of all, the confusion needs to end and we need a little consistency. It is pretty hard trying to explain to regular people what is going on with NORBA, (National Mountain Bike Series) NMBS, US Nationals, US Pro XCT and the Triple Crown." Sound a bit like he was picking letters out of an alphabet soup, Kabush was naming various US national-level series and events, past and present.
With his international schedule, Kabush is not expecting to be at all the Triple Crowns despite attending the first round. "Bonelli (Park) fit in with the schedule, but my focus in the World Cups and after that, I will pick and choose what best supports that focus and makes sense."
"Bonelli was a lot of fun and a great tune up; I think the format created an exciting weekend. I think it is great to add another dimension to the US racing scene and I hope the series is a success." Kabush was referring to the Triple Crown's format of having racers contest not only a cross country, but also a short track and a super D with overall results calculated as a best two of three scenario.
Kabush is often seen on the circuit testing innovative equipment - in particular, featherweight tires. He's got equipment testing in the works, but the Canadian wasn't very forthcoming with details.
"I have some very cool stuff that I have been working on with a few companies that will debut this year sometime," he said. "That is about all I can say."
"As for 29ers, I enjoy making fun of the church of 29 too much, so it would be a problem if I started racing one," he said realizing he'd have to eat his past words should he make the switch to the larger wheeled platform as several North American cross country racers are doing.
Kabush figures he still has some good years of racing left in his legs - even as he continues to race almost year-round with mountain biking in the summer and cyclo-cross in the winter.
"I turn 33 in April but, sorry to say to the younger guys, I don't think I will be stopping any time in the immediate future," he said. "I still feel like I am improving every year and most importantly I am still having a lot of fun."
"Luckily I have an education behind me, and I still have a few years to figure things out and transition into life after bike racing."
Look out for the Canadian to perhaps step up his participation in 'cross in future years. "I wish there were more months of the year and I could race more cyclo-cross. For now, I will focus on the mountain bike and dabble on the cyclo-cross bike. Louisville 2013 is certainly on my radar though," he said, noting the year the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships will come to the United States.