American mountain bike series struggles into the future

By Sue George

With the demise of the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) held annually in the United States, North American mountain bikers were left wondering 'What's next?'. Going into the 2009 season, Team Sho-Air's Scott Tedro has stepped up to lead an effort to create a new national-level series: the US Cup. What remains to be seen is if Tedro and other advocates for the series can muster enough sponsorship to support the series. Although the members of the cycling industry have voiced general support for the new US Cup, sponsorship dollars have been slow to materialize.

The proposed US Cup would include races in Fontana, Laguna Seca and Los Olivos, California; Fountain Hills, Arizona; Angel Fire, New Mexico; Windham, New York; and Mt. Snow, Vermont, many of which were popular NMBS venues. Nearly all of the races, running from late March through early August, would award UCI points. Furthermore, the series would pay equal prize money to elite men and women and aim to provide a "very rewarding" experience for amateur racers.

Sponsorship woes

When Tedro put out the full series proposal and an initial call for sponsorship to monetarily support the new national-level series, a deafening silence followed.

"It is like beating my head against the wall. We are far away from our goal," said Tedro to Cyclingnews in early September. "Although everyone seems to want the series, not enough are stepping up."

Creating a series to replace the NMBS came with some baggage. Reading recent conversations on public forums, it's clear the NMBS has had its problems. In its later days, it seems not to have served the amateur racers as well as in past days, and many categories showed poor attendance at some venues.

"For the first 30 days [after proposing the US Cup], everyone could only say what was wrong with the NMBS," Tedro said. He wanted to move forward, taking what worked from the NMBS, discarding what didn't, and mixing in his own ideas.

After countless hours on the phone to industry players, Tedro won over Specialized, the first manufacturer to step up and sponsor the series. The company later increased is commitment and will now be the title sponsor of the series.

"It's great that Scott picked up the ball and worked to put together this series," said Ben Capron of Specialized to Cyclingnews. "We're really excited about the potential to build more momentum for domestic mountain bike racing. We think the series might be the vehicle to do just that.

"Our primary goal for being involved is to help support a series that can inspire people to come out and race and to give a platform for the best domestic and even international riders to compete."

Yet, Specialized's support alone wasn't enough to cover the budget for the series and Tedro continues to troll for additional sponsors.

Tedro hasn't given up hope. He extended his deadline for acquiring sponsorship from September 19 to October 3, after Interbike, a trade show where he is busy recruiting this week. Thus far, Hayes, Gary Fisher, Trek, ESI Grips are on board at various levels.

Now more optimistic that the series will go forward in one form or another, he admitted that he may have to scale down some of his ideas for the first year as the series becomes more established.

"It's at enough of a level of commitment level that I think we can pull it off," said Tedro this week.

What happened to the NMBS?

With the exception of a few events such as Sea Otter and the US National Championships, the NMBS, which was run by Jeff Frost and Tom Spiegel in recent years, contained many of the non-World Cup top-priority events for elite racers, especially those from the US and Canada.

In addition to serving elite riders, the races were a place for up and coming young racers to prove themselves against North America's top talent without having to outlay the time and expense associated with travelling abroad to World Cup events.

"Frosty and Tom are heros in the industry. They have been beat up and criticized for the past five years," said Tedro. "In the past, the races were subsidized in part by USA Cycling. Spiegel had been subsidizing the series ever since, hoping to get some help."

Spiegel of Team Big Bear Mountain Bikes and Frost of Blue Wolf Events will still be involved in the US Cup, if it happens. They will continue to work the aspects of racing they do best - logistics and operations.

"I'm truly an operations guy and so is Jeff Frost," said Spiegel. "We tried to piece it all together but we could never get out there and sell sponsorship adequately."

Hearing about the difficulty Tedro was having in acquiring full sponsorship, he said, "The problem you run into is the bike industry is cheap. We'll see if there is support from the bike industry. I have my doubts. I guess we'll see if it's important to the industry."

Read the complete feature and see the proposed US Cup Schedule.

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