Giant Italia Team won its first victory in Canicattini Bagni, Sicily last weekend thanks to a strong performance by Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez. His teammate Diego Rosa finished third overall and was the first Under 23 rider. Mirko Farnisi finished second, 40 seconds behind Gutierrez.
At the Sicily Cup event, the team announced a new rider, Roberto Traficante a former teammate of roadie Gilberto Simoni's on Team LPR.
Mountain biking declines in Eastern US
The popularity of mountain biking seems to be increasingly on a decline in America's eastern states. But to Daniel McDonald, a member of USA Cycling's ProTour Committee, it's no cause for alarm. In fact, he's downright giddy about it. McDonald oversees the largest series of "decline" racing events in North America: USA Cycling's 17-race Gravity East Series.
Gravity racing is thriving on America's more conservative right coast. In the early days of mountain biking, virtually all national-caliber events where held on mountains and included the gravity disciplines. Star riders like Julie Furtado and John Tomac competed in both the downhill and cross country disciplines and the downhill was often the weekend's most anticipated event. But about 15 years ago, NORBA (the national governing body of US mountain biking at the time) started to de-emphasize ski resorts as national event venues.
Simultaneously, cross country became an Olympic sport and freeriding opened up new and creative vistas for the gravity riders. With cross country no longer coupled to the mountains and downhill riders gravitating toward the non-racing freeride scene, mountain biking essentially split into two separate sports.
At the same time, ski resorts realized the potential of recreational free riding in the summer to turn their ski lifts into 12-month operations. As ski mountains began to hire full-time bike staff, build trails and purchase rental fleets of long-travel full-suspension bikes, they created summer customers who didn't subscribe to the masochistic creed that hitching a ride to the top of the mountain somehow made them lesser riders.
The gravity scene has come full circle with a return of focus on high-intensity racing.
"I had 15 mountains wanting to be a part of the series in 2009 and had to whittle that number down to 11," said McDonald of the USAC-sanctioned Gravity East Series that runs from New Hamshire to Virginia. "It's almost too many."
The Gravity East Series has become the largest of its type in North America. The Series' 2009 schedule features 11 two-day downhill racing events at some of the finest mountains and resorts in America. "The guys in the Tour de France can only dream about the kind of facilities and hotel rooms that we have at Gravity East races," said McDonald.
2009 Gravity East Downhill Series
May 8-9: Massanutten Resort, McGaheysville, Virginia (www.massresort.com) June 5-7: Wisp Resort, McHenry, Maryland (www.racersedgeonline.com)
June 13-14: Seven Springs Mountain Resort, Champion, Pennsylvania (www.7springs.com)
June 27-28: Windham Mountain, Windham, New York (www.windhammountain.com)
July 11-12: Highland Mountain Bike Park, Northfield, New Hampshire (www.highlandmountain.com)
July 18-19: Attitash, Bartlett, New Hampshire (www.attitash.com)
August 1-2: Sugarbush Resort, Warren, Vermont (www.sugarbush.com)
Aug 29-30: Whiteface 5K DH, Wilmington, New York (www.downhillmike.com)
September 26-27: Blue Mountain Resort, Danielsville, Pennsylvania (www.skibluemt.com)
October 3-4: Mount Snow, West Dover, Vermont (www.mountsnow.com)
October 10-11: Gravity East Series Finals, Plattekill Mountain, Roxbury, New York, (www.plattekill.com)
For more information on the Gravity East Series, see www.GravityEastSeries.com.