Leov and Jonnier claim final South Island Cup wins

Justin Leov and Sabrinna Jonnier claimed the final rounds of the New Zealand South Island mountain bike cups in Blenheim alst weekend.

In the men's race, Leov defeated the winner of the previous round Danny Hart while Sam Blenkinsopclaimed third.

"My run didn't feel like a normal race run, I felt really unfit but when I got to the bottom my time was pretty good and I ended up winning," Leov said.

In the elite women's race, two-time downhill world champion Sabrina Jonnier of France won with local rider Harriet Harper taking second. Harper enjoyed the weekend of racing and was happy to host the large number of downhill racers on her home track while Harriet Ruecknagel of Germany placed third.

"It's great to see everyone enjoying the track, there aren't many of us who ride in Blenheim so it's awesome to have lots of people to ride with on home ground," Harper said.

This was the final race in the series of three comprising the South Island Downhill Cup, and the last event of the New Zealand MTB Cup. Riders will head to Nelson for the National Mountain Bike Championships from February 26 to March 1 during which downhill, cross country, dual slalom, hill climb, short track and 4X titles will be awarded.

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the South Island Downhill Cup round three.

Atherton Racing launches new look and sponsors

The Athertons, mountain biking’s most famous family, announced details of their new kit and partners for 2009 which include Animal, Commencal, Nissan and Shimano. Siblings Dan, Gee and Rachel Atherton will continue to ride under the name Animal Commencal to reflect its ongoing relationship with the two brands.

"With Animal and Commencal's continuing support we can really start to focus on our main goals for the year," said Team Manager Dan Brown. "The World Championships and World Cup overall remain the main competitive goals but we also aim to get people excited about our sport and in turn get more people on bikes."

Last summer, the Athertons made history at the World Cup in Andorra when all three won events. Gee and Rachel won the downhill while Dan won the 4X. Soon after, Gee and Rachel won their respective world championship downhill titles in Italy.

The team's new look is inspired by Animal's Summer collection which see the lightning bolts of 2008 replaced with Animal's famous check.

The team also picked up a new major off-bike sponsor, Nissan, which already backs the UCI World Cup series.

After recently racing the Mob N Mojave in Nevada, Gee and Dan are aiming for the opening World Cup in South Africa. The timing of Rachel's racing debut is uncertain as she is still recovering from a serious crash with a pick-up truck in California in January that left her with a dislocated shoulder.

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.Â

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.Â

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. Â

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.

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