Schurter, Pendrel to headline Bonelli Park Pro XCT

Racers from around the world are converging on the Bonelli Park UCI HC event this coming weekend in San Dimas, California. Part of the US Cup Series, it will be the third of nine Pro-XCT races held in the United States this season. Racers started off the year with a C1 race at Bonelli Park, followed by an HC event at Fontana, California. Due to the high level of UCI points available this weekend, and the proximity to the races and industry expo at the Sea Otter Classic on the following weekend, World Cup athletes from around the globe are making the trip to San Dimas.

High profile racers expected to attend include current World Champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team), and former World Champion Nino Schurter (Scott). This will be Pendrel's second time racing at Bonelli Park this year. In her first outing, she finished second to Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing). The two seem destined to battle all season, with Batty the likely eventual heir to Pendrel's Canadian championship crown.

As usual, Schurter spent several weeks preparing for the 2015 season in South Africa where he trained in temperatures over 100-degrees Fahrenheit. The first Bonelli Park race this season was quite hot and dusty, with temperatures near that mark.

He is already thinking ahead the upcoming world cup season, and about the altitude of this year's world championships in Andorra. He explained, "The preparation of the World will be stressful, with two stages of the World Cup in the summer in North America. But if you are not ready to run at altitude, it will have no chance in Andorra”.

Shurter has already shown some excellent early season form by winning the Tamaro Trophy last month in Monteceneri, Switzerland. In that race he had a good start, and then dominated. He explained, “I had a good feeling, like those of last year. The track was perfect for me, very technical and did not go up too long. When you're in front of you can make your rhythm and everything is easier.”

Italian Marco Fontana (Cannondale) finished second in that race followed by Swiss rider Ralph Naf (BMC).

The early season Pro-XCT races have largely been dominated by riders from outside the USA. Canadians Raphael Gagne (Rocky Mountain) and Emily Batty (Canada), New Zealander Anton Cooper (Cannondale), and the Czech Republic's Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team) all have wins so far.

The current men's Pro-XCT standings:

  1. Raphael Gagne (Rocky Mountain) 140 points
  2. Anton Cooper (Cannondale)120 points
  3. Max Plaxton (Cannondale) 76 pointsManuel Fumic (Cannondale) 50 points
  4. Sergio Mantecon Gutierrez (Trek Factory Racing) 50 points

The current women's Pro-XCT standings:

  1. Emily Batty (Trek) 120 points
  2. Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team) 100 points
  3. Georgia Gould (Luna) 100 points
  4. Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team) 90 points
  5. Chloe Woodruff (Stan's NoTubes-Niner) 45 points

Of the current top ten men and women, only Gould and Woodruff are USA citizens.

Much of the success in creating this competitive USA calendar is due to the efforts of US Cup organiser, and Sho-Air Group CEO, Scott Tedro. Over the past five years his organisation has improved the Bonelli Park course significantly.

Tedro told Cyclingnews, “I am very pleased with the assistance we have received from the UCI. Simon Burney personally has invested his time to counsel me on improving our courses and offerings. I will not feel like I have been successful in my quest until we get a World Cup race in Los Angeles. I think we are very close.”

Tedro added, “We must execute at the highest level at our Bonelli HC race on April 11th. How serious am I taking it? Well, we have scheduled water trucks to come in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon if necessary to water down the course, eliminate dust, and keep the course fast and in the best shape possible. We will also have my friends, Bob Roll and Christian V out for additional colour commentary and interviews.”

Veteran announcers Larry Longo and Colt McElwaine will be handling the live broadcast. The race will be filmed and streamed in high definition, with an actual helicopter and multiple ground cameras, at a reported cost of over $50,000.

Simon Burney, UCI Mountain Bike Sport Coordinator, seems supportive. He told Cyclingnews, "I'm happy there are some good names over there so I can get some feedback. It's a nice venue and the course has potential. I think there's enough space but as there's no real infrastructure/buildings on site so a lot of stuff will need to be temporary; Media, VIP, offices, etc. but that's all possible. If the intent is there, then there is always a way to make it happen and be a success. I think it'd be great to have a World Cup in California again.”

Many of the racers are excited about the international fields this year, and how that helps them prepare for a long world cup season.

Two-time World Champion Catharine Pendrel explained, "Racing in North America is probably at an all time high. It has been exciting to see the depth of the field increasing over the years, and definitely the high quality races available can take a lot of credit for this. These early season races are the perfect venue for domestic racers to gain points, confidence and experience, before heading to the World Cups in the middle of May, or to have a strong domestic season."

Pendrel explained the benefit to her, "For me, these races are a good opportunity to try racing with different tactics. I am good going full out from the start, but can really improve my ability to race from a group. I can also improve my form, points, and race sharpness with these fast but lower stress events."

Columbian champion, Fernando Paez (Raliegh Clement) commented, "I think racing in North America is at an amazing point of change. The Pro-XCT series brought more attention to MTB last year, and this year it is going to be even bigger. It's great to have the opportunity to race against to top mountain bikers in the world at a non-world cup event."

He added, "My personal key goals for this season are to be in the top-five at Sea Otter, win the Whiskey 50, and to be top 20 in the world cups."

American champion, Todd Wells (Specialized), weighed in on the subject, "It is awesome to see XC mountain bike racing in the US hosting such high category UCI events and attracting the best racers in the world. Scott Tedro has done an amazing job with his US Cup series, bringing valuable UCI points, prize money and top talent to the US."

Wells continued, "I think these big races bring legitimacy to the US race scene and give guys that don't have the opportunity or the points to line up against these guys at the World Cup a chance to see where they stand, and just how fast they really are. I also hope it will inspire the next generation of mountain bikers the way Tour of Georgia and California has done for road racing."

The Canadian contingent of racers has been particularly strong this season. In addition to the early successes of Gagne, Plaxton, Pendrel, and Batty, others have cracked the top ten also. These include Adam Morka, Derek Zandstra (Scott 3Rox Racing), Geoff Kabush (Scott 3Rox Racing), and Sandra Walter (Liv Cycling).

An impressive young crop of American riders will be mixing it up with some of the world's best this weekend. Fresh off their U-23 victories at the Pan American Games in Columbia, Specialized team-mates Kate Courtney and Howard Grotts will be making appearances at Bonelli Park. They will be joined by Keegan Swenson (Cannondale), who also competed for the victory in Columbia.

While many of the World Cup racers are on a training plan that has them start to peak for the first World Cup in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic in May, it is fair to say they also want good early season results. As such, the racing at Bonelli Park is expected to be intense with fields of over 150 pro men and 80 pro women.

The course at Bonelli Park has undergone five years of improvements. The 4.4 kilometer course features 110 meters (362 ft) of climbing per lap. Pure climbers such as Pendrel seem to do well there. It is expected that riders will race up to seven laps. The US Cup organisation has issued this statement:

"The 2015 version of this course has undergone even more significant changes and is filled with tight, twisty single track, short steep ascents and fun, speedy, fire roads for passing. There is still plenty of double track and fire road for passing, but this year's course will be much more spectator friendly at a length of 2.6 miles, with a layout that doubles back on itself multiple times. You will see a bit of everything on this course and you will be challenged. Do not underestimate this race simply because it is not at altitude – the pace and speed will push your limits."

The early long-range weather forecast for San Dimas predicts temperatures in the low to mid 70's, much cooler than the last event at Bonelli Park. The severe California drought will, however, present challenges in terms of dust.

New for the 2015 is that the Bonelli Park HC race will also include a UCI Junior race category for both men and women. The Junior XCO race will be held at 4:30pm Saturday.

On Sunday the racers will participate in short track racing, an event unique to the USA. It features a very short, spectator friendly course, that generally takes less than two minutes to complete. Both men's and women's fields will race twenty minutes plus three laps. Todd Wells, former USA Short Track Champion, and Katerina Nash will be coming off wins a couple weeks ago at Fontana.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for all the action this weekend from Bonelli Park.

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