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US National Championships opens Thursday

By Steve Medcroft, en route to Sonoma

The US mountain-bike community comes together in Sonoma, California this week where National Championships will be awarded in one-day pro/elite, semi-pro, expert, and junior expert category Downhill, Mountain Cross, Super D, Short Track, Cross Country and Marathon competitions. Racing opens Thursday morning with the marathon and continues until the end of Sunday's short-track race.

Although there has been a cycling festival at the Infineon Speedway in Sonoma previously, (and even a NORBA event in 2004), this will be the first year the Cougar Mountain Classic has hosted the National Championships. The championship event was originally scheduled for the Mammoth Mountain ski resort in Mammoth Lakes, California but an unusually wet winter left a 21-foot base of snow on Mammoth Mountain and USA Cycling and the venue had to pull the plug and move the event earlier this season. In 2007, the National Championships move east to Mount Snow, Vermont.

Promoters expect about 1,500 racers from across the United States. The USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships brought to you by X-Fusion has up to 150 national titles on offer across a wide spectrum of ages, abilities and disciplines.

Beyond national pride and likely selection to the US Team for next month's World Championships (Rotorua, New Zealand, August 22-27), pro riders also have the chance to earn real cash for their success in Sonoma. X-Fusion's support of the event, along with a supplemental contribution from Infineon Raceway, means a $25,000 prize purse is up for grabs in the 12 men's and women's pro events. Competitors in the cross country, short track, mountain cross, downhill, marathon and super D ranks will compete for a $1,000 cash prize to compliment his or her stars and stripes jersey, gold medal and title of national champion. Additional cash prizes will be paid out five deep - $500, $250, $150, and $100 respectively. An additional $1,000 bonus will be on the line for any pro rider that wins two national titles over the weekend.

With the new qualification system underway for the 2008 Olympic Games, the championships also plays an integral part in the number of start positions the United States will receive in the sport of mountain biking in Beijing. As a UCI-recognized national championship event, the winner of the men's and women's cross country disciplines receive 110 UCI points each – a figure that directly factors into the depth of the United States' presence at the 2008 Games.

Check back on Cyclingnews.com throughout the week; we'll be on site to bring you pictures, race reports, results and more.

For the complete preview of this week's US MTB Nationals, click here.

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