The US national cross country series, the US Pro XCT, will kick off this weekend, March 12-13 at Bonelli Park, in San Dimas, California. Bonelli Park is well known as a stop in the Triple Crown All Mountain Pro Series from last year, and for 2011, its opening cross country race on Saturday will also serve as the US Pro XCT stop number 1.
The Bonelli Park cross country offers the first UCI points available in the United States in 2011. With the added Triple Crown All Mountain Cash, including US$10,000 series overall purse for the top three men and women, a lot is on the line.
The elite line-up reads like a who's who in North American mountain bike racing. Last year's Triple Crown opener winner, Max Plaxton, is returning alongside his new factory Specialized teammates of Lea Davidson and Todd Wells, who is fresh off winning three national titles in 2010.
Plaxton had a break-out year in 2010, also winning the Mellow Johnny's US Pro XCT round in stunning fashion. He is new to the Specialized squad for 2011.
"I'm really looking forward to getting the 2011 season underway at Bonelli Park this weekend," said Plaxton. "Last year's course was really fun and tactical, so I am excited to see what they have done with the course this year.
"I am not at the same level I was last year this time, but I will give'r my best and try to put on a good showing for the Specialized Factory Racing Team along with teammate Todd Wells."
Geoff Kabush (Rocky Mountain Maxxis team) will make the trip from the great white north. Kabush has high expectations for 2011. "My motivation this off-season has been good, and I have high expectations coming into 2011. I've incorporated a lot of new ideas in my training, and I'm really looking forward to the first test in Bonelli. I am looking forward to seeing everyone's face again and getting the race season underway."
Kabush will be one of many strong Canadians including Derek Zandstra, Adam Morka, Raphael Gagne, Kris Sneddon and Peter Glassford, among others.
The always potent Subaru/Trek team will send its usual suspects, along with its newest female signing. Jeremy-Horgan-Kobelski will be joined by Sam Schultz. Russell Finsterwald will be absent after suffering a grade 3 shoulder injury on a recent training ride. Heather Irmiger will team up with Emily Batty, formerly of Trek World Racing, as she makes her debut with her team
Giant/RaboBank will send World Cup regular Adam Craig solo this weekend. Craig, who is known as one of the best bike handlers on the circuit, looks to be a favorite in this weekend's Triple Crown events which include cross country, short track and super D.
Barry Wicks and Kris Sneddon will represent Kona.
The Luna team has confirmed its attendance this weekend with lone rider Georgia Gould representing. Gould is arguably the best American female cross country riders in the sport today, and the current cross country national champion looks to be a favorite in the weekend's events.
"I am really excited about racing in Bonelli this weekend. I am looking forward to the warm weather (it's snowing outside right now...)," said Gould. "I've heard the course is fun and spectator-friendly and training has been going well this winter. I am ready to test out my legs in a real race!
"These first few races in the US will be a great way to tune up for the first World Cups. My goals for 2011 are to win a World Cup, defend my national championship and medal at the worlds in Champery, Switzerland," said Gould.
The Jamis team also will come with a stacked line up, including 2010 La Ruta de los Conquistadores winner Ben Sonntag, along with Adam Snyder, Rotem Ishay, Kelsy Bingham and team manager Jason Sager.
Other pre-registered riders thus far include Cannondale Factory rider Jeremiah Bishop, Kenda's Amanda Carey and Trek/World's Bicycle relief's Dana Weber.
New pro cross country course
This year's cross country course has gotten a major face lift. The US Cup staff cut plenty of new singletrack and added some berms and man-made obstacles to this year's course.
The pro loop is now 3.1 miles with over 500 feet of climbing per lap. The tentative lap count for Saturday's cross country race is seven for the men and six for the women.
"We made a lot of changes to this year's cross country course," said US Cup Vice President Ty Kady. "The UCI has very strict rules, so we had to make some accommodations, most notably we removed the back 'lake"' loop and all the asphalt. Again, we are somewhat limited by geography in the park, but all in all, we are pleased with how the new course turned out."
"The new course is really steep and punchy, with no real place to rest - your always on the pedals! Plus we added some tricky off camber sections, threw in some log and rock sections for good measure, so it's much more technical than last year. This won't be your typical So. Cal fire road cross country course anymore!" said Kady
Three times the fun
The US Cup Triple Crown All Mountain Pro Series will also offer additional racing for pros who wish to stick around and compete in more than just the cross country on Saturday. Late Saturday afternoon, the pros will race a second Triple Crown discipline; the super D. On Sunday, the have the option to race the short track.
The rider with the best two scores on the weekend will win additional prize money, on top of Saturday's UCI cross country race. In the Triple Crown format, a rider can drop his or her highest score from either the super D or short track event to combine with their cross country result. Together, the two lowest total scores win on the weekend.
"We have a set payout based on rider turnout for the Triple Crown overall," said Kady. "For example, Tier 1 payout puts another $400 in the Triple Crown winner's pocket and pays 10 deep. We then are offering an additional $2,500 to the male and female series winner, and the series finishes June 4-5 at Santa Ynez, for a total of $10,000 to the top three series riders."
With the weather forecast calling for sunny conditions in the mid 70s (degrees Fahrenheit), the Bonelli Park weekend of racing looks poised to produce a great season opener.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of this weekend's action.