Gould and Wells aim to defend US titles this weekend

For the second consecutive year, US cross country mountain bike nationals are happening in Sun Valley, Idaho. Up to 1,500 cross country, short track and super D racers of all ages are expected in Ketchum. The USA Cycling championship event wraps up the Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival, which has been happening all week.

Cross country

Both Todd Wells (Specialized) and Georgia Gould (Luna) have returned to Idaho to defend their stars and stripes jerseys in the elite cross country races on Saturday afternoon. Both riders were recently named to the US Olympic Team heading to London and won their cross country national championships in 2010 and 2011.

Gould, finished in the top three during both of the past two weekends of World Cup racing, will be challenged by fellow Olympic team member Lea Davison (Specialized). The two have consistently been the top Americans racing this season so far, but there are several other racers who could vie for the title including past national champions Heather Irmiger (Subaru/Trek) and Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven/NoTubes).

Amy Dombroski (Crankbrothers Race Club), Judy Freeman (Crankbrothers Race Club) and Pua Mata (Team Sho-Air Specialized) are other women to watch.

In the men's race, Wells will be up against another 2012 Olympic team member Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek). Both riders are fresh off their best-ever World Cup finishes in Windham last week - with Wells cracking the top five and stepping onto the podium and Schultz making the top 10.

Wells is ready to go for another national title.  "The beginning of this season I had a light scheduled compared to previous years," he said to Cyclingnews. "I had a bit of an injury and was racing a bit less, so I finally feel like I'm getting into a groove. Mont-Ste-Anne didn't go so well for me, but Windham was good. I put a lot of emphasis and have focused intently on this race, so I'm excited for it."

Michael Broderick (Kenda-Seven-NoTubes), Spencer Paxson (Kona Bicycles), former national champions Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek) and Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant), last year's U23 national champion Stephen Ettinger (BMC Mountainbike Racing Team) and Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale) will battle Schultz and Wells.

In the U23 men's race on Friday morning, there are several riders with designs on golden glory, including Russell Finsterwald (Subaru-Trek), last year's junior national champion Howard Grotts (Specialized Racing), Zach McDonald (Team Rapha-Focus) and Kerry Werner (BMC Mountain Bike Development Team).

The women's U23 champion Jill Behlen (Tokyo Joe’s-Whole Foods-Primal) is back to defend her crown - also on Friday morning - against AliciaRose Pastore (BMC Mountain Bike Development Team).

Local racer Rebecca Rusch (Specialized) will compete in the singlespeed national championship on Saturday morning and is hoping to defend her title.

The pros and young juniors will race the same just-under-four-mile cross country course as last year. Elite men do six laps. U23 men and elite women do five laps while U23 women do four laps. Junior 15-18 men race four laps while junior 15-18 women race three laps. The pro course features one long, steep, mostly fireroad climb, followed by a long, pedally singletrack downhill where there is not passing. There is a short flat section with a rock garden at the bottom by the lodge.

"This course is a little different than the courses we're often seeing now. It's similar to Windham in that there is one long climb and one long descent," said Wells to Cyclingnews. "This course was great for me last year and Windham was great for me last weekend. It's not necessarily my favorite course to ride, but when you're racing, the races are always hard and it's a fair course. It'll select a good champion.

The elite course stays the same except for the addition of a few dry and dusty switchbacks on the climb.

Amateurs will race a completely different, single-lap cross country course. No longer using the Bald Mountain climb, the route takes riders up on Cold Springs and around the mountain. The finish is the same as the course winds back to River Run with the rock drop section remaining in the course. Riders will start with a short one-mile start loop in the River Run base area before making one large loop, traversing over 18 miles.

Super D

Some of the elite racers will get up early Sunday morning to contest the super D. The approximately six-mile super D course is largely the same as 2011 with some minor tweaks. Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) and Carl Decker (Giant) are expected to go head-to-head again. Last year, they finished less than two seconds apart. Lea Davison (Specialized) won last year's elite women's super D, but there is no word yet whether she will also race the super D again this year.

The super D track includes one tough climb and near the bottom, it finishes off with the cross country course descent. Just like the cross country course, it is fast and flowy and without many technical, rocky features.

Short track

The elite short track field will be similar to the cross country field. While men's defending champion Horgan-Kobelski is back to defend his title, women's champion Katie Compton called an early end to her mountain bike season and is New Zealand focusing on 'cross racing instead. 

The short track course is unchanged from 2011 and circles the base of the River Run lodge.

Race notes

- For the first time, para-cyclists - two-wheeled and handcyclists - competed in the short track races on Thursday.

- A $1,000 cash purse has been added to each of the professional men's and women's cross country races.

Thanks to the Idaho Department of Commerce - Tourism Development and the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour for assistance covering US Mountain Bike Nationals.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.

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