US Pro XCT returns to Missoula

Misoula, Montana will host round four of the US Pro XCT on Saturday, July 14. It is the second year that the national mountain bike series travels to Marshall Mountain.

One week after the national championships a bit further south in Sun Valley, Idaho, many of the top US pros will be racing again in the Rocky Mountains. Newly crowned cross country national champion Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek), who won last year, is expected to take on newly crowned short track national champion Todd Wells (Specialized). Others to watch will be Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Russell Finsterwald (Subaru-Trek), Colin Cares (Kenda/Felt) and Howard Grotts (Specialized). Cares is fresh off winning the local beer race on the race course mid-week. Last but not least, former US Pro XCT overall winner Max Plaxton (Specialized) will make another appearance at the US series from Canada.

"This will be the first head-to-head meeting of US and Canadian National Champions with Schultz and Plaxton and a North American Olympic preview for London in the men's field," said Ben Horan, Race Director. "

"It is going to be very competitive in both the women's and men's elite fields this weekend. We are pumped to have such talented racers come to Missoula!"

In the women's race, Lea Davison (Specialized) and Georgia Gould (Luna), who won the elite short track and cross country titles last weekend, are expected to sit out the competition as they prepare for the Olympic Games. That leaves the door open for riders like Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Trek), Pua Mata (Sho-Air) and Chloe Woodruff (Crank Bros) among others.

Woodruff had a particularly harrowing pre-ride experience on Thursday, when she was doing a lap of the course on her own.

"I encountered a moose on the first steep climb. She came out of the woods in front of me with two babies," Woodruff wrote on Facebook. "I immediately stopped and hopped off my bike (behind it). She put her head down, ears back and started towards me. Luckily she stopped after a few strides and I was already backing away from her. After a little ways, I swung my bike around and fled! That was scary. Needless to say, I did not pre-ride the course today. Moral(s) of the story: don't piss off any moms and be prepared!"

Promoter Jed Zilla said to Cyclingnews that he, too, has seen the resident moose, though never with babies. He is expecting the level of traffic during the weekend's races will keep the moose at bay.

Going into the US Pro XCT round 4, Cares leads Wells and Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) in the men's standings while Mata leads Erin Huck (Tokyo Joe's) and Zephanie Blasi (WXC World Racing)

Rain is possible for the weekend in the form of thunderstorms. Depending on their timing, it could be good to wet down a course that has recently been dry and dusty.

The course is very similar to last year, including the infamous jump that most of the top elite men rode last year, but the elite women skipped. "It's the same course as last year. We bermed out the final descent from last year," said Zilla. "We put in a few more waterbars on final descent. We had an alternate route before the last three switchbacks for the non-elite categories, but all the elites will race the same course."

The men and women are likely to do six and five laps, although the final count is not yet confirmed and may be changed due to more polluted air than usual - a result of nearby forest fires.

Missoula is welcoming the mountain bike pros just after hosting a major marathon (running) event and a whitewater competition.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage.

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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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