Welcome to The Dirt, the weekly news round-up on what is happening in the worlds of gravel, mountain biking, and all things rough and dirty.

The UCI made a significant change to its mountain bike World Cup series in 2018 by adding a short track cross-country race to each weekend, starting with round two in Albstadt, Germany. North American riders have often struggled to earn enough UCI ranking points to start at the front of the grid in European cross-country races. The short tracks are a chance to earn a spot in the front two rows of a given weekend’s XC event by finishing top-16. For example, Chloe Woodruff (Stan’s-Pivot) earned a front-row call-up in the Nove Mesto, Italy World Cup by finishing fifth in the short track the day prior.

At the Epic Rides Carson City Off-Road Race last summer, I caught up with mountain bike veteran Geoff Kabush (Yeti) to hear his perspective on how short track racing may impact the XC World Cup scene.

VeloNews: What are your initial thoughts on World Cup short track racing?

Geoff Kabush: I’m jealous. I had a lot of success in the meat of my career in the short tracks, the NORBAs. I really enjoy races where you can use your head and tactics and experience. It’s almost frustrating watching them — maybe I could be the technical advisor to the Canadian team on some short track racing! It’s definitely interesting watching and knowing where I’d be mixing it up. It would be sure fun to do those.

VN: How does the racing compare in World Cups versus domestic short tracks?

GK: There’s way more horsepower, but still you could see in the Nove Mesto one it got super tactical. You can go from the back to the front.

It’s going to really come down to good course design. I saw a bit of the Albstadt one and it was a bit too single-file, which made it difficult for tactics to come involved because it was too strung out, yo-yoing so much in the singletrack. Nove Mesto looked like it was a super exciting race and the smart riders were able to save their energy for a winning effort at the end.

As long as they get the course design right I think it’s super exciting. They got the incentive for the top riders to do it, which was a challenge to get the top riders to participate. That’s what everyone wants to see, the top riders battling it out.

VN: Is this an opportunity for North Americans to take advantage of their experience with short track racing?

GK: It’s another avenue. Like all racing, start position is so important and geographically we’re challenged in North America because we don’t have as many UCI races. The Europeans can drive to three or four different countries and race so many more events and just the travel as well. It gives an opportunity. If riders can work their way into the top-40 they get a chance to get on one of those front two rows. It’s a huge advantage. Once you get third, fourth row it’s a bit rolling the dice. It’s cool to see some of the riders getting a chance for success at the front.

Even a chance going from 30th, which is just a lottery, rolling the dice, to the front two rows. A couple Americans got jumped up there, and it’s a good opportunity.

Grotts will return to Absa Cape Epic to defend title with Kulhavy

Howard Grotts
Jaroslav Kulhavy and Howard Grotts won the 2018 Absa Cape Epic. Photo: Michal Cerveny

U.S. national cross-country champion Howard Grotts (Specialized) will return to the Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race, March 17-24, to defend the title he won with Investec-Songo-Specialized teammate Jaroslav Kulhavy in 2018.

“Last year’s Absa Cape Epic was a huge learning experience for me,” Grotts said. “I’d already had one Cape Epic under my belt at that point, but being at the front of the race added a whole other dimension to the race. Even though I felt prepared physically, dealing with mechanicals efficiently and staying calm under pressure were the most significant lessons I learned, in the early part of the race. It was also incredibly helpful to have Jaro [Kulhavy] pace our efforts and decide where the best time was to try to gain time or save energy”

Kulhavy, a former world and Olympic champion, has won three editions of the Cape Epic. In 2019, he and Grotts will have a little help in the form of two teammates, Simon Andreassen and Christoph Sauser, forming a second Investec team that could come in handy if mechanicals, windy conditions, or unexpected tactics put the defending champions on the back foot.

How to get into Land Run 100

Oklahoma gravel race Land Run 100 sold out registration in minutes at the end of 2018. Fear not, you can still get a spot in this early season 100-miler, scheduled for March 16. Race organizers are raffling off five entries to support local rider Curt Dikes, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. You can buy as many $25 raffle tickets as you like, and the drawing will be February 10 at the Curto Durto 50-mile fundraiser ride, also to support Dikes. You do not have to be present at the fundraiser ride in Sitllwater to win an entry.

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