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By Fred Dreier
After a whirlwind 2008, which saw its riders dominate both internationally and domestically in both mountain biking and cyclocross, the Luna women’s mountain bike team is shifting gears for 2009.
Georgia Gould and Catherine Pendrel will take a step back from the UCI World Cup series, focusing on off-road stage races and one-day events in North America.
Former world champion Alison Dunlap will end her three-year retirement to race select mountain bike and cyclocross races. And Czech strongwoman Katerina Nash will miss much of the early season to rehab a nagging knee injury.
“We started looking at the  schedule in December and I realized there were too many events. The calendar is all over the place,” said Waldek Stepniowski, Luna’s team manager. “It is impossible to hit every event, so we’re going to pick our battles.”
In 2008, the team’s primary focus was helping Gould, Pendrel and Nash qualify for the Beijing Olympics. The three crisscrossed the globe scoring top results on the World Cup circuit — Pendrel won the World Cup round in Bromont, Canada and finished second in the series while Gould finished fifth overall. Both riders earned tickets to Beijing — Pendrel finished fourth and Gould eighth.
Nash, who hails from the Czech Republic, suffered a knee injury that slowed her in the opening World Cup rounds, and she did not qualify for the Games. The Czech rebounded with a seventh-place finish at the World Cup finals.
The team’s investment in the 2008 World Cup showed. Luna dominated the women’s World Cup team competition — a prize determined by the top-three placing riders at each round — beating second-place Rocky Mountain Bicycles 578 points to 306.
But for 2009 Pendrel and Gould will skip the World Cup opener in Pietermarizburg, South Africa, on April 11-12, and will instead open their seasons at the April 16-29 Sea Otter Classic. The two will race the spring European World Cups in Offenburg, Germany, Houffalize, Belgium and Madrid, Spain, before heading back to the U.S. to tackle the new-for-2009 USA Cycling ProXC tour, as well as the seven-day BC Bike Race and the June World Cup rounds in Quebec, Canada.
“If we wanted to race [the World Cup opener] we’d have to fly to South Africa, then back to the U.S. for Sea Otter and then directly to Europe in successive weeks, and that’s not a recipe for success,” Gould said. “For me, personally, I’d rather win a World Cup than finish in the top-10 of the World Cup overall. By paring down our schedule, we can be fresher at the World Cups we do race.”
Luna will likely skip the final two World Cup rounds in Champéry, Switzerland (Sept 13) and Schladming, Austria (Sept 20). Those races fall one week after the September 1-6 UCI world championships in Canberra, Australia, and one week before the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas, which features the ever-popular ‘Cross Vegas cyclocross race and the new-for-’09 USA Cycling ProXC Tour mountain bike finals.
“There are so many races this year. That [bloc of racing] will be like a stage race for me,” Gould said.
Gould and Pendrel may be without the help of Nash for the Spring World Cup rounds, as the Czech rider has chosen to start her season later to recover from a nagging knee injury. Nash suffered the injury during a pileup at the opening round of the 2008 National Mountain Bike Series in Fountain Hills, Arizona, and the wound followed her throughout the season.
Nash, who lives full-time in Truckee, California, could not be reached for comment. But Stepniowski said she would likely start her season in the late spring, race select North American mountain bike events alongside Luna’s domestic cross-country racer Chloe Forsman. Nash might race the BC Bike Race and then focus more of her efforts on cyclocross. Nash won the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross title in 2008, finished second at ‘Cross Vegas and scored a podium finish at the European championships.
The 2010 Cyclocross world championships will be held in Nash’s home country.
“It’s all a question of when Katerina will be 100 percent,” Stepniowski said. “We still don’t know exactly what her season will look like.”
Luna’s 2009 cyclocross campaign will see the return of 2001 world cross-country champion Alison Dunlap, who retired from professional racing in 2005 (see Q and A with Alison Dunlap). Dunlap will race the full North American cyclocross circuit, starting her season with ‘Cross Vegas and hitting the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross and North American Cyclocross Trophy rounds, as well as the national championships.
“When I saw ‘Cross Vegas two years ago it hit me that maybe I do miss racing a bit,” Dunlap said. “I’m excited. I’m not going to be racing to be pack fill. I want to win races.”