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MTB News and Notes: Alternative racing

Used to be events like those put on by energy drink maker Red Bull were strictly diversions for pro racers, something to do when there were no mainstream (read NORBA and World Cup) races going on. But with the recent NORBA debacle (no pro prize money) and the shrinking World Cup (the cancellation of Telluride leaves just five races on the calendar), events like the Red Bull Downtown are becoming more and more important. The Downtown, a gravity race that will be run on the streets of Lisbon, Portugal, May 11, will bring together a world class field (Peat, Gracia, Lopes, and Chausson are just

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor

MTB News and Notes: Alternative racing

MTB News and Notes: Alternative racing

Photo:

Used to be events like those put on by energy drink maker Red Bull were strictly diversions for pro racers, something to do when there were no mainstream (read NORBA and World Cup) races going on. But with the recent NORBA debacle (no pro prize money) and the shrinking World Cup (the cancellation of Telluride leaves just five races on the calendar), events like the Red Bull Downtown are becoming more and more important.

The Downtown, a gravity race that will be run on the streets of Lisbon, Portugal, May 11, will bring together a world class field (Peat, Gracia, Lopes, and Chausson are just a few of the big names) despite the fact that the following weekend is the season opening race of the NORBA NCS.

The course map

The course map

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“That was the deciding factor,” said Haro’s Mike King, pointing at the problems with NORBA as to why he’s taking on the extra travel to race in Portugal despite its proximity to the NORBA opener. “There’s good money and I need to get an idea of what these events are like.”

Read between the lines, and King’s point is that there may come a time when the relevance of the NORBA and World Cup races is so small that riders and teams may start picking the events they attend based on factors outside the traditional national championship jersey quest. And why not? This year’s race in Lisbon not only has a decent prize purse ($23,000), it’s also been granted UCI status for the first time, holding an E1 ranking, the same as a NORBA National in 2002.

MTB News and Notes: Alternative racing

MTB News and Notes: Alternative racing

Photo:

“I think we all want to help the sport, so just because there’s no TV or money at NORBAs doesn’t mean we’re going to run away,” explained King who is also the Haro team manager. “But we will be looking at other events.”

At just 1300 meters in length, the Red Bull race will require a mistake free run by the winners. The race starts near Saint Jorge Castle, then ends at the Largo do Terreiro do Trigo — a typical city square just meters away from Tagus river. Like most Red Bull events, the Downtown is invite only, meaning it doesn’t offer much to mid-level pros. But for the big guys, more and more, showing up at these events makes the most sense — and cents.

Desert solitaire
Not interested in the Big Bear NCS or the World Cup in St. Wendel — and didn’t get an invite to Lisbon. Well here are a couple of cross-country races you might consider. There’s no prize money, no tech expo and probably no TV either. But the distances are epic and the scenery is even better.

First comes the single-day Kokopelli Race, a 146-mile trip from Moab, Utah to Loma, Colorado, starting early Sunday morning, May 25. Next up is the 360-mile Grand Loop, which covers the Kokopelli, Paradox, and Tabeguache trails of western Colorado and eastern Utah. It starts on the evening of Friday, May 30th.

Both events are unsupported, with no checkpoints, no water drops, nothing more than a start line and maybe some root beer at the finish. The events have been scheduled in close proximity to allow those traveling to do both races in one trip. If you want more info contact Mike Curiak at mikec@bwn.net.

Roland’s take
My esteemed colleague Bryan Jew caught up with world cross-country champion Roland Green last week in Georgia. The Canadian was down south racing with the U.S. Postal Service team at the Tour de Georgia, and carried himself quite well. The Trek-VW rider was in the hunt for a podium spot until the last day, when he crashed out of the final stage in Atlanta. Before that though, Green shared his thoughts on the recent “changes” with the NORBA NCS.

“It’s not a surprise,” he said. “Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. You could certainly see that a few years ago, the direction it was heading.

“I’m not worried about the sport not having popularity or support, when you go to these NORBAs, you go to the World Cups, and now some of the other countries in Europe are having national cup series — there’s no lack of interest from the people, there’s no lack of riders. So obviously the problem with mountain biking is at the top, it’s at the UCI first, and it filters down from there. It’s very hard for race promoters to put on races these days. You can’t please everybody, but first they have to be able to put on a race and not lose money. So anyway, that’s the first thing that I see has to change, and then it’ll trickle down from there. It’s got to start from the top.

“We need to put people in place in the UCI who know mountain biking. It’s not the road. It’s a different sport. You have different locations, different demographics, different things that are going to make the sport work. Until you get people in there who truly understand the differences and make it possible for race promoters to successfully put on these races, the sport just can’t grow.

“It’s in the Olympic Games and we’ve got a ton of good people in the sport. As an athlete, there are limitations to what you can do to help it, but I think the idea of a riders union is a good start. We’ll see over the next couple of years. I think the next Olympics are going to be critical.”

Martinez back on dirt
Reigning Olympic mountain bike champion Miguel Martinez has announced that he plans on being on the start line for the World Cup opener in St. Wendel, Germany, May 24-25. In 2000, Martinez dominated mountain-bike racing, taking the Olympic title, World Cup crown and the world championship title. But following a lackluster 2001 campaign, “Little Mig” made the jump to the road, hooking up with Mapei. This year he’s signed on with the Phonak road team, but his most recent result was a fourth place effort at the Sunshine-Cup mountain bike race in Nals, Italy.

Swiss Cup No. 1
Frenchman Cédric Ravanel and Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle took wins at the opening round of the Swiss Cup, held April 27-28 in Buchs. Ravanel held off Swiss rider Christoph Sauser by 1:14, while Dahle outlasted Merida teammate Sabine Spitz, winning by 1:56.

The Swiss Cup is arguably the best cross-country series in Europe, and the names on the startlist for round one bear that out. Among others in attendance were Roel Paulissen (3rd, at 1:29) and Thomas Frischknecht (4th, at 2:12). Specialized’s Barbara Blatter took fourth in the women’s race at 2:45.

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