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MTB News and Notes: Checking in from California

Greeting from beautiful Berkeley, California. I just finished up taking the grand tour over at Clif Bar world headquarters and let me tell ya, if you’re looking for a progressive, outdoor oriented company, dust off the resume. Besides all the bars and shots you can get your hands on, employees at Clif have a top-notch gym, yoga instructors, massage therapists and a whole bunch of other cool stuff at their disposal to make the work day not seem so much like work. Clif Bar also does a fair bit for the cycling world, sponsoring at one level or another the Luna, U.S. Postal and Sierra-Nevada

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor

Greeting from beautiful Berkeley, California.

I just finished up taking the grand tour over at Clif Bar world headquarters and let me tell ya, if you’re looking for a progressive, outdoor oriented company, dust off the resume. Besides all the bars and shots you can get your hands on, employees at Clif have a top-notch gym, yoga instructors, massage therapists and a whole bunch of other cool stuff at their disposal to make the work day not seem so much like work. Clif Bar also does a fair bit for the cycling world, sponsoring at one level or another the Luna, U.S. Postal and Sierra-Nevada teams. They also throw money and product at a small pro cyclo-cross outfit and a ton of weekend-warrior types.

The driving force behind all this is company founder and president Gary Erickson, himself an avid cyclist. Erickson takes an annual trip to Europe to ride some of the famous mountain passes of the Giro and Tour, and he’s a burgeoning 24-hour racer. After starting out in the team division, he’s moved over to the solo class and will be competing at this weekend’s 24 Hours of Adrenalin event at the Laguna Seca Recreation area south of here near Monterey. It’ll be his third solo foray.

Look for more about Clif Bar’s relationship with cycling in an upcoming issue of VeloNews, when we take a look at some of the people and companies behind pro team sponsorship.

BACK TO THE BEAR
Next stop on the spring Cali’ tour is majestic Big Bear Lake, California, where it’s apparently illegal not to include the words “big,” or “bear” in the name of any business within the city limits and apparently there’s a bonus if you use both. That’s true for everyone except for Snow Summit Resort, which will be playing host to the opening round of the 2003 NORBA National Championship Series. This year pro racing won’t get underway until Saturday in a move to accommodate more amateur racing.

It was the least NORBA could do for the local promoters, after they sent out the memo noting that there would be a substantial shift in financial burden. Racing will commence with the pro cross country where the men and women will be on the course at the same time. The course itself is a new 12-mile loop. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to take a spin around before the pros to give you some more detail.

I do know that the women will start with about a 30-minute gap between them and the men, and the goal of the organizers is to have the winners finish within minutes of each other. Could be interesting. Could also be a timing nightmare. Let’s hope for the former.

This year will also mark the debut of amateur mountain cross, with a course specifically designed to accommodate all levels of racers. Organizer Team Big Bear is offering a refund to any racer who signs up, practices, and then decides the course is too tough. Can’t imagine too many people will bail, but there’s little doubt about the carnage-fest potential amateur mountain cross has. Fire up the ambulance….

NORBA sent out a press release the other day, saying among other things is that it has in fact held onto its UCI status, though at a diminished level. This had come into doubt when it was announced that there wasn’t going to be any pro prize money. The first four rounds will be E2 status, a drop from last year’s E1, while the finals will get the one-day national championship designation.

Look for much more from Big Bear on VeloNews.com starting Friday, and, cell-phone service willing, we’re even going to try to post a few live updates during the weekend.NEW GIG
Any thoughts about Leigh Donovan coming out of retirement should be put to rest by the fact that “Booty” and a friend of hers are very close to opening up a clothing boutique. The new store, called Tangerine, is about eight weeks away from unlocking its doors in Temecula, California. If you want to know more check out shoptangerine.com.ALISON SYDOR SOUNDS OFF
Got this letter from Canadian mountain biking great Alison Sydor last week. She wasn’t real happy with some comments I made in this column regarding the Canada Cup and MTB racing in general. Alison’s record speaks for itself, so I’ll run the letter in its original form:

Dear Jason,
I am writing this letter after reading your most recent Web column on the state of the UCI and pro mountain bike racing in the U.S. While I appreciate it is your job to share your assessments and opinions with your loyal readers, I kind of thought you had missed some valuable information about the Canadian UCI points events that could be of interest to your readers.We are fortunate to have a number of excellent UCI registered cross-country races in Canada in 2003. As you mentioned we have a Canada Cup series. It is a six-event affair with all races being UCI registered. Two events have an E1 designation and 4 are registered as E2 events. We have two UCI registered marathons this year, one (which is also part of the marathon world series) is E1 classed and the other E2. The National Championship Title race in Canada (which will be hosted by Whistler Mountain in conjunction with a major festival and freeride event) is a single day race that offers the riders the chance at CN category points. Of course the biggest points offering (beside Worlds and Olympic Games) for elite racers is at the World Cup races. Canada is hosting two such races, where the North American pros can scoop some major points much closer to their home time zones than the European events are. Collecting UCI points is important for any rider wanting a good start position at worlds and also for any country interested in gaining the max quotas of athletes at world’s, and this year especially for the Olympic games in 2004.I think I can speak for all the Canadian pro’s racing for U.S. trade teams and in off-road events in the U.S. in saying that we have always appreciated the many opportunities which the U.S. race scene (especially NORBA events) has provided us for so many years now. I imagine I am qualified to comment a bit about the history of the sport since I think I raced my first NORBA race when Ryder Hesjedal would have only just been eligible for the Shimano Kids race. Back then I huffed and puffed my way around the circuits trying to stay within the same postal code of Queen Juli, Susan D. and Sara B.Certainly there has been quite an evolution in the sport of mountain biking and the ‘mountain bike’ race scene in the U.S. since this former roadie first started to dabble in the off-road world in 1991. While I (selfishly) miss the days when pro racing was the primary focus of media coverage given to mountain biking, I also appreciate the many new directions the sport has evolved and the new people this evolution has brought into the mountain bike community. More people all over the world getting turned on to mountain bikes has no downside that I am aware of.I was drawn to mountain biking in the late 1980’s as a way to occasionally escape the noise and chaos of riding on the busy streets of a big city. I found mountain biking to be a great activity that kept me in good shape for road racing. Also it was tons of fun, introduced me to a great group of people and allowed me to explore and enjoy the forest around me in a way that I had never been able to experience it before. While my favorite mountain biking activity is definitely an epic cross-country ride on my home trails in North Vancouver, lately I confess to a minor addiction to lift riding at the Whistler bike park. I am very recognizable as the only fool in the lift line wearing a cross-country helmet, and my race jersey and Lycra shorts for “protection.”As a racer, I have done everything from stage races, marathons, 24-hour races (not solo!), one-day races from 20 minutes to four hours, and even an indoor race at midnight over a plywood course in Switzerland. I think my favorite format is still mass start Olympic style cross-country racing on some cool spectator friendly circuit. This format offers the spectator the opportunity to witness the “thrill of victory and agony of defeat” in an epic battle that can be enjoyed from start to finish. One of best memories from my time thus far as a racer was in 1995 at the world champs in Kirchtzarten, Germany. That day there were about 60,000 screaming fans breaking my eardrums as I raced to the rainbow jersey. Still today the fan base in Europe remains strong for pro cross-country racing. Though I was not in the winning position I still appreciated tens of thousands of spectators who cheered us on and were entertained by our skills and suffering at the World Cup races in Madrid and Houffalize last spring.A check on the 2003 UCI MTB calendar at www.uch.ch shows that the cross-country race scene in Europe is alive and well. Switzerland leads the way with two National Series and 29 UCI registered cross-country events. Spain is close behind with 28 races offering UCI points. In addition there is a Europa cup circuit, various well-established mass start marathons and plenty of cool bike festivals (where many folks still think neon colored lycra is a pretty sweet thing to hang out in).As the sport of mountain biking evolves in the U.S., I certainly hope that pro cross-country racing remains an important part of the diversity of the MTB culture. If it is not to be, then I hope that young cross-country enthusiasts (who are now getting some terrific support and racing experiences in the many school clubs and championships that are popping up all over North America) realize that the dream of being a pro cross-country racer is not an irrelevant one. Only that they may one day have to consider a relocation across the pond to realize their dreams, just as their road counter parts had to do a decade ago. But if they are willing to take on a new adventure, the opportunity to race week after week in up to three good cross-country type events in a week will exist.Winning an Olympic cross country medal or the rainbow jersey is an incredibly special dream that any young cross-country racer is entitled to have regardless of the country they call home. As someone who had these dreams and has been so privileged to have fulfilled both of them, I hope this message is one that the mountain-biking community will endeavor to pass on to and give all the encouragement possible to the next generation of North America cross-country dreamers.Last month at the Sea Otter Classic I saw first hand plenty of young kids engaged in some serious hero-worshiping at the Trek-Volkswagen team truck. I definitely had the sense that these kids felt there was something of great value when they got the chance to meet some world champions and Olympians in the sport they love. Perhaps these kids could be on to something?Best regards,
Alison Sydor
Three-time UCI world cross-country champion
1996 Olympic silver medallist
Trek-Volkswagen pro rider



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