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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
Following a troubled season that saw the NORBA National Championship Series run without pro prize money and diminished UCI status, the new management team promoting America’s most prestigious mountain-biking series has accomplished at least one of its goals for 2004.
Next year’s NCS will be expanded from five to at least seven events with the possibility of an eighth. There will also be an Americans-only national championship event run independently of the series, slated for September 23-26 at Mammoth Mountain Resort in Mammoth Lakes, California.
NCS racing itself will kick off in mid March at Cameron Park in Waco, Texas, with a cross-country stage race. From there it’s off to familiar venues Big Bear, Snowshoe and Mount Snow. Sandpoint, Aspen and Durango close things out. The location of the possible eighth event is being kept under wraps for now, but if it does happen it would come in the first half of the season. All the events except Waco will include cross-country, short-track and downhill, while mountain cross and dual slalom will split time during the season.
“I think mountain cross intimidated a lot of the amateurs,” said Team Big Bear’s Tom Spiegel, who along with Blue Wolf Events front man Jeff Frost, will be running the series for at least the next three years. “Mountain cross isn’t dead, but we want to mix it up a little.”
But while there is certainly positive change underway, Frost says there’s still no guarantee of prize money for the pros or an increase in television coverage.
“Our optimal budget would be about $750,000 but right now we have under $300,000,” conceded Frost. “Obviously we need to address that.”
Though no deals have been signed for television time Frost said, but the firm has had dialogue with the Outdoor Life Network. “They’re not interested in helping sponsor the series like they did in the past, but they do seem to be interested in increasing their coverage.”
On the sponsorship front the only commitments have come from 2003-holdovers Shimano and Gatorade, but it’s “still early in the game,” said Frost.
Look for expanded coverage of the “new” NORBA NCS in the next issue of VeloNews. Here’s the complete 2004 schedule.
March 11-15: Cameron Park, Waco Texas
May 13-16: Snow Summit Resort, Big Bear Lake, California
June 10-13: Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Snowshoe, West Virginia
June 17-20: Mount Snow Resort, Mount Snow, Vermont
July 29-Aug. 1: Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Sandpoint, Idaho
Aug. 5-9: Aspen/Snowmass Ski Resort, Aspen, Colorado
Aug. 26-29: Durango Mountain Resort, Durango, Colorado
Sept. 23-26: U.S. Mountain Bike National Championships, Mammoth Mountain Resort, Mammoth Lakes, California