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MTB News and Notes: Kabush off Kona; Kintner to Yeti

Big team news this week came courtesy of the Kona camp, which unveiled its 2004 squad as well as a unique new sponsor. But it was the one name missing from the roster that grabbed most of the attention. After spending the previous seven years aboard a Kona, Canadian cross-country pro Geoff Kabush will not be back with the team in 2004. The reason for the parting of ways depends on whom you ask, but it’s safe to say it wasn’t the most harmonious ending. “I spent a little time checking to see what else was out there, then decided that I wanted to be back with Kona,” explained Kabush. “But

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor

Big team news this week came courtesy of the Kona camp, which unveiled its 2004 squad as well as a unique new sponsor. But it was the one name missing from the roster that grabbed most of the attention.

After spending the previous seven years aboard a Kona, Canadian cross-country pro Geoff Kabush will not be back with the team in 2004. The reason for the parting of ways depends on whom you ask, but it’s safe to say it wasn’t the most harmonious ending.

“I spent a little time checking to see what else was out there, then decided that I wanted to be back with Kona,” explained Kabush. “But during that time something changed in [Kona founder and president] Jake [Heilbron’s] mind. I was really hoping it could work out, but it didn’t.”

Heilbron’s take on the matter took a slightly different track; he said Kabush simply wanted too much money.

“We made him an offer in September that we thought was fair,” Heilbron said. “Then we went back and forth for a while with Geoff trying to get more [money].”

Heilbron admitted that his offer to Kabush was less than what the cross-country pro had been making during his last contract, a three-year deal that expired at the end of the 2003 season.

“I think both Geoff and Kona expected his results to be at a higher level [during those three years],” Heilbron said. “So maybe he was a little overpaid during that time. He was also probably a little underpaid before that.”

Coming into the 2001 season it was Kabush who was being picked by many to be the next great Canadian mountain biker; not Roland Green or Ryder Hesjedal. He had finished a surprising ninth at the Sydney Olympics and had been in the top 10 at four of the five NORBA cross-country races that year.

But Kabush didn’t make the next big leap that some — including his team — were expecting, as he’s yet to earn a victory at a NORBA or World Cup race.

“Maybe this will be the best thing that can happen for Geoff,” said Heilbron. “I know Geoff, and he’s a very hard worker, so maybe this will give him even more motivation.”

And even with his team prospects up in the air, Kabush says he has every intention of hitting the mountain-bike circuit this year.

“I’m definitely pretty motivated right now,” he said. “I don’t know exactly how things are going to work out. I’m talking to a lot of people right now, but it is pretty late in [the signing season]. If something doesn’t work out I won’t have a problem getting around on my own if I need to, and I’ll get at least some support from the Canadian national team.”

Like every other cross-country pro this year, Kabush says his main focus is this summer’s Olympics in Athens. But with only two spots available for the Canadian men, he enters the season no better than fourth among his compatriots behind Green, Hesjedal and Seamus McGrath. Still, Kabush thinks he can make the team.

“Last time around I would have been an even longer shot,” he said. “There was a long list of six guys and I wasn’t even on it. So anything can happen.”

As for the 2004 Kona squad, known from here forward as the Kona-Clarks-Les Gets, the addition of Les Gets as a co-sponsor was the big change. Set in the Alps, Les Gets is one of France’s top mountain-biking destinations and will play host to the 2004 world mountain-bike championships. It was also the site of the 2002 World Cup finals.

Situated between Lake Geneva, Switzerland, and Mont-Blanc in France, Les Gets will be a Kona ride center next season and will have a full range of Kona bikes for rent.

The team’s roster is led by downhillers Tracy Moseley and Fabien Barel, who are both signed with Kona for two more years. On the cross-country side the teams returns Peter Wedge, Kris Sneddon and Barry Wicks. The lone newcomer is Ryan Trebon, who has been lighting up the U.S. cyclo-cross circuit this fall.

“We’ve got a great one-two punch with Tracy and Fabien,” said Heilbron. “On the cross-country side we’re looking at it as more of a development program. We really think Barry and Ryan are two riders on their way up.”

Global demise
The three-year run of the Global mountain-bike team has come to an end. Following a year when team manager Martin Whiteley funded much of the team’s expenses out of his own pocket, the former UCI mountain-bike boss says he simply can’t afford to take on that same financial burden in 2004.

“I’d love to fund [Global] again, but it’s very expensive, as you can imagine,” Whiteley wrote in an e-mail to VeloNews. “The partners in Japan have undertaken that they will fund [Global] again in the future once the situation in the Japanese economy improves sufficiently. I can’t say when that will be, but their word is good.”

However, Whiteley said he would still be lending some support to Finnish downhiller Matti Lehikoinen. “I still think Matti deserves to race in 2004,” Whiteley wrote. “So I will back him 100 percent.”

Whiteley, a constant on the world mountain-biking circuit for years, said his personal plans for 2004 would be sorted out by late January. “Suffice to say I will be plenty busy,” he said.

Kintner to Yeti
Following a year that saw her contend for the overall NORBA mountain-cross title, win the U.S. crown, and then take third at the world championships, Jill Kintner has finally landed a full-time factory ride, signing a one-year deal with Yeti.

“She’s young, talented, and maybe most important, she’s not jaded,” said Yeti’s Chris Conroy. “She went out the first year and proved herself. We think she’s going to be a great star of the future.”

Conroy added that Kintner and the rest of the Yeti team will focus on the NORBA circuit and the North American World Cups, but wouldn’t rule Kintner out of racing in Europe.

“We’re more concerned about getting podiums at individual races then going after overall titles,” Conroy explained. “But it’s still possible that some racers could go over to Europe.”

For now, Kintner has two teammates in four-cross specialist Ross Milan and 2001 world junior cross-country champion Trent Lowe. Lowe is coming back to mountain biking after spending time on the road with the now-defunct Mapei development squad.

Conroy says he’s also likely to sign a downhiller, and mentioned Jared Graves and Rich Houseman as possible candidates. Yeti is working out the final patent details for a new downhill frame design, and Conroy said it’s very important for the company to have a rider in place to pilot the new bike.

Nova update
Good news from the Nova Desert Classic camp this week. The three-day Arizona stage race, which made its debut last year, has retained Subaru as its title sponsor and will be offering up a pro prize purse of nearly $5000, including $1200 for the overall winners. There will also be money on the line in the semi-pro and expert categories, bringing the total purse to $7600.

On-line registration for the March 19-21 event held just outside Phoenix began on December 17 and can be accessed on the race Web site at www.teamnova.org. And as their most recent press release pointed out once again, timing will be handled by Team Big Bear, welcome news to anyone who endured last year’s timing debacle during the race’s inaugural run.