By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
Depending on how things shake out, downhiller Chris Kovarik’s 2004 racing campaign could be spent in either Intense or Haro team kit. But both of those scenarios depend on the 25-year-old Aussie making a full recovery from a motocross accident in September that left him with a badly broken ankle.
According to Intense president Jeff Steber, Kovarik cased a jump on his motocross bike, breaking his ankle so badly that he’s been outfitted with a leg halo and pins just to hold his bones in place.
“My understanding is that it’ll be another month before they can even put a cast on him,” said Steber. “Then he’s got to rehab after that, so it’s really up in the air if he’s going to be able to race the beginning of the season. It might just be smart for him to lay back for a season.”
Despite the incident, Steber said he offered a contract to Kovarik back in the fall, hoping to bring back the UCI’s No. 7-ranked downhiller for a fifth year. But according to Steber, Kovarik held out on signing that contract because he’d received a tentative offer from Haro that would pay him substantially more money.
“I was a little disappointed in Chris because he didn’t tell me about the Haro offer right away,” Steber said. “I mean if I had known everything that was going on I could have taken a shot at [Nathan] Rennie or [Sam] Hill. But if the Haro thing falls through I won’t leave [Kovarik] stranded. It’s not going to be the same deal that we offered back in the fall, though.”
Meanwhile, Haro team manager Mike King acknowledged that he’s explored the possibility of signing Kovarik to fill the void left by the 2003 world downhill champion Greg Minnaar, who departed to ride for the new Honda squad.
“Some of it depends on whether or not we are able to obtain some additional sponsorship that we’ve been working on,” explained King, who added that he’s been in discussion with a “big company” and that negotiations have been slow and are still ongoing.
Outside of Kovarik, both the Haro and Intense teams are set for the coming season.
Intense has re-upped with Frenchwoman Sabrina Jonnier for two more years, retained the services of young American downhiller David Klaassenvanoorschot, and added three cross-country riders – including Aussie Niki Gudex, who’s already garnered a fair bit of notoriety as a model. Billy Holmes and Amon Pease are the two other XC additions.
“The cross-country thing is obviously new for us,” explained Steber. “We’re going to have a separate box van [from the downhill team truck] that will be traveling all around with demo bikes. We’ll be doing stuff like showing up at trailheads to give people a chance to ride our new bikes on their home trails.”
The Intense XC crew will also be at all the NORBA events, and Steber has high hopes for Gudex, who finished last season 32nd in the final NCS cross-country standings.
“Last year was her first as a full time cross-country pro,” Steber said. “But she’s been training really hard, and I think she could really surprise some people.”
Haro, meanwhile, returns the core of its 2003 squad, with Canadians Seamus McGrath and Chris Sheppard carrying the cross-country mantle, while King and Aussie Mick Hannah take on the gravity circuit.
But for now Kovarik’s future — be it with Intense or Haro — remains up in the air.
“We have right of first refusal,” said Steber, explaining that he could match any offer Haro makes. “But if [Haro signs] a big corporate deal we obviously won’t be able to match it.”