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MTB News and Notes: Little Mig back in; Jimena likely out

You knew he’d be back to defend his Olympic cross-country title, but nowMiguel Martinez has bagged road racing all together and will once againbe a full-timer on the fat-tire circuit. According to a recent report inthe French sports daily l'Equipe, Little Mig has grown tired ofhis role as a support rider and is planning a return to the stage thathas given him his greatest glory. “Nothing went as I hoped [this year with Phonak],” explained Martinezof his second year on the European road circuit that started in 2002 withMapei. “Perhaps the leaders of [Phonak] thought that I could give

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor

Martinez had a good start with Mapei in 2002.

Martinez had a good start with Mapei in 2002.

Photo: AFP (file photo)

You knew he’d be back to defend his Olympic cross-country title, but nowMiguel Martinez has bagged road racing all together and will once againbe a full-timer on the fat-tire circuit. According to a recent report inthe French sports daily l’Equipe, Little Mig has grown tired ofhis role as a support rider and is planning a return to the stage thathas given him his greatest glory.

“Nothing went as I hoped [this year with Phonak],” explained Martinezof his second year on the European road circuit that started in 2002 withMapei. “Perhaps the leaders of [Phonak] thought that I could give moreright away. I knew that I lacked the experience on this level to be ableto roll in the wind for 200 kilometers, to grind it out, to protect a leader.And then, there was, very quickly, the pressure to qualify for the Tour.I found myself at a level which was not appropriate to me. I was readyto simply be a member of the team. But I would have also liked to havehad my own card to play, to express myself on my ground, the mountains.”

After a brilliant mountain-biking career, that included a bronze medalat Atlanta, Olympic gold in Sydney, and the world and World Cup titlesin 2000, Martinez left mountain biking to try his hand at road racing.

But Martinez said that he missed the “freedom” of mountain biking andeven more the feeling “of victory, raising your arms, feeling the clamorof the public. On the road, for two years, I did not feel any pleasure.To stay in the peloton was not for me. I was born to win, and on the roadit had become difficult.

“At the end of this season, as I thought about the upcoming Athens Games,I knew I had to make a decision,” Martinez continued. “I revisited themental images of my Olympic title in Sydney. I asked Phonak if they wereinterested in me mountain biking next year in their jersey. They gave mea weak ‘yes.’ After that, I talked with Commençal-Oxbow. My decisionwas made: I wouldn’t go back to the road again.

“There’s no doubt that to become a good, let alone a great road racer,mountain biking was not the best way to go about it. I also started a littlelate on the road to be able to do it well. But mountain biking made me.I believe that I would have needed a second life to be devoted to the road.Today, a page is turned and I hope from now on to be able to go until thePeking Games in 2008. I’m free again.”

Florit likely out of Athens
Despite winning the last two overall cross-country titles on the NORBAcircuit, it looks like Argentinean Jimena Florit will be on the outsidelooking in come next summer’s Olympics.

Currently Argentina is 19th in the UCI nation rankings and only thetop 14 countries receive automatic berths. On top of that, Florit is notamong the top 30 in the individual rankings, which makes it unlikely thatshe’ll receive one of the four available wild card berths.

“I have been very unlucky with getting sick,” lamented Florit, who missedthe 2002 world championships after coming down with a case of food poisoning,and had the latter half of her 2003 campaign derailed when she caught astomach virus at the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic.

“My chances are going to depend on my results early next year,” Floritcontinued. “That’s how Gunn-Rita [Dahle] got into the Olympics in 1996.But the problem is that the wild cards are usually used to give a chanceto each continent to be represented in the Olympics.”

And indeed, backed by the strong 2003 effort of Brazilian JacquelineMourao (she spent a good portion of the season hitting smaller UCI racesin Europe), South America is already guaranteed at least one spot in Athens.Brazil is currently ranked 14th in the nation rankings (the last spot tograb an automatic berth), while Mourao is 9th in the individual standings.

This is based on the second-to-last set of UCI mountain bike rankings,which were issued on November 24, and lay out what will be the likely startspot dispersal for next summer’s Olympics.

On the men’s side the first five nations (the Netherlands, France, Switzerland,Belgium and Germany) will each get three start spots. Countries ranked6-15 (Canada, Spain, Austria, Italy, Poland, Denmark, Great Britain, USA,Australia and the Czech Republic) will each get two. And one start spotwill be granted to Nos. 16-22 (Ukraine, New Zealand, Ireland, Romania,Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary).

The final eight spots in the 50-rider field will go to nations rankedfirst or second in continental championships held outside of Europe, orto nations who have riders in the top 50 of the UCI individual rankings,but did not get in based on nation rankings.

In the women’s Olympic race, which will have just 30 riders, three startspots will go to the top three countries (Germany, Poland and Canada).Nos. 4-9 (Switzerland, Spain, France, Netherlands, USA and Norway) willhave two riders in Athens, while the 10-14 countries (Italy, Australia,Austria, Russia and Brazil) will get one.

Like the men, the final four spots will be determined by results fromcontinental championships contested outside of Europe and individual UCIrankings.

Giant-Maxxis merger?
It’s one of the oldest rumors from this year’s silly season, the one that has the Maxxis and Giants teams merging to form a single super squad. But while there’s been much talk, nothing has been finalized according to Maxxis bicycle division manager Chance Regina.

“We are still trying to put it to bed,” Regina told VeloNews. “A team of this size is really tough to get the arms around. Tons of sponsorsjumping on board and we are trying to finalize the cross-country roster.”

Regina added that the hope was to have everything settled in 10 days,meaning we could get an official announcement by the end of next week.

Barnholt to Fisher
This one hasn’t been made official yet either, but a reliable source has informed VeloNews that former SoBe-Cannondale rider Kerry Barnholt will be stepping into the spot vacated by the retired Mary Grigson, and sporting Subaru-Gary Fisher colors next season. And while Barnholt is far from a household name, this is a solid signing for the Fisher squad. The Boulder, Colorado-resident is as nice as they come and her 12th-place finish at the 2003 world’s is proof that she has the ability to competeon the highest level.

Siemens-Cannondale set
There’s no truth to the rumor that Frenchwoman Sabrina Jonnier will be hooking up with the Siemens-Cannondale squad in 2004. Instead, according to Cannondale Europe marketing woman Saskia Stock, things will be staying the same with the team. That means a roster that once again includes Cédric Gracia, Christoph Sauser, Roel Paulissen, Tinker Juarez and Czech rider Jaroslav Kulhnavy, the reigning world and European junior champ.

Minnaar wins again
Fresh off the news that world downhill champ Greg Minnaar has signed a lucrative deal to ride for Honda next year, comes word that the South African has been tabbed the Mountain Bike Cyclist of the Year at his country’s Cyclist of the Year Awards. The ceremony was hosted by cycling commentary legends Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, and held in front of a capacity crowd in Johannesburg.