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MTB News and Notes: More NCS stops in ’04; Why no Angel Fire?

Quick, name the year in which the NORBA National Series had its most stops. Well, right now there are six right answers (1989, ’90, ’93, ’95, ’97, ’98 all with seven), but if all goes according to plan next summer, the new right answer will be 2004. Following the initial series unveiling at Interbike in mid-October, VeloNews has learned that the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California will play host to the second stop of next summer’s NORBA National Series, bringing the circuit’s total to eight. That event, which will include cross-country, short track, mountain cross and dual slalom, but no

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor

Quick, name the year in which the NORBA National Series had its most stops. Well, right now there are six right answers (1989, ’90, ’93, ’95, ’97, ’98 all with seven), but if all goes according to plan next summer, the new right answer will be 2004.

Following the initial series unveiling at Interbike in mid-October, VeloNews has learned that the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California will play host to the second stop of next summer’s NORBA National Series, bringing the circuit’s total to eight. That event, which will include cross-country, short track, mountain cross and dual slalom, but no downhill, will take place from May 13-16. In turn the stop at Snow Summit Resort, in Big Bear Lake, California, which was originally scheduled for that weekend, will be moved forward to May 20-23.

The mountain bike racing in Sonoma will be part of what’s being dubbed the California Outdoor Championships, an event similar to the Telluride 360-Degree Festival, which played host to an array of outdoor sports. The Sonoma event will include rock climbing, a road crit and circuit race, and trail running according to Jeff Frost, a member of the management team running the NORBA series for USA Cycling this year.

The local promoter for the Sonoma event is the Sea Otter LLC, the same company behind the famed Sea Otter Classic held down the California coast in Monterey.

This won’t be the first bike racing to take place at the Infineon Raceway, whose 2003 calendar of events included drag racing, NASCAR and super bikes. On November 15 the venue will host the Sonoma Valley Cyclo-Cross Race.

WHAT HAPPENED TO ANGEL FIRE
There seems to be little consensus about what led to the demise of the World Cup stop at the Angel Fire Resort in northern New Mexico, but either way it will mark the second time in two years that the circuit does not pass through the United States.

According to resort marketing man Brandon Peterson “it came down to the UCI not wanting to come to the U.S. at all because they claimed they had no money.”

Asked about the rumors that Angel Fire was turned down because it couldn’t guarantee all the necessary sponsorship dollars to put on the event, Peterson said, “That ended up not being a big issue. We sent them an addendum and we had hired a person to address sponsorship dollars. It really just came down to them.”

But while no one from the UCI had answered repeated requests for comment, former UCI mountain bike director Martin Whitely offered a slightly different take than Angel Fire’s Peterson. “I understand from my UCI sources that Angel Fire was simply too unstable financially for the UCI’s liking,” Whitely told VeloNews. “The UCI requires written guarantees from venues to show there is a financial backer, like a tourism authority or government, or an already secured sponsor, before feeling comfortable with a new venue. Angel Fire’s budget was built on sponsorship not yet attained, and the UCI didn’t want another Telluride.”

The Telluride reference was to the World Cup triple event that was scheduled for the southwestern Colorado resort town last summer, but was cancelled very late in the game when a major sponsor backed out. “The team’s don’t need another Telluride situation,” added Whitely, who is currently the director for the Global Racing team and works as a representative for several prominent riders, including 2003 downhill world champion Greg Minnaar. “We need to be sure an event is going ahead so we can make our schedules, make our reservations, commit our budgets.”

Whitely also expressed concern about the number of new venues on the 2004 World Cup circuit, which includes first-time events in Sestrière, Italy; Schladming, Austria; Calgary, Alberta and Livigno, Italy.

“That is too large a percentage of new venues for my liking,” he said. “Sure you can have first up hits like Fort William and Arai Mountain. But you more often than not have experiences like Cortina, Alpe d’Huez, Elba, Rome, Snoqualmie Pass, and the list goes on.”

Yet another snag if the fact that the World Cup and NORBA schedules have three overlapping events: Madrid and Snow Summit; Sestrière, Italy and Snowshoe; and Schladming, Austria and Mount Snow.

“The UCI knew our dates and they just scheduled right on top of us,” said Jeff Frost, who is part of the management team running the NORBA series this year. “So we decided that if they’re not going to respect our dates, we’re not going to respect theirs.”

It’s to early to tell what the net effect of this will be, but it’s likely that especially on the gravity side there will be a drop off in the number of European and Australians who contest the NORBA series.

“I think that’s where we’ll take the biggest hit,” admitted Frost. “We don’t get a lot of Europeans for the cross-country stuff, but a lot of the downhillers would come do our races. Now they’ll have to choose.”

Whitely agreed that the conflict is good for no one. “The date clashes are troubling,” he said. “This will force teams to pick one or the other for the overall, rather than try and do both. That’s poor for the sport right now, and the blame lies all over the shop on that one.”