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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
In what appears to be a classic case of not enough limelight to go around, 2003 world cross-country champion Sabine Spitz has left the German-based Merida team. Last year, Spitz and Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle dominated women’s cross-country racing, with Dahle sweeping all five of the World Cup races and Spitz taking the world’s win in Lugano, Switzerland.
But apparently all that success could not offset what Spitz called an “environment that did not allow me to concentrate fully on my races. The internal situation became such that I could not stay and continue to develop as an athlete.”
No word yet on where the reigning world champ is going to end up, though she did say there was something in the works and that details would be provided in the next two weeks.
Spitz, who was with Merida for four seasons, added that the change in teams does nothing to alter her ultimate goal for 2004, the Olympics in Athens.
“It was a dream come true just to be at the start line at the Olympics in Sydney, but now my dream is to be on the podium in Athens,” she told VeloNews.
Reaction to Spitz’s departure caught some of her former Merida associates off guard.
“I am very surprised,” said Dahle. “I don’t want to comment on why she’s left the team because that’s none of my business, but Merida has lost a good rider and that means that the rest of us on Merida have a new person we have to beat.”
Merida team manager Thomas Klotzbucher blamed the German’s departure on what he called the “permanent question of ‘who is No. 1, Gunn-Rita or Sabine?’ Therefore I can understand why Sabine is leaving, but I do regret it.”
NORBA series update
In a brief “state-of-NORBA” conversation with series co-director Jeff Frost this week, he conceded that the “tough sponsorship climate has not changed,” making the prospect of prize money at all eight races very unlikely.
“Basically we’ve shifted gears,” he said. “Right now we’re really directing our efforts at 2005. This year is basically set in stone.”
Frost did say that at least one of the events — stop No. 2 at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California — will have prize money, and that it is possible that Mount Snow and Snowshoe may also pony up some cash themselves.
“At this point it is basically up to the local promoters,” Frost added.
Frost also put to rest a recurring rumor that several of this year’s events were in jeopardy of being canceled. “Things could be a lot different next year,” he said, “but this year is a done deal.”
Also done for this year is a change in the points structure for the gravity races. Frost said that season-series points will be awarded for qualifying in both the downhill and mountain cross, and that they were looking at changing the points distribution for the finals of all the events.
“We may emulate the World Cup more, which rewards winning a lot more than NORBA has in the past,” he said. “But it’s a tough call because that can make the chase for the series titles boring.”
Last year, points on the World Cup circuit went 250 for first, 200 for second and 170 for third. In the NORBA series it went 210, 186, 174.
Spain’s Olympic team set
Taking the opposite approach from the U.S., the Spanish cycling federation announced this week the four riders that will represent that country at the Olympics in Athens. On the men’s side, Jose Antonio Hermida and Ivan Alvarez will be making the trip, while Marga Fullana and Janet Puiggros will compete in the women’s race.
Both Fullana and Hermida competed in the last Olympics. Fullana ended up third after losing the lead in a controversial crash that involved eventual race winner Paolo Pezzo. Hermida was fourth in the men’s race, which was won by Frenchman Miguel Martinez.
Fund-raiser for Waddell
Got this note from former Aussie pro downhiller Scott Sharples regarding a benefit race for John Waddell, the rider who suffered serious brain trauma after crashing hard at the World Cup downhill in Mont-Ste-Anne last summer.
“In John Waddell’s hometown of Perth, in Western Australia, Sam Hill and the Perth Mountain Bike club are putting on a downhill race to help raise money to aid in Waddell’s recovery. John spends five days a week in a physical rehabilitation center. Anybody that knows John loves him for his humor and positive views on life. But at the moment he needs our help. Even if you cannot make it to Perth, you can still get your name on the start list to show your support. The event is on February 7-8. Go to the Perth Mountain Bike Club Web site at www.perthmtb.com, and go to the PayPal section on the lower left side of the main page to make your contribution. Thanks for your support.”