By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
Okay, time to play a short game of word association. If I say (write) “national championship,” what comes to mind?
I’ll give you a hint. Usually it involves a high-level sporting competition where athletes from a specific country compete against each other to determine who is that nation’s fastest runner, strongest swimmer, best football team or whatever. Simple enough, right?
Well, not in the case of next week’s NORBA National Championship Series finals in Durango, Colorado. Yes, the event will finalize the U.S. national mountain bike champions (instead of a one-day national title like most countries have, the U.S. MTB champs are based on points garnered in a five-race series).
But in the case of the pro events at Durango and the four previous events, competition is not limited to American athletes. Instead, expect the winners of at least half the eight elite races in Southwestern Colorado to be foreign-born riders. In the four previous NCS events, 18 of the 32 winners call somewhere beside the USA their homeland.
So what’s the fuss about?
Well, first is the simple fact that by allowing foreign competitors in the U.S. national championship race — something that no other country does — you invariably influence the outcome of the races. Figure that in Durango the usual gaggle of Canadian men will tear off the front in the men’s cross-country race, maybe with a few Americans (probably Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Todd Wells) hanging with them. At the finish one of those Canadians will probably win, with the top American coming across somewhere between second and fifth. But what would happen if this race were exclusive to American riders? Who really knows? But clearly, the outcome would be different.
Next, consider the distribution of the UCI points that will be on the line in Durango. Unlike the first four races on the NORBA slate, which were low-level, E2 rated events, the NCS finals are rated CN (championship national), meaning there are more than double the UCI points on the line. Now, consider that these are valuable points which U.S. riders could really use, especially the cross-country pros who are trying to gain positions in the UCI nation rankings, which will decide start spots at next year’s Olympics in Athens.
Now, before you start calling me an isolationist, nationalist or worse, let me offer a solution that could make everyone happy.
Start by dropping the “national championship” moniker from the NORBA series and simply let it stand alone for what it really is, the second most prestigious mountain-biking series on the planet behind the World Cup. Just like it has for years, the NORBA “International” Series would continue to attract riders from all over the globe, who would come to race in the land where mountain biking was born.
If you’re looking for examples, think Switzerland’s Swiss Cup, France’s French Cup or even the Maxxis Cup, which has a Spain-only series. All these circuits attract top riders, but none determine its respective national champions.
In turn, it’s time for USA Cycling to abandon the current series format for deciding the U.S. national champions, and go to the one-day, national-riders-only format that is used throughout the rest of the world (and that was used back in NORBA’s early days from 1983 to 1988). Not only would this ensure that American riders would hold onto the valuable UCI points available at national-championship events, but it would also create an exciting, pressure-packed spectacle where dreams would come true and be shattered all on the same stage. Who knows? Maybe you could sell something like that to, say … sponsors, or …television.
This would also do away with some of the badly diluted U.S. national titles we’ve seen in recent years. Come on, who could forget Eric Carter’s 2002 downhill national title – when he finished seventh in the overall series – or Todd Wells ’02 short-track crown, garnered by taking eighth in the final standings. I know I wish I could. Think how much more impact these titles would have if they’d been captured in a one-day event where the winner was actually the winner.
Canada Cup race canceled
The Canada Cup finals at Sun Peaks Resort in Kamloops, British Columbia, have been cancelled due to the wildfire conditions in the area. They were originally scheduled for scheduled for August 9-10.
As of Wednesday, there was a one-hour evacuation alert in effect for the area, and vehicle access was restricted to permit holders only. This was combined with a general access ban to all recreational areas in the district due to the extremely dry conditions. With no relief in sight, even in long-range forecasts, it’s highly unlikely that this situation will change before this weekend, giving organizers little choice but to cancel the event.
The wild fires have also forced a change to the route of the TransRockies mountain-bike race, a long-distance event that traverses the Canadian Rockies.
Motorex-Bianchi re-ups with Absalon and Dietsch
The Motorex-Bianchi team announced this week that it has re-signed Frenchmen Julien Absalon and Thomas Dietsch to new two-year contracts. Absalon is the two-time defending under-23 cross country world champion and leader of the overall World Cup series. Dietsch resides at the top of the UCI marathon standings.