By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
After giving way to the European swing of the World Cup for a month, the NORBA National Championship Series starts up again Friday with stop No. 2 at Alpine Valley Resort in East Troy, Wisconsin. Cross-country racing kicks things off with the women heading out at 11 a.m. central time, followed by the men at 2 p.m. Saturday brings short track racing in the afternoon, followed by the debut of the NORBA pro mountain cross in the evening. Racing concludes Sunday with the men’s and women’s downhill.
The Midwest has long been a hotbed of mountain-bike racing, but this is the first time the NORBA series has been to Wisconsin. The last NCS stop in the central time zone came in 1999 when the series made its third straight visit to Welch Village, Minnesota. NORBA races have also been held in Michigan seven times since 1989, the last at Traverse City in 1996.
Wisconsin boasts one of the nation’s strongest amateur racing series, with 11 events slated for this summer. Stop No. 1 of the WORS, as it’s called, was held here in Alpine Valley back in May and drew nearly 1300 competitors for its cross-country race. At this weekend’s NORBA race, which includes amateur racing, organizers are hoping for 2500 racers and 15,000 spectators for the four-day event.
Attendance numbers should get a boost from the event’s central location. Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago are all within a 1.5-hour drive.
The pro cross-country course is a 6-mile loop, with 725 feet of climbing per lap. The men will do 4.5 laps; the women 3.5. Unlike round No. 1 in the thin air of Big Bear Lake, California, racers won’t have to deal with oxygen depravation. The highest point on the course here is just 825 feet above sea level, and there is only one sustained climb. That’s not to say racing at Alpine Valley will be easy, though. Several days of rain have made the tight track super slick and muddy. Bike handling skills and the ability to run in the muck will be key.
At just 650 feet from top to bottom, the downhill course is the shortest on the five-race circuit. Organizers are expecting finishing times to hover around 2 minutes, more than a minute slower than the top men’s times from round one in California. There was actually some talk of having racers take two runs and combining the times, but the idea was eventually scrapped.
Saturday’s mountain cross race will mark the beginning of a new era in gated racing on the NORBA circuit. Dual slalom, which was first contested back in 1993, has been scrapped, with the last side-by-side race held at Big Bear in May. The World Cup series has also adopted the four-rider format, which debuted before a huge crowd at Fort William, Scotland in the beginning of June.
Besides mountain biking, one of Alpine Valley’s biggest draws is its concert venue, the Alpine Valley Music Theatre. The venue was a regular stop for the Grateful Dead in the 1980s and early ’90s, and other big timers who’ve played here include Metallica, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Jimmy Buffet. The area was also the sight of one of the music industry’s biggest tragedies. In August of 1990, a helicopter en route from Chicago crashed into the face of an Alpine Valley ski run killing all aboard, including famous rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn.
This weekend’s NORBA stop will have some music of its own on Saturday night. Starting at 6 p.m. four bands, including Ward headlined by former Wallflowers lead guitarist Michael Ward, will perform at Alpine Valley. The show is free, though parking will cost $5.
— It’s very likely that there will be a first-time winner in women’s downhill. That’s because round one victor Anne-Caroline Chausson and 13-time NORBA downhill winner Missy Giove will both be absent this weekend. Chausson is back home in France, taking a mid-season break before the World Cup series gets going again at the end of June. Giove is out with torn ligaments in her knee — an injury suffered last weekend in Slovenia — which will put here on the shelf for at least the next two NORBA races. It’s possible the Global rider may miss the World Cup at Mont-Ste-Anne as well.
With those two absent, Marla Streb (Luna) is the only racer here who has won a NORBA downhill.
— Round one winners and current NCS leaders are: Roland Green, men’s XC; Jimena Florit, women’s XC; Ryder Hesjedal, men’s STXC; Alison Dunlap, women’s STXC; Chris Kovarik, men’s DH; Anne-Caroline Chausson, women’s DH. Dual slalom was held at round one, but those results will not carry to the mountain cross standings.
Check back to VeloNews.com all weekend for reports, results and photos.