All eyes will be on the skies above Mount Snow resort this week, as the U.S.’s best professional and amateur off-road racers gear up for the 2008 USA Cycling national mountain bike championships. The typically damp ski hill in Vermont has seen weeks of sunshine and unusually hot temperatures in the lead up to the July 16-20 racing weekend. And should those skies remain clear, Mount Snow’s famed rooty singletrack should maintain its current fast, dusty state.
But if the clouds return and the rain falls, Mount Snow’s trails will again soften into their famously chunky muck, which has frustrated the world’s best off-road racers since the NORBA series first visited in 1990.
The National Weather Service predicts sunny skies with between a 20-30 percent chance of precipitation for Mount Snow over the next five days. But with western Vermont’s weather known for its fickle nature, conditions on race day are still anyone’s guess.
The Vermont rain came en masse in 2007, and after a week’s worth of deluges Mount Snow’s cross-country course sported a thick layer of peanut-buttery mud. The conditions played perfectly into the hands of the technically adept Adam Craig and Mary McConneloug, who both floated comfortably through the muck and into the stars and stripes jersey.
Craig (Giant) returns as a heavy favorite to defend his jersey. The 26-year-old Maine native is the pride and joy of New England’s fat-tire community, and owns a long history of racing success at Mount Snow. His second-place finish at last weekend’s National Mountain Bike Series round in Windham, New York, is proof that Craig also owns strong legs.
But with the Giant rider’s primary ambitions of 2008 focused on August’s Olympics in Beijing, Craig won’t be coming into the Mount Snow with fresh, rested legs. And that, matched with the dry trails, could leave the race wide open.
Topping the list of challengers is Trek-Volkswagen’s Jeremiah Bishop, the runner up in 2007. Bishop waged an unsuccessful run at qualifying for the Olympics, and once the Games were out of the question, Bishop skipped the June 17-22 world championships to build up for the domestic races. Bishop has never taken the national cross-country title — he won a national marathon title on July 4.
Other riders who could grab the jersey include four-time champ Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher), who is also hungry for results. The Kona duo of Barry Wicks and Ryan Trebon have also stepped up their respective games in 2008, and should be favorites to win the short track. Massachusetts native Mike Broderick (Kenda-Seven) is a Mount Snow vet. And Olympian Todd Wells (GT) owned the strongest American legs on the international circuit this year.
The women’s cross-country boasts an equally wide-open race, with Olympians McConneloug and Georgia Gould (Luna) the definite frontrunners. Gould has shown on the World Cup circuit that she owns the stronger legs and lungs. But McConneloug’s renowned handling skills and tenacious racing style gave her the clear advantage in 2007.
A challenge to the throne could also come from North Carolina’s Willow Koerber, who is searching for results after coming up short in her Olympic quest. The Subaru-Gary Fisher rider was America’s top performer on the World Cup circuit last year, and has yet to don the stars and stripes as an elite national champion.
An additional challenge could come from reigning cyclocross champion Katie Compton (Spike), who recently completed British Columbia’s BC Bike Race and owns several wins on Colorado’s Mountain States Cup. Compton might lack the climbing legs to challenge for the cross-country win, but the cyclocross strongwoman owns the raw power to dominate the short track.
Other riders who will factor into the women’s race include Vermont native Lea Davison (Trek-Volkswagen) and her teammate Susan Haywood, Coloradans Kelli Emmett (Giant) and Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and reigning Super D champ Rachel Lloyd (Proman-Paradigm).
In gravity racing, one woman comes into the weekend with all eyes on her. Recently crowned Four-cross world champ Melissa Buhl (KHS) will be flying the rainbow stripes. Buhl already owns the 2008 USA Cycling mountain cross national title, but she’s looking to pull the three-peat and add dual slalom and downhill to her tally. She’ll have to make it past defending champ Kathy Pruitt (Jamis) in order to claim the latter.
The men’s downhill boasts a more diverse battle, as a host of talented riders will look to grab the stars and stripes. Duncan Riffle (Cannondale-Bravo), the 2006 champ, saw his chances at the ’07 title erased by a flat tire in the finals, and will be back looking to reclaim the jersey. Last year’s champ Cole Bangert (Morewood) is out with a broken collar bone, opening the door for America’s top international performer Kyle Strait (Specialized), as well as talented youngsters Luke Strobel (Maxxis) and J.D. Swanguen (Cove) to shine.
The gated dual slalom could again boil down to a battle between East Coast strongman Chris Hearndon (Cane Creek) and California’s Rich Houseman (Yeti-Fox). Houseman’s teammates Ross Milan and Mike Haderer also come in as riders to watch.
This year the single-day championships, which USA Cycling debuted in 2004, will award national titles for cross-country, short-track, downhill, dual slalom and Super D. Stay tuned to www.velonews.com for news and results from the race weekend.
2008 USA Cycling National Mountain Bike Championships
Mount Snow, Vermont
Thursday, July 17
U23 Men’s cross-country — 1:00 p.m.
U23 Women’s cross-country — 1:10 p.m.
Friday, July 18
Semi-pro men, Junior men and women cross-country — 9:00 a.m.
Sport cross-country — 12:00 p.m.
Beginner cross-country — 3:00 p.m.
Beginner/sport/expert dual slalom — 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 19
Expert cross-country — 8:00 a.m.
Observed Trials — 8:00 a.m.
Beginner/sport downhill — 11:00 a.m.
Pro women’s cross-country — 11:00 a.m.
Expert downhill — 2:00 p.m.
Pro men’s cross-country — 2:00 p.m.
Pro/semi-pro dual slalom — 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, July 20
Super D — 9:00 a.m.
Non-pro women short track — 10:00 a.m.
Pro women short track — 11:30 a.m.
Semi-pro downhill — 1:00 p.m.
Pro men short track — 1:15 p.m.
Pro women downhill — 2:00 p.m.
Pro men downhill — 2:30 p.m.
Junior short track — 4:00 p.m.