NORBA new on the ticket at Teva Games
eagle county correspondent
VAIL ” The Teva Mountain Games are going to add an extra layer of competition this summer since the National Off-Road Bicycle Association has selected the event’s cross country race to serve as its Colorado State Championship.
Marketed as “the country’s largest celebration of mountain sport,” the Teva Games, which kick off June 1, feature adventure racing, kayaking, climbing, rafting and the national trail running championships.
Mountain bike racing has always been a part of the event, but on June 4, the event’s cross country race will give racers national ranking and will qualify the top finishers for the national championship in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in September.
In short, this year’s Teva mountain bike race will literally allow competitors to make their mark in the sport.
“In terms of the legitimacy of an event, to involve the national governing body of the sport, you can’t do better than sanctioning it” said NORBA Western Regional Manager Chris Hess of USA Cycling.
“The fact that Vail has been the host in the past and has the draw of the spectators, we entertained bids earlier this season and Vail is going to be it.”
The last NORBA-sanctioned event at Vail was the World Mountain Biking Championship in 2001, held just after the Sept. 11 attacks.
NORBA races take place throughout the country, sending nationally ranked competitors from state to state on what is sometimes a weekend-to-weekend basis. Local pro riders such as Mike Janelle are looking forward to staying put and having the home-course advantage this June.
“Vail is such a cool place to race,” said Janelle, who has already competed in NORBA races in Texas and Arizona this season and will be returning to Arizona for more racing this weekend. “I wish they’d bring back nationals or worlds to Vail. It’s like ski racing; you get world class athletes from all over the world. There’s a lot of fun singletrack with short, fast loops. Last year, the race was great. We had a good field, but not a very big field, although most of the top pros are in Colorado. This year, we’ll have a really big field. It’s going to be really tough.”
Top finishers in the race will be automatically qualified for the NORBA finals in September at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. The Vail race and the Mid West State Cup series (a series of five races) are the only two events that allow riders with top results to automatically qualify for the finals.
“It’s kind of an anomaly in bike racing,” Hess pointed out. “You can have a good day, or a number of other riders have a bad day, and you’ve earned your berth in the national championships.”
Mountain bike racing is a sport that constantly struggles for financial support and exposure. The Teva Games races have some of the largest cash purses offered to athletes in the events’ respective disciplines. The overall purse total is $60,000 with $5,000 allotted to bike racing.
“In our opinion, it takes three years or so for one of the events within the bigger event to really take hold,” said Joel Heath, president of Untraditional Marketing, which organizes the Mountain Games.
“We’ve seen the numbers come already, but we’ll estimate it doubles this year.”
About 1,200 athletes overall compete in the Mountain Games, and the bike race typical yields a field of around 200. This year, however, Heath expects close to 500 racers to sign up for the race, although it coincides with a Mountain States Cup race the same weekend in Angel Fire, N.M.
The cross country course is yet to be determined, depending on snow melt, but Heath said that portions of the course will be the same as the one used for the 2001 World Championships.
Full-page ads for the Teva Games will be featured in Sports Illustrated this spring and Heath expects as many as 25,000 participants and spectators for the event, portions of which will be televised on Outdoor Life Network.
Racers and bike industry representatives point out that, from a TV and spectator standpoint, mountain biking ” cross country racing in particular ” doesn’t exactly lend itself to finger-biting entertainment.
“It is kind of a struggle,” Hess admitted. “In my opinion, I think the key for us in the future is spectator-friendly bike events like short track and cross. With cross country, (racers) exit on a gravel road and you don’t see them again for a couple hours.”
Janelle mentioned that two years ago, the Mountain Games course was run criterion-style, incorporating parts of Lionshead and Vail Village, a course that was exciting both for spectators and competitors.
“A lot of the races are so long,” he said. “They need to run it through the village again. Two years ago, it was awesome. We went up and under the Vista Bahn and down the stairs in Lionshead. It’s hard for people not to watch it that way, even people who are just out shopping that weekend. For great action for long courses, you have to pretty much have a guy on a motorcyle with a camera in the race with you.”
For more information on the Mountain Games, visit http://www.tevamountaingames.com.
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