Enduro may be all the rage these days, but people have been racing their bikes without taking ‘time outs’ long before someone decided to stop the clock on the climbs. Cross-country racing put mountain biking on the global map, and it started right here in the good old U S of A. Since its heyday in the mid-90s, American elite cross-country has taken a bit of a dive, to say the least. That’s not to say that nobody races XC anymore–there are plenty of packed local series all over the country, with more popping up each year. Grassroots cross-country racing is alive and well in the US, but our elite races–the ones that make the fastest Euros leave behind their delicious chocolate and cheese for Hershey’s and Cheez Whiz–need a boost.
Thanks to the passion of guys like Sho-Air Cycling Group owner Scott Tedro and industry support from Cannondale, Kenda and others, they’re getting it. The approach is multifaceted, with support in grassroots and elite racing. Here’s what’s up:
First, there’s the USA Cycling U.S. Cup. Entering its second year, the U.S. Cup will consist of five races within the nine-race Pro XCT tour, including three HC-level events (one step below World Cup) and the Sea Otter Classic. The three races with UCI HC status will add to an already robust calendar, which, combined with the Pro XCT and North American World Cup events, will provide enough points opportunities to qualify Olympic hopefuls and World Championship starting positions.
Then there’s Sho-Air’s Kenda Cup series, which will be entering its seventh year, with eight races in Southern California held from February through June. The popular series offers categories from junior to pro, attracting an average of 700 riders per event.
Kenda Cup has even attracted interest from the east coast. Martin Allen, director of the 120-member Riverside Racing club out of the Boston area approached Tedro with the desire to assemble a similar series for the east coast. With the full support of Sho-Air, Martin will direct a five-race Kenda Cup East series, culminating with the newly added Boston Rebellion Pro XCT in June. The Kenda Cup East series will be made up of some of the best existing races in New England, including the Weeping Willow XC and Fat Tire Classic.
“I’m delighted cross-country racing in the U.S. is coming back so strongly,” mountain bike legend Thomas Frischknecht said in a press release issued by Sho-Air. “It is so important for the sport of mountain biking to have races in the country where the sport was born. As I did all of the Sea Otter Classic in the early days, I’m looking forward to coming back.“
Dave Manchester, Cannondale’s senior vice president of sales and marketing for North America added, “We’re looking forward to be at the forefront of the sport in America and are excited to be partnering with Sho-Air Cycling Group as XC racing expands.”
There’s no show without the talent, which Sho-Air is investing in as well with the announcement of its 2015 roster. Team members include Canadian National Champ Max Plaxton, 2013 National Champ Stephen Ettinger, current U23 Short Track National Champion Keegan Swenson, as well as Evelyn Dong, an up-and-comer in the women’s pro field.
“This is a powerhouse team,” said Tedro. “With all the great things happening in American cross-country racing, I’m proud to see this group of racers fly our colors. It’s going to be an incredible season and I can’t wait for it to get started.”
To add more fuel to the fire, Sho-Air has announced Ridebiker Alliance, a program that partners with dealers to help enable and sustain cycling clubs. If you and your buddies want to start a club, you’ll be able to go on the Ridebiker website to connect you with a local shop that participates. From there, you’ll customize and purchase your team kit and product for your club. Everything will ship directly to your affiliate shop, which will receive a commission on the sale (so they don’t get pissed off at you for buying your stuff online). If all goes to plan, teams will sprout up all over the country and head off to the races.
To generate buzz around the program, Ridebiker will have a four-person professional squad including Tinker Juarez, Alex Grant, Kimber Tedro and Sam Schultz competing in races throughout the country. Ridebiker will also award three men and three women each a privateer program based on an online application process. These selected Ridebiker professionals will receive a minimum $2,500 in direct sponsorship, five custom-designed race kits and special pro discount pricing on equipment from participating Ridebiker Alliance sponsors such as Cannondale, Kenda, Sugoi and GU among others. They will also receive free entry to all U.S. Cup events, along with personalized website and social media support from Sho-Air. Full application details, qualifications and rules will be posted on ridebiker.com on December 1, with the final selection announcement slated for December 15.
By funding local and national race teams at elite and grassroots levels as well as exciting venues for them to compete, Sho-Air’s approach is well-rounded and should help reignite American mountain bike racing. With any luck, perhaps one day we’ll bring home another world champ title.