In total there were eight NORBA National Championship titles on the line last year. Only two of the riders to earn those titles actually won the series. Of the remaining six, one finished as far back as eighth place. Does this make sense to you? Do you think it makes sense to Outdoor Life Network, outside of the industry sponsors and to the general public as a whole? Try to think of any other sport where the Championship is awarded to the rider who doesn't win.
Other than overall series winners Brian Lopes and Alison Dunlap, some of our other National Champions barely squeezed into the top ten. Eric Carter is the 2002 National Downhill Champion, right? He finished seventh overall. All it took was an eighth place in the series for Todd Wells to earn the title of National Short Track Champion. Does his title mean as much as Lopes' or Dunlap's? How would you like it if Supercross and National Motocross Champion Ricky Carmichael struggled to hang with the Euros and barely hung in the top ten? Feelings towards the rider aside, what would you think about the state of motocross racing in America?
TBB & BWE TAKE IT BACK
It's no big secret that NORBA has done a very poor job of structuring, organizing and running American mountain bike racing for the past 15 years. They bogged it down until it lost all its status and backing. As soon as things looked bleaker than bleak, NORBA and hired management company GaleForce Sports Marketing simply gave up and walked away. It was up to Team Big Bear's Pat Follett and Tom Spiegel and Blue Wolf Events' Jeff Frost to put together a National Championship Series from nothing. Along the way they wrestled control of it from NORBA. And for the first time since the eighties, they're taking the sport of mountain bike racing and giving it back to America.
MOUNTAIN BIKE MINDS
Saving a wounded series is just like what Roland Green had to go through to save his season. His crash and burn at the Tour de Georgia earlier this year was akin to NORBA's wipeout in April. Roland only had 14 days to heal and get ready to defend his #1 plate. Team Big Bear had 14 days to save American mountain bike racing. Roland suffered through at the first race, but he remained positive. Through TBB's and BWE's great attitude, the NCS series pushed through the disaster and made the National Championship Series happen. A month after not being able to finish, Roland took a break from racing. He spent the time resting, rehabilitating, and re-establishing a fitness base. It's just like the time TBB and BWE needed to rebuild the NCS base. When Roland came back at Mt. Snow he was flawless. American mountain biking will be untouchable starting in 2004.
This is what Team Big Bear and Blue Wolf Events are doing to build American mountain biking back up to the top:
1. SPONSORS & T.V. COVERAGE: First and foremost, make a real commitment to reel back the big buck sponsors. They have hired Lindsey Richter to do nothing but hunt down sponsors and television deals. Richter is Kirt Voreis' fiancee and a Survivor contestant. So far Shimano and Gatorade have definitely been retained for next year.
2. FIND SOME PRIZE MONEY: Money will come right along with sponsorship, television coverage and a fresh attitude. It might already be too late to ink deals for next year, but expect the pro prize money to be back by at least 2005.
3. A REAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Turn the American National Champion back into the number one rider. The 2004 stars-and-stripes winners will be decided at a one-day, Americans-only race. The NORBA National Championship will be held at Deer Valley, Utah in August. This is the way the rest of the world does it--the way we used to do it up until 1989.
4. A BETTER CHANCE AT THE OLYMPICS: The revitalized format will give us more Olympic starters. Rated as a Championship National by the International Cycling Union, the NCS final pays double the UCI points. Now when an American actually wins his title he earns top points. More points means a better UCI ranking. A better ranking means more American riders in the Olympics.
5. A MORE PRESTIGIOUS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: The MTB National Championships will be part of a nine-day event that will also include the road national championships. It converges the entire cycling industry together for a week's worth of the most exciting action on the planet.
6. INTRODUCE THE AMERICA CUP: Turn the NORBA U.S. National Series into an America Cup. Foreign riders will be allowed in the series, just like Americans are allowed to race in the World Cup. Consider America Cup MBA's working title, as no official name for the series has been established yet.
7. MORE RACING: Expand the America Cup to eight races. Longtime venues Big Bear Lake, California and Snowshoe, West Virginia will be back to host cross-country, short track, mountain cross and downhill events. Mount Snow, Vermont will also host the four separate disciplines, but will do it twice; the midway stop and the series final in August. Included is a new, XC/ST only stop in Austin, Texas.
8. BRING BACK MAMMOTH!: The High Sierra circuit was one of the most looked forward to stops of the year. They're working on bringing it back. Other possible race stops include Telluride and Durango, Colorado; and Sandpoint and Sun Valley, Idaho. Other ideas being tossed around are National 12 Hour and 24 Hour XC & DH races and exclusive Stage and point-to-point XC events.
9. COMMUNICATE: As you read this BWE's Jeff Frost and TBB's Tom Spiegel and Pat Follett are out hammering singletrack with the riders, hanging out in the pits with the team managers, and mixing it up with industry people. Everyone is asking for and giving input on what we needs to do to take mountain biking back. (Luna Chix Downhiller Kathy Pruitt actually gets credit for the "take mountain biking back" quote. She made it at NORBA NCS stop number four at Schweitzer Mtn. en route to her downhill win.)
10. A GOOD ATTITUDE: Even though 2003 started out as a disaster, the racing and atmosphere this year has been better than it's been in a decade. The money and television coverage might have not been there, but the better scheduling, racing, and more fun-filled atmosphere made up for it. Team Big Bear's Pat Follett says their goal for 2004 is too ensure great competition and to bring the fun back to the racers.
2004 IS BUILD TIME
Team Big Bear and Blue Wolf Events have signed a three-year contract with NORBA to be the sole operators of American racing. That means Spiegel, Follett and Frost are the ones who will be taking American mountain biking to new heights. As for GaleForce's involvement, if any at all, no official word has been made by the Sea Otter Classic sanctioning body. Don't fret that NORBA is still involved on the bureaucratic end. This means we won't get our monthly tabloid, regional rankings, or really anything else from NORBA. TBB and BWE have cut the anchor rope?leaving NORBA to drag on the bottom and set a new course for mountain bike racing in this country. Bon voyage!