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aka baycat
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for your reading enjoyment...

Mountain bike nationals add to excitement for annual Cougar Mountain Classic event

John Dugan

Marin Independent Journal
Mark Weir is used to riding his mountain bike on, you know, mountains. Mountains with rocks and trees and all that jazz. Most of the stops on the USA Cycling Mountain Bike tour double as ski resorts in the winter.

It's safe to say no one has ever gone skiing on Infineon Raceway's Cougar Mountain. And yet, that's where Novato native Weir and the rest of his pro tour will compete for the national championship in four categories - atop the barren, brown, shadeless peak of Infineon's mountain in nearby Sonoma.

"It should be pretty interesting," said Weir, who races in the downhill and super-D categories. "We're used to having a little shade and cooler temperatures."

Even under the blazing sun in Sonoma, the nationals are expected to pack in fans from around the cycling-crazed North Bay. Combined with Infineon's yearly local Cougar Mountain Classic festival, the weekend provides one of the country's best showcases for cycling and mountain biking.

"This should be the biggest (mountain biking) event in the country," said Anthony Medaglia, a Novato native who races at the semi-pro level. "Being so close to a populated area, instead of up in a mountain resort, we should get a lot of spectators."

Those spectators who attend will feast on an absolute bounty of bicycles. Beginning at 7 a.m. Thursday, there will be races for four straight days for as long as 12 hours a day, on every conceivable piece of track at Infineon.

The mountain bike marathon will traverse a 7.7-mile course around Infineon for nine laps. The cross country championship will also run on a 7.7-mile course, but one that will navigate almost the entire Infineon facility in one lap. The super-D race, a mix of downhill and cross country, will run on the Cougar Mountain course and feature a mass start, and the downhill event will cover almost all of the mountain. Cougar Mountain will be 90 percent visible from the finish line.

The annual Cougar Mountain Classic road cycling events are also on the docket, including a criterium, a circuit race and a six-hour endurance race. All the road events will be contested on the same 12-turn course as NASCAR and IRL motor sports events.

Weir was pumped to know the biggest race of the year would take place in his back yard. Well, not literally his back yard - Weir has a mountain biking track of his own there.

"Getting to sleep in my own bed, you can't beat that," Weir said. "That makes a huge difference."

Weir won't be the only one with home-field advantage. Medaglia, who now lives in San Luis Obispo, is returning home and will have the support of dozens of friends and family. Novato native Kirk Desmond, another semi-pro rider who will race downhill and super-D, loves that the soil at Infineon is different from anything else they ride on the tour.

"In a way (it will be a home-field advantage), just because the soil is similar to what we ride around here," Desomnd said. "It's kind of rare for a national championship to be held somewhere without the usual tour soil."

It's estimated that hundreds of riders with Marin ties are entered to race at some level over the weekend, with most coming from the amateur levels. Medaglia attributed a lot of the local interest to Marin's strong "cycling culture."

"You look at something like (February's) Tour of California and how many people came out for that," Medaglia said. "With this, they actually get to race as well."

"Anybody who lives here and is a cyclist, especially a mountain biker, will be attending this event," Desmond said.

Weir is happy to see an opportunity for young riders to get some real competition in a local race. Most of the amateur and small-time races in the North Bay don't offer anywhere near the course conditions or level of competition that Infineon will trot out. Weir laments the lack of competitive races around Marin, considering the fantastic venues available for riding.

"I think (having the nationals here) is long overdue," Weir said. "I wish there were more events like this around here. ... (The race) is going to have the best riders America has to offer, and having it at Infineon is definitely going to bring out more people. It should be great."

More people, fewer trees - you can't win them all.

Scofflaw Mountain Biker
2,730 Posts
Nice write up. Makes it seem more like a big national event than a second choice "gota have it somewhere" event. I'm looking for to racing XC sport.
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