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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
While most of America’s top mountain-biking pros will head off to NORBA No. 2 in Snowshoe, West Virginia a week from now, there will be a four-rider U.S. contingent making a slightly longer trip to the start line.
On Thursday, USA Cycling released the roster for its team that will travel to Medellin, Colombia next week to contest the Pan American Championships cross-country race on June 15. Members include Frank Mapel (Specialized), Carl Decker (Giant-Pearl Izumi), Kim Anderson (T-Mobile) and Heather Irmiger (Ritchey-K2). They’ll be joined by USAC’s Eric Moore, who will serve as the team’s manager, and mechanic Matt Opperman.
And while there were no organized selection criteria for this event, the ramifications of success are clear. With this race being a UCI category “C” event and 125 points going to the winner, top results could give the U.S. nation rankings a boost.
“We really didn’t even have a budget for this, but we felt it was really important for us to get a team down there,” said Matt Cramer, USA Cycling’s national mountain bike development director. “In light of the NORBA series losing lots of UCI points, this event can really help with the nation rankings which will decide starting positions for the Olympics next year.”
Cramer added that the team came together after he sent out a mass e-mail soliciting interested parties for making the long trip to South America. “A lot of riders were already committed to the race in Snowshoe, but with these UCI points on the line it made this an attractive option,” he explained.
Among the four riders, Anderson likely has the best chance at a medal. At the opening race of the NORBA series last month in Southern California, she finished third in the cross country and sixth in the short track. Irmiger’s biggest result of late was a win in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic cross country in Durango two weekends ago. Decker is coming off a trip to Europe, where he competed in the opening two rounds of the World Cup. Mapel, who got married last month, took third in last weekend’s Rage in the Sage event in Gunnison, Colorado.
“I think they could all do well [in Colombia],” Cramer said. “Especially Kim. She’s been going really strong lately.”
The Pan American Championships should not be confused with the Pan American Games, which are slated for mid-August in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic. The Pan Am Championships are an every year event similar to the European Championships, while the Pan Am Games come around once every four years, and are more in line with the Olympics.
The U.S. will also be sending a team to the Dominican Republic, but the make-up of that team will not be decided until after the third round of the NORBA series, June 21-22, in Mount Snow, Vermont.
As for the trip to Colombia, Cramer acknowledged that there are some concerns about safety. “We definitely didn’t try to pull wool over anyone’s eyes,” he said. “But we did get assurances from the Pan Am federation that the hotel and venue would be secure and guarded, and we’ve gone there in the past for track events and have had no problems.”
On February 24 a warning was issued by the U.S. State Department that cautioned U.S. citizens about travel in the country. “Terrorist and criminal violence by narco-traffickers, guerrillas, illegal self-defense (paramilitary) groups and other criminal elements continues to affect all parts of the country,” read part of the statement. “Citizens of the United States and other countries continue to be the victims of threats, kidnappings, domestic airline hijackings and murders. About 3,000 kidnapping incidents were reported throughout Colombia in 2002. There is a greater risk of being kidnapped in Colombia than in any other country in the world.”