Posted by Editoress on 05/17/12
The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup moves from the Czech Republic to France for round four of the Cross-country series. La Bresse, nestled in the Alsace region by the German and Swiss borders, has twice held a Downhill World Cup, but for 2012 will hold Its first cross-country event. The competition holds additional significance, since it is the final event in the Olympic qualifying period for the London Games in just over three month's time. While Nations rankings for the Olympics are all but decided, there are still many riders looking to qualify for their nation's Olympic spots, so riders will be fighting for every position.
Eliminator course is likely to favour Brian Lopes
The action begins on Friday evening with the third and final round of the new Eliminator World Cup. The first two rounds have seen different winners for both the men and women in each event, so this race is wide open. La Bresse has routed the sub-1000 metre course through the spectator-friendly village, with lots of sharp corners and stairs. This race is likely to favour men's round one winner Brian Lopes more than round two's wide open power circuit.
The organizers have made full use of the slopes surrounding the town in designing their cross-country course. After a short start loop, riders head up the valley to tackle the major climb of the 4.9 kilometre circuit. It is a steep singletrack climb with roots and rocks that depends both strength and technical skill. From there, the riders traverse the slope and hit the second part of the climb - a more open, gradual one to the highest point of the course. After this it is, literally, all downhill to the finish, on a twisting, technical run where skilled riders will open gaps.
Catharine Pendrel and Julie Bresset at Houffalize
World champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna), who has been riding the course, commented: "The course is great. I got a couple laps in today [Wednesday]. It starts in the village of La Bresse. It looks like there will be a short start loop. The full lap will go along the river in town along pathways until we wind ourselves up the mountain. The climbing is sustained and fairly steep with a variety of surfaces becoming more technically challenging the higher you climb. I believe the total course climbing is just under 200m a lap. The descending is great. They make great use of the altitude by winding us slowly down the mountain through a series of natural rock formations, twisty chutes and a fair amount of knee height natural rock drops."
The rock drop at the top of the course
"After yesterday's and today's snow and rain the course was getting a bit greasy, but very rideable. I anticipate 4-5 laps for the women depending on conditions....which look wet. The course is on the bottom left quadrant of this photo. Cars are arriving in town from higher up covered in snow!"
The main climb is rocky, narrow and steep
La Bresse has a history of drawing large and enthusiastic crowds, and organizers are expecting to break records with the presence of French favourites Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Juie Bresset (BH-SR Suntour-Peisey Vallandry). This is truly Absalon's local race, since he lives barely ten kilometres from La Bresse. Organizers are expecting as many as 25,000 spectators to come out over the course of the weekend.
Bresset, who leads the women's World Cup standings after winning round three, can expect strong competition from world champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna), who won round two, as well as Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon), second at round three, and round one winner Maja Wloszczowska (CCC Polkwice). A win by Pendrel could put her back in the lead.
For two other Canadian women this could be a critical race to see which will get the second Olympic spot (Pendrel, ranked number two in the world behind Bresset, has pretty much locked up one spot). Emily Batty (Subaru-Trek) is currently in 13th place in the world rankings, four spots ahead of Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain) and 86 points in front. However, Premont continues to improve, and finished ahead of Batty for the first time this season at Nove Mesto last weekend. A top-3 result by Premont and outside the top-8 by Batty could put them pretty much on equal footing.
In the men's competition, Switzerland's Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) has a firm lock on the World Cup lead, with two wins and a second. However, second round winner Absalon, who did not finish last weekend after crashing, will certainly be drawing inspiration from the legions of fans who will be on hand to cheer on their hero. World Champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized), after a slow start to the season, battled Schurter until the final kilometre last weekend, and is starting to show the form that won him the World Cup title last season.
For the Canadian men, Geoff Kabush (Scott-3Rox) is the top ranked in 32nd place, and only a win here in La Bresse by Max Plaxton (Specialized) would dislodge him. Plaxton has moved into the top-50 in the rankings with his 14th place last weekend in Nove Mesto (48th), leap-frogging Derek Zandstra (Scott-3Rox), who dropped from 50th to 53rd. However, there are only 38 points between them, so a strong ride by Zandstra could potentially close that gap.
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