May 26/06 1:08 am - Fort William World Cup Preview
Posted by Editoress on 05/26/06
Fort William World Cup Preview
Reports made possible with the support of Vélirium Mountain Bike Festival
The Mountain Bike World Cup has moved to the Scottish Highlands for this weekend's round - number four in the cross-country series, and number two for the gravity riders. The cross-country and 4-Cross events take place tomorrow, with the downhill on Sunday. Today it is cold and raining non-stop - making for a not very enjoyable day of training - but the weather forecasts all call for it to clear overnight and warm up considerably for the rest of the weekend. Everyone has their fingers crossed.
The cross-country circuit is almost identical to the one used in past years - about the only change is a small bridge put in to get over a section that is under water. Despite the rain and mud, riders report that the whole course is rideable.
"I just finished a lap without unclipping once" commented Kiara Bisaro (Team R.A.C.E.). "It is muddy, and some of the descents are pretty slippery, but it's not like last week; everything is completely rideable."
Bisaro was commenting on the race in Spa, Belgium, which turned into a running circuit, with thick gluey mud forcing riders to run even on some downhill sections. Bisaro twisted her ankle fairly seriously on a root in Spa last week, but reports that it has been responding well to treatment and will be fine for tomorrow's race.
Liam Killeen (Specialized), the local favourite (even though he is British, not Scottish), also has praise for the circuit.
"It is a riding course so, no matter what, the race will be a real mountain bike race. I don't think it favours any particular type of rider - there are fast bits and technical sections - so it will take a good all round rider to win here."
The first lap cuts out a 300 metre climb at the start, sending the riders on a long flat gravel road to spread them out before the main singletrack climb. Regular laps are 9.4 kilometres, with 336 metres of climbing per lap, mostly in the first third of the lap. Last year the men did five laps and the women four, and the expectation is that they will do the same this year.
For the women, it is, as always, Gunn-Rita Dahle (Multivan Merida) who is favoured. Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business objects), Irina Kalentieva (Topeak-Ergon) and Sabine Spitz (Specialized) will be looking for an upset. Bisaro, Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) and Wendy Simms (Kona Velo Bella) will also be on the start line.
If Christoph Sauser (Specialized) can manage to avoid the difficulties he had last week (poor start and two flats), look for him to challenge Julien Absalon (Bianchi Agos), the winner of the last two rounds. Other contenders include Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) - second last week) - Ralph NÃ¤f (Multivan Merida), Killeen and possibly Filip Meirhaeghe (Versluys). Canadian men are down to two (see race notes) - Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) and Seamus McGrath (Canadian National - Felt Bicycles). Both are hoping for a better showing than last week, when they struggled with all the running.
The downhill has had a few more changes, with a couple of noticeable obstacles thrown in. At the halfway mark, a wooden wall - "Big Woody" - has been added. The riders will be able to caroom off this wall almost horizontally, carrying speed down the course. This is, of course, assuming that it is dry.
"If it's wet and muddy, I don't think we'll be going too high" commented Nathan Rennie. "It gets pretty slippery. But if it dries out then that should be pretty fast."
Further down, in the final third of the 2.5 kilometre descent is the gruesomely named Hip Replacement. This jump was built for last year but left out in the wet conditions. The organizers have spent considerable time beefing it up, so the section is now usable no matter what the conditions.
"It's a hard course" says Rennie. "It isn't particulaly steep, so there is a lot of pedaling. The course drains pretty well, except for one muddy section in the woods."
Rennie refused to make any predictions: "There are so many strong riders here that I'd probably miss someone, so I won't name any names. I don't think anyone's going to have a clean ride; it'll just come down to who makes the least mistakes and has the power to make it to the end."
Among the men, Rennie, Mick Hannah (Cannondale/The Cut), World Cup leader Greg Minnaar (G-Cross Honda) and defending champion Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate). There are two British women in the top-3: Tracy Moseley (Kona Les Gets) leads the series, and Rachel Atherton (Team Animal Giant) was third at the first World Cup in Vigo, Spain. Other top contenders are France's Sabrina Jonnier, Emmeline Ragot and Celine Gros. Danika Schroeter is the top Canadian, after finishing 7th in Vigo, and is hoping to move up at least a couple of spots to the podium. Claire Buchar, Katrina Strand, Brook Baker and Micayla Gatto are also racing in the women's field. Canada has six men racing - Tyler Morland, Derrick Chambers, Andrew Mitchell, Kevin Bartkowski, Steve Smith and Jamie Biluk.
Overall, organizers report that entrant numbers are way up, with a total of nearly 600 registered across the three disciplines. There are 166 men and 41 women for the downhill, and 149 men / 77 women for the cross-country. This is a big and, especially for the men, welcome drop in the numbers on the starting line. The course is also more friendly to passing, so hopefully we won't see the huge bottlenecks and frantic fighting for position of the last few races.
The women's cross-country begins tomorrow at 11:00 am local (6:00 am EDT), followed by the men at 2:00 pm local (9:00 am EDT). We will be providing our usual lap-by-lap coverage, so check in tomorrow morning.
- World championship medalist Micala Gatto (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) crashed in training earlier today. She appears to be fine (I sopke with her and she was talking about going back up the hill), but has now been taken to hospital for an x-ray of her elbow. At this point she is still planning on racing.
- Mat Toulouse (Maxxis) did not start last week's World Cup, and we have now learned that it is due to food poisoning he suffered earlier in the year - at the first Norba. This led to further gastro-intestinal problems and, while he raced at Madrid, things were not getting any better, so he headed home earlier this week.
Mikayla Gato took a spill in training this morning. Except for a few bruises, a couple of stitches to her elbow and a slightly twisted ankle, she is fine, and should be good to race on Sunday.