Posted by Editoress on 07/25/13
After a break of over a month, the Mountain Bike World Cup starts up again this weekend at Vallnord, Andorra. All three disciplines - Eliminator (#4), Olympic Cross-country (#4) and Downhill (#3) - will be showcased, starting with the Eliminator on Thursday and finishing with the Downhill on Sunday.
The Eliminator has proven to be a great success in its first full season of competition, and Round 4 in Andorra offers a completely new style of course to the riders and spectators. After dropping into a BMX-style berm corner, riders zig zag through grass corners and over three BMX jumps before hitting singletrack. However, this singletrack has multiple lines and options, so riders will have to decide on the fly which one is the fastest. Coming out of the singletrack there is a steep climb to the final 100 metres of finishing straight.
Round 1 winners Alexandra Engen (Ghost Factory) and Daniel Federspiel (Otztal Scott) continue to lead the women's and men's rankings, but either could quickly lose that lead with one bad race. Engen leads Kathrin Stirnemann (Sabine Spitz Haibike) by 30 points, while Federspiel is 45 points ahead of Slovenian rider Miha Halzer. No Canadians are registered for the Eliminator.
The Cross-country returns to Andorra for the first time since 2008, and organizers have kept much of the original circuit intact. Probably the biggest factor will be the altitude - from a low point at 1850 metres (6000') and topping out at 2000 metres (6500'), riders will be gasping for air as they top the climbs. From the start riders begin climbing, first on an open grassy hill and then into singletrack. They then finish the climb on a gravel road before dropping into singletrack to lose all the altitude they just gained, then facing a short and very steep climb that should be decisive. From here the riders descend onto the Eliminator track to go over the BMX jumps and final singletrack section before climbing up to the finishing straight. While the course is not technically demanding, the amount of climbing and altitude will make this a test of fitness.
Multivan Merida trains on the opening climb of the lap
One km into the lap riders face a singletrack climb
Magnificent vistas on the XC descent, but riders won't have time to look
The final section of singletrack for the XC and Eliminator has multiple lines
Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools), with two wins in the first three rounds of the women's series, showed superb form in the first half of the season, but does she still have that form, or have her rivals caught up? Maja Wloszczowska (Giant Pro) sits 160 points back, but could start to close the gap here. Others to watch for include Round 1 winner Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol) and Katerina Nash (Luna). Lechner finished second the last time Vallnord was part of the World Cup. Returning to the women's field is Sabine Spitz (Sabine Spitz Haibike), who crashed in training before the first round, damaging ligaments in her shoulder which required surgery. Olympic champion Julie Bresset (BH-SR Suntour-KMC), who broke her clavicle early in the year returned for Round 3, but clearly was not on form then; another month should see her stronger.
Canada has only one woman on the start line - new national Emily Batty (Trek Factory) in the Elite women. Catharine Pendrel (Luna) is still recovering from a broken clavicle, and Mikaela Kofman (Scott 3Rox), who was supposed to race, pulled out after crashing and injuring her shoulder at Nationals. Batty currently sits fifth in the rankings.
In the men's competition, world champion Nino Schurter (Scott Swisspower) is coming off back-to-back wins, and holds a 120 point lead over the surprise winner of Round 1, Daniel McConnell (Trek Factory Racing). However, McConnell continues to impress in this breakthrough season for the Australian. Julien Absalon (BMC) has finished second to Schurter in the past two rounds, and recently beat his Swiss rival at the European Championships, so he could take his first win of the season at Vallnord.
Canada has two entries in the Elite men - the Scott-3Rox riders Geoff Kabush (19th in World Cup standings) and Derek Zandstra; the latter our new national champion. In the Under 23 category, Canada also has two entries: National champion Bailey and Steven Noble (Opus/OGC). Baily could certainly be a factor in the U23 race after his impressive performance at Nationals, when he caught all but the top-3 Elite men, despite starting two minutes back.
The new UCI start position rule continues to be a concern - rather than riders being placed on the start grid according to their World Cup ranking, the UCI ranking is used, which is weighted towards non-World Cup events, such as last year's Olympics and world championships, plus numerous non-World Cup (but UCI sanctioned) lower level events from earlier in the season. Thus, Bresset starts on the first row despite not having finished a World Cup this season, as does Spitz, while Wloszczowska is back in the second and Batty is on the third row.
For the men, Manuel Fumic (Cannondale) gets a second row start, despite missing the first three rounds with a broken clavicle. Fabian Giger (Giant Pro) gets a front row position, despite being 18th in the World Cup, while Thomas Litscher (Mulitvan Merida) and Mathias Flückiger (Stockli) are back in the third row, despite being sixth and seventh, respectively, in World Cup standings. Kabush is in the fourth row (his World Cup and world ranking both put him there), but Zandstra is back in the ninth row, despite being ranked 43rd (sixth row) in the World Cup.
The Downhill is a completely new course, and already riders are commenting on how steep and difficult it will be. It is technical, with roots, rocks and mud, all made more difficult with the very steep final third of the run, which finishes in the town of La Massana. While the weather is currently very nice (and expected to remain so for the rest of the week), heavy rain earlier in the week continues to make the bottom part of the course very muddy, and is creating many ruts. World champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) believes that some lower sections of the track are even steeper than Champery (Switzerland, site of the 2011 Worlds), and the condition of the track is "worrying".
The Atherton duo (GT Factory) have dominated the Gravity World Cup so far this season, with Rachel Atherton winning both rounds of the women's series, and her brother Gee doing the same for the men. Rachel Atherton holds a 120 point lead over perennial rival Emmeline Ragot (Lapierre Gravity Republic), while Gee is 138 points ahead of second place Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing), the new Canadian champion. Can the Atherton's manage a three-peat, or will someone finally break their winning streak?
Besides Smith, other Canadians on the start list are Kyle Sangers and Remi Gauvin for Elite men, and Mark Wallace (Devinci Global Racing) for Junior men. There are no Canadian women.
The UCI versus World Cup ranking situation is a big concern for the downhillers, since being outside of the protected group (top-20 men, top-10 women) means that if a rider does poorly in the Qualifier (say, from a flat or crash), they do not get to race the final. This means Antonio Ferreiro (Evil Vengance) - 17th in World Cup but 65th in UCI standings - better have a good run in Qualifying. Similarly for Emilie Siegenthaler (Gstaad-Scott) - 7th World Cup/13th UCI and Jill Kintner (Norco International) - 8th / 52nd.
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