April 23/05 3:43 am - MTB World Cup #1 Preview
Posted by Editoress on 04/23/05
MTB World Cup #1 Spa Francochamps, Belgium
Reports brought to with the support of Human Kinetics Publishers
The Mountain Bike World Cup season is about to get underway for 2005 with the cross-country opener at the Spa Francochamps Formula One circuit. 30 minutes south of Liege, Spa is a new stop for the World Cup. The 6.1 kilometre circuit sends the riders out on an up and down route that is muddy after a week of near perfect conditions, so tomorrow's predicted rain is likely to turn it into treacherous mess.
The race begins on the paved race circuit, with the riders immediately facing a steep climb. At the top they head off-road, into a steep, rooty drop-off and then a two-step climb to the highest point of the course (on the first lap, to avoid pileups on the downhill, the riders bypass this section, going right to the top of the climb). After a short traverse along the top, it is up-down, up-down through twisty and root-filled forest terrain, with numerous mudholes to grab wheels and send riders sliding into the trees. It is only in the last 200 metres that they pop out onto the pavement for a final short climb up and through the finish line for the start of another lap. At this point, it appears that the women will do four laps, and the men five.
For the women, two top names are missing - Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) and Alison Dunlap (Luna). Sydor will start her campaign next week at the first World Cup Marathon in Riva, Italy, and join the cross-country the week after in Madrid. Dunlap stated at Sea Otter that she will not be doing any World Cups, sticking to the U.S. for her final season of racing.
However, this does not mean that the women's field will be weak - Olympic, World Cup and World Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle (Multivan Merida) will try and continue her unbeaten streak from last season, while Olympic silver medalist Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) tries to unseat her. Premont has only raced one stage of a Norba race this season, so she is an unknown quantity, however, new Specialized signing Sabine Spitz reported that Premont looked extremely fit when sighted during training today.
Spitz, the Olympic bronze medalist, says that she is not yet at the top of her game, after some weeks of heavy training, and suffering a slight cold. She is using Spa to obtain a better starting spot for Madrid, where she hopes to be on form. Other contenders include Polish rider Maja Wsoszczowska (Lotto), Annabella Stropparo (Italy) and Germany's Ivonne Kraft.
Canada has a number of Canadian women in the field besides Premont - Kiara Bisaro (GearsRacing.com), Trish Sinclair (Scott) and Sandra Walter.
The men's field has some bigger holes. Former local Belgian star Filip Meirhaeghe is still serving his suspension for EPO use, Ryder Hesjedal is on the road (racing nearby in Liege-Bastogne-Liege), Roland Green (Kona) is staying in North America, working on regaining form, Sea Otter winner Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) is racing the Tour de Georgia with Jittery Joe's, and the Canadian Haro duo of Seamus McGrath and Chris Sheppard are also staying in North America. The only Canadian man racing is Spanish-based Max Plaxton (Maxxis MSC), who could be a strong contender for the U23 title.
Despite the missing names, the men's race should be an interesting one. Christoph Sauser (Siemens Cannondale), who ended up winning the World Cup after Meirhaeghe's suspension, starts with the number one plate. The great Belgian hope, Roel Paulissen, will attempt to add another Belgian win to his victory at Houffalize last year. Olympic and world champion Julien Absalon (Bianchi Agios) and Olympic silver medalist Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida) are both strong contenders, but the favourite, after his strong showing behind Kabush last week at Sea Otter, has to be Liam Killeen (Specialized).
- Ran into Patrice Drouin of Gestev, who is part of the organization that is taking over the World Cup next year. He says that plans are progressing, and a television deal has been signed for the series. While venues have not been finalized, it looks like the World Cup will begin early April on the U.S. west coast, before Sea Otter. A break of a few weeks, then a European campaign, before another swing back through North America. The season will conclude with two World Cup triples (in Europe) after the world championships in New Zealand. This should keep interest higher in the World Cup through the end of the season. He anticipates 8 events for each discipline, with five of the events as triples (cross-country, downhill and 4-cross).