March 31/06 2:36 am - MTB World Cup #1 Preview
Posted by Editoress on 03/31/06
MTB World Cup #1
The Mountain Bike World Cup is about to get underway for 2006, with the season opener taking place in a new location - Curacao. The island of Curacao is located in the southern Caribbean, just off the coast of Venezuela, and is know primarily for tourism (it is a regular cruise ship stop), oil (a large refinery dominates the main town of Willemstad) and, for this weekend, mountain biking.
The World Cup circus has descended on the island, with 114 men and 52 women scheduled to race tomorrow (Saturday). All of the top riders have made the trip, led by world champions Gunn-Rita Dahle (Multivan-Merida) and Julien Absalon (Bianchi), and defending World Cup champion Christoph Sauser, who will be racing internationally for the first time in Specialized colours.
The riders face a 6.8 kilometre circuit which incorporates the beach and the surrounding rocky terrain. The expectation is that the men will do 7 laps and the women 5. Both will also do a start loop, which Liam Killeen (Specialized) may split the field up early. "It is pretty tight in one section, so if someone makes a mistake you could see the field split up into small groups pretty much right away."
The course doesn't offer much in the way of a climb, but lots of tight, twisty turns, loose gravel and thorns (which have caused a number of punctures in training) will make it a tactical race.
"There aren't many places to pass" comments Sauser. "If you don't get a good start you could be spending a lot of time and energy trying to get back up to the front. It is easy to make a mistake here with all the turns, especially when you are going fast."
The heat and humidity are also expected to have a huge impact, with most of the riders coming from colder climes, and already wilting in the 32 Celcius heat. Some riders who have a slight advantage in this area, having just come from Melbourne and the Commonwealth Games, are Killeen, Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects), Seamus McGrath (Canadian National), Kiara Bisaro (Canadian National), Sid Taberlay and Kashi Leuchs (Cannondale). However, even these riders are commenting that heat will be the primary factor in the race.
- Former world champion Filip Meirhaeghe is here, in his first mountain bike race at this level since his suspension for doping in 2004. Meirhaeghe has been racing on the road successfully, but has not competed against his mountain bike peers.
- A number of riders are coming off sickness:
Sabine Spitz (Specialized) had a gastro-intestinal flu last week. "I'm fine now, but had no intensity since last week. So here I am just hoping to do okay and get a good start position for Madrid."
Liam Killeen was sick for a couple of days after the Commonwealth Games, but says he is recovered.
Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) is still suffering the effects of whatever robbed him of energy at the Commonwealth Games.
- The riders seem to be evenly split between using hardtails and suspension.
- Many riders say that they would rather have this race (ie, Curacao) at the end of the season rather than the beginning, concerned about the travel and the sudden temperature change.