May 13/06 11:52 am - MTB World Cup XC #2: Preview
Posted by Editoress on 05/13/06
Madrid MTB XC World Cup #2 Madrid, Spain
Reports made possible with the support of Vélirium Mountain Bike Festival
After a six week hiatus, the cross-country mountain bike World Cup starts up again tomorrow in Madrid with round two. The long gap from the season-opener in Curacao, in the Caribbean, means that everyone is starting from scratch, in terms of knowing who is on-form. Extremely large fields and a very hard, fast course also mean that a good start (and start position) will be crucial to doing well.
The Madrid circuit, held in the Casa de Campo park just outside of the city central core, is well known for being extremely fast and dusty. Some of the descents are so hard packed that there are literally black rubber skidmarks on the dirt. The circuit has gotten even faster this year, with the removal of a set of stairs that riders usually bounce down towards the end of the lap. The stairs were removed because park authorities felt that too much damage had been done in the past. A few other minor modifications have also been made to the course, all resulting in a 7.5 kilometre loop with almost nowhere to rest. The number of laps will not be known until the manager's meeting, but the expectation at this point is that the men will do seven laps and the women six.
The fields are almost among the largest ever seen at a World Cup, with over 110 women and at least 225 men on the start list. The UCI is no longer holding qualifying races for the men, so all 225-plus riders will start. To thin out the field, an 80% rule is being used on the first lap - riders not within 80% of the first placed rider's time for the first lap will be cut. So, a mechanical, flat or crash on the first lap by any of the top riders could result in a very short day at the races.
Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), a former winner here, and the local favourite, is not in favour of the changes:
"It is going to be very, very fast, and probably stay together as a group. Usually, there will be a small group that can get away, but it will be hard this year, I think we will see one long line of riders for quite a while. I think it should be more technical, less like a road race. And that 80% rule could be quite a problem for anyone who gets into trouble."
Many of the top riders have not raced much since Curacao and Sea Otter, and it is tough to know who is really going well. Christoph Sauser (Specialized) did keep racing, having just finished the Cape Epic stage race in South Africa, but team mate Liam Killeen has been training since Sea Otter.
"I stayed at home and trained pretty well, I think, but I also had a lot of Commonwealth (Games - which he won) commitments. I'm using this more as a test of my fitness and to get back into racing for Fort William (Scotland - in two weeks). That's the big one for me."
Bart Brentjens (Giant), winner of Curacao and the World Cup leader, said pretty much the same, citing family commitments, while Olympic and World champion Julien Absalon (Bianchi Agos) stated at Curacao that he considered the three races starting with Madrid to be crucial to his goal of winning the World Cup title this year and skipped Sea Otter, heading back to Europe to train.
In the women's field, Curacao winner Gunn-Rita Dahle (Multivan Merida) continues to look as strong as ever, although she has faltered in the heat in the past. Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) hasn't raced much, busy with studies (she is doing a Pharmacy degree, full time), but races well in the heat. Sabine Spitz (Specialized), second to Dahle in Curacao has been doing some local races - both road and offroad. An unknown factor - as always - is Spain's Margarita Fullana (Fullana). Fullana came to Curacao - something she normally wouldn't do, since she avoids air travel. She has also shown in the past that she responds well to support from the Spanish crowd, so she could surprise here.
- Say a prayer for Trish Sinclair (Scott). For the third time since the end of last season, her bike went missing. It appears to have finally shown up this afternoon (at least the airline says that they will be delivering it) after two days of stress. Sinclair had to borrow another rider's bike just to get a lap in on the course today. Her bike went missing before the Pan Am Championships last fall (showing up the night before the race), and disappeared before Sea Otter (she ended up riding a bike that Scott and Shimano cobbled together). Sinclair (who finished 12th overall in the World Cup last year), will be starting 'way, 'way back in the field...
- Premont is sporting a new Rocky Mountain ride with the full 2007 XTR kit. It also has a metallic glitter finish in the red paint. It is very trick, and Premont says she really likes the new XTR - particularly the modulation of the brake levers and the shifting mechanism (which now allows her to go up or down two gears at once, rather than one at a time).
- Geoff Kabush (Maxxis), fresh off winning the Norba national cross-country and short track last weekend, says that he feels at least "95%, maybe 98%" of his fitness is back after the mysterious ailment that robbed him of power in the early spring. "My legs feel 100%". However, he is starting well back in the 80's, so it will be a long ride up to the leaders.