May 26/07 11:31 am - Offenburg World Cup Preview
Posted by Editoress on 05/26/07
Offenburg World Cup Germany
Coverage sponsored by Maxxis, and Vélirium
The Nissan cross-country World Cup starts up again on Sunday with round two in Offenburg, Germany, after an unusual one month gap from race number one in Houffalize, Belgium. The gap means that no one can really predict a winner for either the men's or women's races.
All the top riders are in attendance for both men and women, and clearly World Cup leader Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), Julien Absalon (Orbea), Christoph Sauser (Specialized) and Roel Paulissen (Cannondale-Vredestein) are all riding well. Ralph Naef (Multivan Merida) is unlikely to be a contender, since he has been sick recently and, after getting no points in Houffalize will start well back in 81st place. One of the more intriguing names is Belgian cyclo-cross start Sven Nys (Belgian National) in 142nd, who is trying to qualify for the Olympics.
Only one North American has cracked the top-30; Canada's Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) is 12th in the World Cup, and is currently ranked number one in the UCI world rankings. Todd Wells (GT) is the top American in 36th place. Canada also have Seamus McGrath and Max Plaxton (both Rocky Mountain-Haywood) in the men's field, starting in 67th and 68th places and Kris Sneddon (Kona) in 119th.
"It is hard, very unusual" agrees Hermida. "I think we all took a small break after Houffalize, and then started to build up, because now we have many races in a row. I think we have all been racing each other, but who has been holding back? I know that I have held back a little in some races. So, it will be difficult to say who is the strongest right now."
McGrath is coming back from illness, after a strong early start when he won a silver medal at the Pan Am Championships. Since then he has struggled, but says that he is on the road to recovery. "I lost out quite a bit of racing, but I've had a couple of good weeks of training, and now I am on the way up. So, hopefully, by Ste Anne I will be 100%. Here, I have no predictions other than trying to get a better start position for Champery (Switzerland) and Ste Anne."
The women's field is in a similar situation. China's Chengyuan Ren holds the number one plate ahead of world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida). Dahle Flesjaa is coming back from illness, so it will be interesting to see if she can take her usual position at the front.
Another rider expecting to do well is Canada's Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Haywood). Premont finished in sixth at Houffalize, but it was her first race of the year, and she said a week ago after winning a Canadian race that she is much improved. Georgia Gould (Luna) will also be one to watch - her first ever European World Cup was Houffalize, and she had an impressive ride up from 40th to finish 8th. Starting on the front line, she could do well.
Camada also has Kiara Bisaro (Opus) in 20th place, Sandra walter (XO Felt) in 26th, Wendy Simms (Kona) 73rd, Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) 80th and Catharine Pendrel (Norco) 94th.
"It is an unusal spot for me" acknowledged Sydor, "but I've looked at the start loop and there are good spots to move up."
Offenburg, which is known as the 'Gate to the Black Forest', is situated in the southwest corner of Germany - kitty-corner to both France and Switzerland. The region is well known for its Reisling wines, with the race circuit looping through the woods next to rolling hills of vineyards.
The weather has been changeable - switching between high heat and humidity, and sudden fierce thunderstorms. Depending upon which we get tomorrow, this will either be a day of fast racing, or a terrible slog through the mud. Jose Hermida won a national series race here two years ago in the rain, and said "we had to run over 50% of the course, it was terrible sticky mud."
The 5.7 kilometre circuit is drawing universal praise for its combination of fast twisty singletrack and steep descent chutes. At present it looks like the men will do a 1.1 kilometre start loop and either 7 or 8 laps, and the women the start loop and two laps less.
After the start loop the riders go into the forest for the rest of the circuit - the shade will be appreciated in the heat. A steady double track climb leads to the first descent, called Dual Speed. This one offers the riders two options - a faster straight line on the right with a mete and a half drop-off at the end, or a slightly longer left track with a smaller drop. Riders are saying that, given the option, they will go to the left, since you have to slow too much for the final drop.
From Dual Speed it is another twisting climb to the far end of the course called North Shore. Here is another drop, then a climb back up and a zigzagging descent to a further drop - all within 500 metres. Two more smaller drops test the riders before they hit the feedzone. A short side loop takes the riders out and back through the feedzone again, before a fast doubletrack run into the finish line.
The men's field is, once again, enormous at 225 riders. A good start will be critical. "It's fast, really fast" commented Max Plaxton (Rocky Mountain-Haywood), who will start back in the 60's after flats in Houffalize put him low in the rankings. "The start will be really important, because it is hard to pass on the singletrack. I think you'll have to be super aggressive, and the elbows will be out."