September 14/07 11:18 am - MTB World Cup Final Preview
Posted by Editoress on 09/14/07
World Cup Final Maribor, Slovenia
One week after the mountain bike world championships in Scotland, the final event on the World Cup schedule will take place tomorrow and Sunday in Maribor, Slovenia. Maribor is a new venue for the cross-country, but held a gravity World Cup for four years previously: 1999-2002. The DH World Cup was well attended in the past, attracting upwards of 25,000 spectators, and the weather forecast is excellent for the entire weekend - sunny and mid-20s Celcius. Organizer predictions are for 30,000-plus spectators.
The venue is to the south of Maribor, at the ski slopes of Pohorje, that face north towards the city in the valley. Maribor is in the north east corner of Slovenia next to Austria, and is the second largest urban centre in the country (after the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana). Originally an industrial centre, it is reinventing itself as an academic and cultural city.
The cross-country takes place tomorrow (Saturday), on a circuit that is just under five kilometres. Unlike the world championships last week - with groomed trails and one long climb/descent - the Pohorje course is highly technical, with lots of roots and tight, twisty turns.
For the opening lap the riders are sent up a gravel fire road to spread them out - on the regular lap it is a rooty, singletrack climb for much of the main ascent, so not many opportunities to pass. At the top, the riders immediately lose all the altitude they gained. The first part of the descent is technical and wooded, before moving out to open grassy slopes.
At the bottom the riders pass through the feed/tech zone and do a second short, sharp technical climb and descent, before making a slight uphill run to the finish line.
The top riders are all in attendance from the Worlds, and the racing should be intense, since it is a final chance to score high UCI points for world (and Olympic) rankings.
Julien Absalon (Orbea) has already mathematically won the men's World Cup, however, he is scheduled to race a full suspension bike for the first time in a World Cup, and his sponsor is likely very anxious for a dually win. Christoph Sauser (Specialized) was one of the strongest riders last week, but a broken shoe put him out of contention for a medal, so he is likely very, very hungry for a win. Sauser's team mate Liam Killeen is also here - after a respectable 44th place last week (he started 112th) he is encouraged by his returning form.
There should also be an interesting battle between the Belgians and the Germans in the men's race - cyclo-cross star Sven Nys stated earlier that the Worlds would be his last mountain bike race, but then he finished 15th, meeting Olympic qualification criteria. Belgium is also only a few points ahead of Germany for the final three starting spots in Beijing, so Nys is back on a mountain bike this weekend. Italian road star Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) is also here, making his bid for an Olympic spot.
On the women's side, newly minted world champion Irina Kalentyeva (Topeak-Ergon) has all but clinched the women's title, so might be expected to take it easy, however, she is anxious to show off her new rainbow stripes, and the course suits her.
Marga Fullana (Spiuk) is still missing due to her 'unfit to race' status after a high haematocit at the Worlds, but Sabine Spitz (Ghost), the three Chinese (Lui Ying, Ren Chengyuan and Jingjing Wang) and Canadian contingent (Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Haywood), Catherine Pendrel (Norco) and Kiara Bisaro (Opus)) are all here.
The Chinese took gold and silver in U23 and bronze in Elite, while the Canadians all finished in the top-11 in the Elite race, so this is a very stacked field. However, the Chinese have been struggling on the technical climbs, and may be less of a factor here in Maribor.
The downhill is somewhat changed from previous editions - longer and more technical. Except for the upper portion with one rock garden, the majority of the run is in the woods and features lots of roots and soft loamy, off-camber turns. It will be fine in the dry, a crash fest if it rains (there is a small forecasted chance of rain for the downhill on Sunday). Top dry runs are expected to be in the four minute range.
No surprise, the repeat world champions Sam Hill and Sabrina Jonnier (both Team Monster) are the favourites. Neither Greg Minnaar (G Cross-Honda) nor Cedric Gracia (Commencal) will be racing, although both are here.
Gracia crashed in the 4-Cross at Worlds, breaking his right wrist and suffering ligament damage - he had surgery this past Wednesday. Minnaar continues to rack up 'Iron Man' accolades. After racing much of the season on a dislocated shoulder (which has popped during race runs), he taped up and won the seeding run at Worlds, only to finish fourth in the final, just outside the medals. However, the story is actually more gruesome: he hit a tree on the way down during the Worlds final run and, because his shoulder was strapped so securely, broke his scapula (!) from the impact - still managing to finish fourth.
- Canada has a large contingent here for the cross-country: Premont, Pendrel and Bisaro are joined by Wendy Simms (Kona) and Sandra Walter (XO-Felt) for the women, with Geoff Kabush (Maxxis), Max Plaxton and Seamus McGrath (both Rocky Mountain-Haywood) joined by Mat Toulouse (Maxxis) for the men.
On the downhill side, Claire Buchar (Specialized), Tyler Morland (Cove), Jeff Beatty (Mojo-Orange) and Steve Smith (Cove) will represent Canada. Micayla Gatto (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) is missing the race for school obligations.