May 3/08 9:19 am - Madrid XC World Cup #3 Preview
Posted by Editoress on 05/3/08
World Cup #3 - Madrid
Coverage brought to you with the assistance of Velirium
Round three of the Mountain Bike World Cup for cross-country will take place tomorrow in Madrid and, for the third consecutive weekend, it appears that the racers will be blessed with fine weather. Now in its seventh edition, the Madrid race draws some of the largest crowds on the circuit - including a World Cup record 60,000 spectators in the first year, 1995. Since then, crowds have averaged 35,000. This year, with the event falling on a holiday weekend, organizers are unsure whether that will help or hinder the numbers.
For the riders, Madrid is a long, dusty, hot and very fast race. The nearly eight kilometre circuit features a number of steep technical climbs and descents, but these are interspersed with fast, flat sections on pavement-hard dirt. Ball-bearing sized gravel in some sections are affecting the ability to ride some steep sections, and Julien Absalon (Orbea) is one of a number of riders who have crashed in downhill corners during training.
Good positioning on the opening lap is critical, especially for the men's race, since a lead group forms quickly, and it is almost impossible to bridge up if you don't make that group. A number of riders have already commented on the similarity of certain portions of the circuit to the Beijing course, so this may provide a good preview of who can expect to do well in August. The plan is that the men will do seven laps and the women five. Field sizes are also down sharply - with 147 men and 81 women registered.
For the men, the question is, as alway, can Julien Absalon (Orbea) be beaten? The reigning World, World Cup and Olympic champion is two-for-two so far this year, and has literally been choosing his moments and then riding away from the rest of the top men. However, it needs to be pointed out that other perennial favourites such as José Hermida (Multivan Merida) and Christoph Sauser (Specialized) have suffered some misfortune in previous races, with Hermida having to deal with stolen bikes, mechanicals and sickness, while Sauser has had poor starts and then been forced to chase his way up through the extremely large fields.
Hermida, for one, is healthy now, and anxious to do well on his home course before a home crowd, at an event he has never won.
"Yes, you could say that I smell a little pressure," he agrees. "This course doesn't suit me so much; I prefer the more technical circuits like Houffalize or Offenburg, but I still think that I can have a chance."
On the North American side, the top contenders are Americans Adam Craig (Giant) and Todd Wells (GT), and Canadians Seamus McGrath (Fuji) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis). All have top-15 results this year, with Craig and McGrath both cracking the top-10 in Offenburg last weekend.
Craig is sporting a long bandage down his right forearm, the result of a moments inattention during a training ride, but says it shouldn't affect his riding. Kabush, who has had extremely mixed luck in European campaigns in past years, is very upbeat about how this season has started.
"Yeah, some previous years its been pretty up and down, but we spent a lot of time planning this [trip] over the winter, and it has definitely made a difference. The team has been looking after us well, we've made good travel plans, and found good locations to stay. This year I have a road bike over with me, which has helped for training between races."
Kabush plans to use what his mechanic refers to as "the Kabush Rocket" in Madrid, a sub-19 pound hardtail - "It's lighter than my 'Cross bike," comments Geoff.
For the women's race it looks like there will be a crucial scratch from the start - World Cup leader and world champion Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon). Kalentieva, who won last weekend in Offenburg, has come down with a chest infection and has not registered for tomorrow's race. Topeak Ergon has issued a release stating that Kalentieva suffered from allergies after last week's race, and has since come down with a cold.
"I am on antibiotics and so I need a break," said Kalentieva in the team statement. My nose is stuffed up and I cannot breathe. I want to be healthy as fast as possible, and I am now concentrating on the European Championships [in St Wendel, Germany in two weeks]."
This means that there is likely to be a real battle for both the race victory and the World Cup overall lead. Chengyuan Ren (China), the winner of round one in Houffalize, and Canada's Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain) - third in Houffalize and second last week - are favourites, but Marga Fullana (Massi) has always done well here in Madrid in front of her compatriots. It is almost certain that either Ren or Premont will take over the World Cup lead, barring an unforeseen incident.
"This course isn't as good for me as the technical ones," commented Premont "but I hope that it is a long hard race because that will suit me better than Marga [Fullana], because she always [fades] in the longer races."
Other North Americans that are close to cracking the podium are Luna team mates Georgia Gould and Catharine Pendrel. Both have top-10 finishes in the first two events (a fifth for Gould in Houffalize and an eighth for Pendrel in Offenburg), and both have come close to making the front split. Maybe this will be the week that they do.
Racing this weekend is on a slightly different scheule from the previous two World Cups, with the women starting at 10:00 am local (4:00 am EDT) and the men right after at 12:30 pm local time (6:30 am EDT). We will be providing our live coverage starting at 4:00 am EDT for the women's race.
Race Note: Once again, thieves are striking at the teams attending the World Cup and, for the second time it is Multivan Merida and GT who were targeted. After they had bikes stolen at the Houffalize World Cup, both teams have taken extra precautions to secure equipment. However, GT mechanic Mark Maurissen had his laptop swiped from right in their tent in the Expo. It was sitting on a table and he went behind the tent for no more than 20 seconds. When he came back, it was gone. There was a silver lining to the story because, inexplicably, the thief left the computer lying on the ground and staff found it that evening. He now has it back and says everything works fine.
For Multivan Merida, the damage was greater, but no equipment was stolen when thieves attacked two of their vehicles. On one it appears that tin snips were used to cut a hole in a side panel and peel it back. Seeing that the vehicle was empty they moved onto another van and smashed in a back window after seeing that it was also empty. After losing all their full suspension bikes in the Houffalize incident, the team takes the precaution of emptying the vehicles at night.