Posted by Editor on 05/15/09
From the north of France in La Bresse, the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup moves to the Principality of Andorra, on the French-Spanish border, for round three of the 4-Cross and Downhill series. High in the Pyrenees, in the bike park of Vallnord, riders will compete amid spectacular mountain scenery for the second consecutive year.
The weather leading up to the event has not been optimal, with heavy rain passing through the region. However, organizers have done an excellent job of clearing snow that covered the downhill track less than two weeks ago. The weather is promising to clear for the start of competition on the weekend.
The 4-Cross, at 500 metres in length, will require strength and fitness. Out of a newly constructed start ramp the riders head into three doubles and one big jump before the first left hand corner. From there, it is a couple of different line options into the next right-left-right combination, before the longest series of jumps that traverses the hill. Out of the next right hander there is a new series of stepdowns into a left hand turn, then over a final double and into the last right hand turn before the dash to the finish line.
The 1.2 kilometre downhill is almost identical to last year, starting out very fast on an open rocky section for the first third of the run, before dropping into the woods. Last year, the race was won or lost in the woods, with mud, slippery roots and rocks making it difficult to avoid mistakes.
The Vallnord organizers have improved on this section, without taking away any of the difficulty, by widening parts of the track to create multiple lines, as well as allowing for spectators to get near the action. In addition, the bottom of the track has been opened up, so that the riders have a long, fast run into the finish.
The start lists for both the 4-Cross and downhill are impressive, with all the top men and women in the world attending. Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) will attempt to make it three straight wins in the men's 4-Cross, while world champion Rafael Alvarez de Lara Lucas (Specialized Factory Team) will be hoping to overcome the bad luck and crashes that have kept him off the top step in both previous rounds, and defending Vallnord champion Dan Atherton (Animal-Commencal) will be looking to repeat. The women's series has had two winners in two races, with World Cup leader Anneke Beerten (Suspension Center) winning the first, and former champion Jill Kintner of the United States, the second. Who will take this tiebreaker?
In the Downhill, last week Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) tied the record for 16 World Cup victories with Nicolas Vouilloz of France. Could this be the race where he breaks the record? Peat leads the men's standings, and is a strong performer in wet and muddy conditions. But he is up against some tough competition, in the form of his team mate Greg Minnaar (winner of round one), Michael 'Mick' Hannah (GT Bicycles), Sam Hill (Monster Energy/Specialized) and last year's winner in Vallnord, world champion Gee Atherton (Animal-Commencal).
On the women's side, Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) continues to hold the leader's jersey after two rounds, but Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) proved that she can be beaten with a decisive victory last weekend in La Bresse. Could we see the jersey change hands in Vallnord?
Canada has Steve Smith (Evil Bikes) and Alex Prochazka competing in the men's Doownhill, and Claire Buchar (Chain Reaction/Intense), Micayla Gatto and Miranda Miller in the women's. Buchar seems to be recovered from the flu that kept her out of last week's event, and was pre-walking the course yesterday.
The action begins Friday evening, with 4-Cross qualifying.
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