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World Cup XC # 2 - B

Madrid, Spain, May 8, 2005

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By Rob Jones in Madrid

The cross country World Cup continues Sunday with round two in Madrid. Conditions couldn't be more opposite than the first round, in Spa, Belgium two weeks ago. Where Spa was cool, verging on cold with the strong damp breeze, Madrid is hot and dry, with an expected temperature of 30 C by tomorrow. Where that course was slow and muddy, this one is fast, with loose, dusty corners and stutter bumps on the downhills.

A number of top riders will be making their first appearance of the season in the cross-country series, having skipped the first round. Bart Brentjens (Giant) and Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) both missed Spa, and both have the problem of starting well back in the field. This circuit is usually very fast, so it can be tough to move up, particularly in the huge men's field. Brentjens estimates that he will be on the start line in the seventies, putting him six or seven rows back.

In the past, riders ranked in the top 50 in UCI standings are automatically called up but "They told me they don't do that this year." said Brentjens. "I guess I will have to do something at the start, but it will be hard." A UCI official confirmed that call up will be based on World Cup rankings from Spa.

Currently, it appears the men will do 7 laps and the women 5. The officials have not made a final decision between 4 laps/6 laps and 5 laps/7 laps, but the teams are saying that 4 laps will be too short for the women. There is no plan to do a start loop, but the riders will start in the opposite direction from a regular lap, since there is a U-turn about 150 metres after the start. From here, they will make a left and join up to the regular course. Given the hard, fast conditions, many riders are planning to use hardtails, and those that will use full suspension will be stiffening the back end right up. A potential bottleneck will occur about a kilometre into the circuit, where there is a short, steep section that only the first 10-15 riders will get a chance to ride.

Random Notes and News

- One aspect of the new rule allowing technical assistance is beginning to have disturbing implications. This year the UCI allows technical assistance, for the first time. Pits are set up on the course, where the riders can receive assistance. Also, the rules allow riders from the same team (and racing in the same category) to assist each other during the race, so, for example they can pass each other tools, bottles, or even one rider could give another a wheel.

However (and it is a BIG however) only UCI registered trade teams (and national squads) are allowed to pass items between members. Many teams (particularly North American ones) have not registered with the UCI as a trade team (it costs 1500 Euros to do so - almost $2500 Canadian). Besides the team mate rule, registration also means that team affiliation appears on the results, team support staff receive rainbow passes for venue access and teams get space in the exhibition grounds at the race.

The rule change is significantly different from other perks, in that it could affect the outcome of a race. Here is a scenario: Gunn-Rita Dahle (Merida, a UCI registered team) and Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects, not UCI registered) are battling it out at the front of the race, with their team mates Irina Kalentieva (Merida) and Alison Sydor (RMB-BO) close behind. Dahle or Premont suffers a mechanical, halfway between pits. If it is Dahle, Kalentieva can give Dahle a wheel and she is back in the race right away. If it is Premont, Sydor cannot do the same thing (or if she does, and an official sees it or Merida protests, Premont is out).

This is disturbing, because it means that preferential treatment, based on payment of a fee, has, for the first time, entered the sport of cycling.

- Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) confirmed that she is once again entering mountain biking seriously, by showing up here in Madrid for her second successive World Cup. Cooke said that she does hope to qualify for next year's Commonwealth Games in mountain biking, as well as road. "When I was a Junior I could do everything, but as a senior rider I had to focus on the road to establish myself there. Now, I have a chance to come back to mountain biking." Cooke was in the top-5 for the first half of the Spa round, before fading to finish 13th.

- The circuit, at the Casa de Campos park, is the designated venue for the 2012 Olympics, if Madrid wins the rights later this year. The Madrid 2012 campaign is everywhere at the race, and is one of the title sponsors.