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MTB World Cup XC #4 & DH #2 - CDM
Fort William, Scotland, May 27-28, 2006
By Rob Jones in Fort William, Scotland
The Mountain Bike World Cup moves to the Scottish Highlands for round number four in the cross-country series, and number two for the gravity riders. The cross-country and 4-Cross events take place on Saturday, with the downhill on Sunday. Friday's weather was cold and raining non-stop - making for a les-than-enjoyable day of training; but the weather forecasts all call for it to clear overnight and warm up considerably for the rest of the weekend. Everyone has their fingers crossed.
The cross-country circuit is almost identical to the one used in past years - about the only change is a small bridge put in to get over a section that is under water. Despite the rain and mud, riders report that the whole course is rideable. "I just finished a lap without unclipping once" said Kiara Bisaro (Team R.A.C.E.), adding that, "It is muddy, and some of the descents are pretty slippery, but it's not like last week; everything is completely rideable."
Bisaro was commenting on the race in Spa, Belgium, which turned into a running circuit, with thick gluey mud forcing riders to run even on some downhill sections.
Liam Killeen (Specialized), the local favourite (even though he is English, not Scottish), also has praise for the circuit. "It's a riding course so, no matter what, the race will be a real mountain bike race. I don't think it favours any particular type of rider - there are fast bits and technical sections - so it will take a good all round rider to win here," he said.
The first lap cuts out a 300 metre climb at the start, sending riders on a long flat gravel road to spread them out before the main singletrack climb. Regular laps are 9.4 kilometres, with 336 metres of climbing per lap, mostly in the first third of the lap. Last year the men did five laps and the women four, and the expectation is that they will do the same this year.
For the women, it is, as always, Gunn-Rita Dahle (Multivan Merida) who is the favoured rider going into the weekend. Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects), Irina Kalentieva (Topeak-Ergon) and Sabine Spitz (Specialized) will be looking for an upset.
If Christoph Sauser (Specialized) can manage to avoid the difficulties he had last week (poor start and two flats), look for him to challenge Julien Absalon (Bianchi Agos), the winner of the last two rounds. Other contenders include Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) - second last week) - Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida), Killeen and possibly Filip Meirhaeghe (Versluys).
The downhill has had a few more changes, with a couple of noticeable obstacles thrown in. At the halfway mark, a wooden wall - "Big Woody" - has been added. The riders will be able to caroom off this wall almost horizontally, carrying speed down the course. This is, of course, assuming that it is dry. "If it's wet and muddy, I don't think we'll be going too high" said Nathan Rennie. "It gets pretty slippery. But if it dries out then that should be pretty fast."
Further down, in the final third of the 2.5 kilometre descent is the gruesomely named 'Hip Replacement'. This jump was built for last year but left out in the wet conditions. The organisers have spent considerable time beefing it up, so the section is now usable no matter what the conditions. "It's a hard course," continued Rennie. "It isn't particulaly steep, so there's a lot of pedalling. The course drains pretty well, except for one muddy section in the woods."
Rennie refused to make any predictions: "There are so many strong riders here that I'd probably miss someone, so I won't name any names. I don't think anyone's going to have a clean ride; it'll just come down to who makes the least mistakes and has the power to make it to the end," he said.
Among the men, Rennie, Mick Hannah (Cannondale/The Cut), World Cup leader Greg Minnaar (G-Cross Honda) and defending champion Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate). There are two British women in the top-3: Tracy Moseley (Kona Les Gets) leads the series, and Rachel Atherton (Team Animal Giant) was third at the first World Cup in Vigo, Spain. Other top contenders are France's Sabrina Jonnier, Emmeline Ragot and Celine Gros.
Overall, organisers report that entrant numbers are way up, with a total of nearly 600 registered across the three disciplines. There are 166 men and 41 women for the downhill, and 149 men/77 women for the cross-country. This is a big and, especially for the XC men, welcome drop in the numbers on the starting line. The course is also more friendly to passing, so hopefully we won't see the huge bottlenecks and frantic fighting for position of the last few races.