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2003 MTB World championships - CM

Lugano, Switzerland, August 30 - September 7, 2003

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Cross Country preview

Technical skills at a premium

By Kristy Scrymgeour

With no one rider dominating the scene in any of the categories, this year's Cross Country events at the World MTB Championships in Lugano, Switzerland are bound to produce battles to be watched. The course is 6.2km long and said to be challenging, suiting those with good technical skills. Thomas Frischknecht (Switzerland), who is a household name in the world of mountain biking, helped design the course which has since been described as a "winding, quick and committing track which requires constant attention."

According to most riders who have practiced on the course in the past few days the course is great. "It's fast and tight," said a member of the Australian National Team, Perren Delacour, and "It's really going to suit a good technical rider."

Starting and finishing at the base of Monte Tamaro, near Lugano, Switzerland at 471m above sea level, it is constantly up and down, reaching a peak at 561m before dropping back down to the finish line. The uphill sections are wide and paved whilst the downhill's are rocky, technical single track with lots of turns leaving no room for recovery.

U/23 men

On Friday afternoon the U/23 men will race six laps of the course for a total of 37.2km with riders such as Carlos Coloma (Spain), Michael Weiss (Austria), Liam Killeen (Great Britain) and Walker Ferguson (USA) ready to put on a show.

Last year's winner Julien Absolon (France) has moved on to the elite ranks, as have both Ralph Naef (Switzerland) and Ryder Hesjedal (Canada), and a new group of riders move to the front. Coloma is currently ranked first U/23 rider in the UCI rankings (12th overall). He has consistently fielded good results in 2003, including a second place at the recent European Championships and many top three placings in the Copa Catalana International series and the Open Bike Series. Weiss will also be a favorite having finished first in the U/23 European Championships and being currently ranked 16th overall in the UCI open elite rankings.

Elite Women

The women race on Sunday morning and will complete five laps of the course for a total of 24.8km. Last years winner of the race, Gunn Rita Dahle (Norway) is back in fine form, having won all five of the World Cups raced this year. Dahle won her first ever Cross Country World Championship last year in Kaprun, Austria on a shortened mud bath of a course that was formed by the torrential rain that had come down overnight. At this early stage of the week, it doesn't look like she will have to defend her title in the same conditions; however the technical skills needed in the rain will also be needed her on this tight course.

Hoping to regain their previous titles will be former winners of the event, Alison Sydor (Canada) who won the championships three years running from 1994 to 1996, 2000 Olympic Champion, Paola Pezzo (Italy), and Margherita Fullana (Spain). Sydor arrives in Lugano straight from winning the 5th round of the Swisspower Cup last weekend with her recent form also seeing her successful in the final two rounds of the short track events at the NORBA.

Second place in the World Championships last year was current Polish National Champion, Anna Szafraniec, who returns this year ranked number three in the UCI having placed on the top 10 in the World Cups this year, whilst 2002 third placed rider, Sabine Spitz, currently ranked number 2 in UCI points is also in great form and will be out to improve on last year.

Elite Men

In the men's event on Sunday afternoon at which they will complete 7 laps for a total of 43.4km, Roland Green (Canada) will be out to make it a hat trick after a disappointing season racked with injury and illness. His form is good now though, and despite all the mishaps during the year he has still managed to put quite a few results on the board, winning two NORBA races, the Canadian National Championships and placing in the top ten in the World Cup events. Green's compatriot's, Ryder Hesjedal and Seamus McGrath, both recently demonstrated their peak form at the recent NORBA finals in Durango, USA winning the Cross Country and Short Cross series overall.

Challenging the strong Canadian team will be French Champion Julien Absalon who is currently ranked number one in the UCI having placed in the top five in all but one of the UCI races he has competed in this year. Absolon won the U/23 World Championships last year and is back this year proving is ability to compete with the big boys. Winner of the most recent World cup and certainly one to watch for is Belgian Champion, Roel Paulisson. Currently ranked second in UCI points he will be out to put his name of the winner's board on Sunday.

Also watch for Christophe Sauser (Switzerland), Bart Brentjens (Netherlands), Filip Meirhaegher (Belgium) and of course local champion Frischnecht who will have some home country advantage, having assisted in the designing of the course. Frischknecht won the first ever World Championship Marathon last Sunday giving him added confidence for the cross country event this weekend. "I decided to race the Marathon in early July thinking that if I did well, it would help my confidence for the short track," Frischknecht commented after the Marathon. " I am really happy now, I have finally earned the rainbow jersey I have been dreaming about since 1991 (Frischnecht won the jersey in 1996 in Australia, but claims that it was not the way he wanted to win a World Championship), and I am looking forward to racing on Sunday."

Schedule of Cross Country Events

Junior Women (4 laps - 24.8km): Wednesday September 3, 10:30am
Junior Men (5 laps - 31km): Friday September 5, 11:30am
U/23 Men (6 laps - 37.2km): Friday September 5, 2:00pm
Elite Women (5 laps - 31km): Sunday September 7, 10.00am
Elite Men (7 laps - 43.4km): Sunday September 7, 2:30pm

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