August 24, 2006 (Rotorua, New Zealand) — The skies opened up last night drenching the cross country course here in Rotorua. But things have cleared up by this morning and temperatures are expected to reach 14 celsius today. It is expected that the U23 men will do five laps of the 5.9 km course for a total distance of 29.5 km. There 70 men slated to be on the start list including five Canadians as the acing gets underway at 10 am NZDT.
Last night Pedal had a chance to speak with Swiss MTB star, Thomas Frischknecht, who says countryman Nino Schurter is the strong favourite for today’s race. Schurter led into the final lap at the 2005 MTB Worlds before a flat relegated him to third position. He has been on fire this year placing 10th and 9th at MTB World Cups in Spa Francorchamps, Belgium and Fort William, Scotland respectively. He also recent won the European MTB Championships and is said to excel in wet conditions.
Lukas Fluckiger of Switzerland is another favourite, and the brother of Mathias who won the junior cross country race yesterday. Fluckiger finished second at MTB Worlds last year.
Dutchman Rudi Van Houts has enjoyed a strong season placing second at the Euros but according to Frischy he struggles in the mud. Last year’s Espoir champ, Yuri Trofimov of Russia, has felt the curse of the rainbow jersey – his best result this year has been 25th at Euros.
The Canadian team will be led by Max Plaxton of Victoria BC. Plaxton enjoyed great success in 2004 where he scored top 15-results at two MTB World Cup races, but since then his results have been up and down. He’s a very strong climber and does well in the mud – a top-5 result is an attainable goal for Plaxton.
Canada’s 2006 U23 MTB Champ, Neal Kindree of Squamish B.C., is a first year espoir and also one to watch. He placed 8th in the MTB Worlds junior race last year.
Martin Lazarski of Toronto, Ontario has the experience of multiple World Cups and World championships as both a Junior and Espoir racer. He was 41st in Livigno, Italy last year.
Raphael Gagne of Lac Beauport, Quebec and Derek Zandstra of Trenton, Ontario will also represent Canada.