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Nissan UCI World MTB Cup XC #5 & DH/4X #3 — Preview

June 6, 2008 (Fort William, Scotland) — The weather in Fort William, Scotland has been unseasonably dry leading up to the much-anticipated World Cup MTB event here, which has thrown many riders for a loop. Instead of the usual grey drizzle and muddy XC, DH and 4X courses, the tracks are loose and dusty — and things are expected to stay that way all weekend.

The 4X finals take place this evening, starting at 7:30 pm local time / 2:30 pm EST. Word is that the course has become quite chewed up during training over the last few days. The track contains seven major turns and a mixture of crowd-pleasing tabletops, drops, rock gardens, step ups, doubles, and more. 15 women are registered, including World Cup leader, Anneke Beerten (Ned) MS-Intense. Sixty-two men are on the start list, with World Cup leader Romain Saladini (Fra) Team Sunn leading the charge.

The XC competitions start tomorrow with the women’s race at 11:00 am local time / 6:00 am EST and the men’s race at 2:30 pm local time / 9:30 am EST. The 7km loop has been revised and shortened slightly from last year’s World Championships, but it still features a long initial climb and a lengthy descent with lots of berms, rocks, and wooden bridges.

The women will complete five laps with a modified first lap, and the men will do six laps including the modified initial lap. Only 54 women are registered, including the current World Cup leader, Canada’s Marie-Hélène Prémont (Can) Rocky Mountain, last weekend’s champion, Margarita Fullana (Spa) Massi, U23 leader Chengyuan Ren (Chn), and Gunn-Rita Dahle (Nor) Multivan-Merida. Notably missing is World Champion Irina Kalentieva (Rus) Topeak-Ergon, who was also absent from last weekend’s World Cup in Andorra, citing illness. Four Canadians will contest in addition to Prémont: Catharine Pendrel (Can) Luna Women’s MTB Team, Kiara Bisaro (Can) Opus, Wendy Simms (Can) Kona, and Sandra Walter (Can) X.O-Felt Women’s MTB Team. This will be the final qualifier for the World Championships, which take place on June 22 in Val di Sole, Italy.

With 103 competitors, the men’s field is also smaller than previous races this year. All the contenders are registered, however, including leader Julien Absalon (Fra) Orbea, who placed an uncharacteristic 11th place in Andorra. Second in the standings, Christoph Sauser (Sui) Specialized and Cédric Ravanel (Fra) Lapierre International, Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Orbea, and Nino Schurter (Sui) Swisspower complete the current top five. Burry Stander (RSA) G.T. rode a breakthrough race to finish second last weekend, and will attempt to repeat his podium performance tomorrow, as will Canada’s Geoff Kabush (Can) Maxxis, who was third in Andorra. Two other Canadians will race tomorrow: Seamus McGrath (Can) Fuji and Mathieu Toulouse (Can) Maxxis.

The DH is always the main event at Fort William, which is why it’s reserved for Sunday. The finals kick off at 2:00 pm local time / 9:00 am EST on the 2.82km Nevis Range Downhill course. The has a total vertical drop of 555m with an average gradient of 11° and a maximum gradient of 20°. With names like Pin Ball, Snakes and Ladders, Disco Hips Kicker, The Dark Place, and Hip Replacement, the track includes sections that are sure to excite spectators and give riders chills.

Thirty-one women are entered in the DH, and series leader Sabrina Jonnier (Fra) Maxxis is the one to beat. Canada’s Claire Buchar (Can) Intense has the lucky 13 plate. Micayla Gatto (Can) Commencal and Sheila Morris (Can) Intense are also competing.

A whopping 199 men are signed up to contest the DH, including the current gravity king, Sam Hill (Aus) Monster Energy-Iron Horse. “Local” favourites include Brits Steve Peat (GBr) Santa Cruz Syndicate, Gee Atherton (GBr) Animal Commencal, and Marc Beaumont (GBr) Team Bike Radar, all of whom are currently ranked in the top five. Four Canadians are also in the men’s ranks, including Steve Smith (Can) Team Cove Bikes, who placed 10th at last weekend’s World Cup. Jeff Beatty (Can) Mojo Orange, Andrew Mitchell (Can) Team Cove Bikes, and Jamie Biluk (Can) Mojo Orange complete the Canuck crew.

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