May 2, 2009 (Houffalize, Belgium) – It’s sunny in Belgium and it looks like it will stay that way for at least for the women’s race, MTB XC #3 in Houffalize, Belgium on Sunday morning. The forecast is showing a chance of rain for the afternoon, which could make the currently phenomenal track conditions messy for the elite men, who start after the women at 2:30 p.m. local time / 8:30 a.m. EST. The same crew of 13 Canadians will line up tomorrow, as last weekend in Offenburg, Germany.
After an exciting day of racing last Sunday at round two of the UCI MTB XC World Cup in Offenburg, expectations have mounted for historic Houffalize. The women’s race starts at 10:45 a.m. local time / 4:45 a.m. EST where last week’s winner, Ren Chengyuan (Chn) China will be the centre of attention, along with round #1 winner Elisabeth Osl (Aut) Central Ghost, World Champ Marga Fullana (Spa) Massi, Olympic Champ Sabine Spitz (Ger) Central Ghost, and Lene Byberg (Nor) Specialized. Canada’s Catharine Pendrel (Can) Luna Women’s MTB Team and Marie-HÃ©lÃ¨ne PrÃ©mont (Can) Maxxis-Rocky Mountain are also definite contenders for the podium. All eyes will also be on Emily Batty (Can) Trek Store Toronto in the U23 category after her top-10 overall and U23 victory last weekend.
On the men’s side, Julien Absalon (Fra) Orbea has proven that he’s obvious favourite, but anything can happen. Christoph Sauser (Sui) Specialized, who flatted last weekend, will be ready for vengeance, while Jose Antonio Hermida (Spa) Multivan-Merida is always on the attack. Geoff Kabush (Can) Maxxis-Rocky Mountain has earned a 13th-place starting position after his top-10 in Offenburg, so he’s motivated to do even better in Houffalize. Canadian fans will also be rooting for young guns Derek Zandstra (Can) 3 Rox Racing and Raph Gagne (Can) Maxxis-Rocky Mountain who are eager to make gains on the World Cup circuit.
With its classic and varied 7+km XC course, Houffalize hosts the longest running venue on the circuit and for good reason. The quaint cobbled town that lies in a bowl-shaped valley literally shuts down for the World Cup week and the surrounding rural villages are overrun with racers, staff and fans. The Belgians take their cycling seriously, and tomorrow’s event will offer no exception. Every patio in town is packed all day, streetside grills are fired up, and waffle stand owners are smiling.
This is the first year that Houffalize hosts a World Cup 4X competition, and organizers are running a Red Bull DH event as well, indicating that in future, Houffalize wants the full meal deal – a World Cup Triple.
The XC route starts on a paved climb in the centre of town that veers steeply upwards to hit a grade of 14% and continues to angle up sharply to max out at around 20%. The tarmac sports fresh paint from cheering fans for ProTour stars Andy and Frank Schleck from nearby Luxembourg, who competed in the historic LiÃ¨ge-Bastogne-LiÃ¨ge last weekend, a 260km classic, which bisects Houffalize at the race’s halfway point — Andy won.
At the top of the demanding initial climb, which racers will only do on their first lap, the trail heads right into the dirt to cruise some rolling, rooty singletrack before dropping down three chutes down to the river where one feed/tech zone lies. The trail climbs again on the other side, to reach the high point at the top of the 4X course. Competitors must navigate a steep, loose descent punctuated by a rock drop that ends with a sharp left turn. Then riders head into a wide open climb back up beside the 4X before descending via a rolling singltrack back down to the river and the start/finish.
To continue their lap, racers turn left at the main cobblestone roundabout in town and head up and away from the start climb to enter a rooty, off-camber singletrack grunt followed by a rutted chute to meet back up with the river. After crossing the river again, riders cruise through the second feed/tech zone, before continuing up another climb. This climb is a brand new section of singletrack, which is the only spot that is still a bit slick from rain earlier this week. The moisture combined with freshly cut trail makes part of this section very difficult to ride, and it may end up in a run for many. At the end of this track, the trail spits cyclists out onto a road, which they cross to continue climbing on a very gradual double track, before descending back to the meet up where the top of the start climb meets the main loop.
Watch all of the action on live webcast coverage from Freecaster TV, the official webcaster of the UCI – here.
– Catharine Pendrel (Can) Luna Women’s MTB Team
– Amanda Sin (Can) 3 Rox Racing
– Emily Batty (Can) Trek Store Toronto
– Mical Dyck (Can) Team Canada/Trek Store Toronto
– Marie-Claude Suprenant (Can) Team Canada/Xprezo
– Marie-HÃ©lÃ¨ne PrÃ©mont (Can) Maxxis-Rocky Mountain
– Jean Ann McKirdy (Can) Team Canada/Local Ride
– Sandra Walter (Can) Team Canada/Local Ride
– Derek Zandstra (Can) 3 Rox Racing
– Geoff Kabush (Can) Maxxis-Rocky Mountain
– Adam Morka (Can) Team Canada/Trek Store Toronto
– Kris Sneddon (Can) Kona
– RaphaÃ«l GagnÃ© (Can) Maxxis-Rocky Mountain