The world has come to Val di Sole, Italy, for a week of racing that will crown the World Champions in mountain bike and trials disciplines.
Though touted as a popular summer (as well as winter) tourist destination in Italy's Dolomite mountains, Val di Sole was anything but sunny as racers, fans and the media arrived for racing set for June 17-22.
Nonetheless neither light drizzle nor cool temperatures could dampen the spirits of racers, many of whom will be there to participate in their most important competition of the year. For some of the cross country racers in particular, it's one last chance to convince their respective national teams that they deserve a spot going to the Olympics in Bejing in August. But all the newly crowned champions will look forward to a long run in their new jerseys; the 2009 worlds don't happen until September.
The cross country action will kick off Tuesday afternoon with the team relay in which national teams composed of four racers (one elite man, one elite woman, one U23 man and one junior man) will compete for the first title of the championship.
Given Switzerland's recent dominant performance at the European continental cross country championship, where it took top two in the elite men's race and won the U23 men's and U23 women's races, the nation looks well positioned to defend last year's world championship team relay title. Final team rosters will not be available until the morning of the competition, so the only question left to ponder is which subset of its fastest will Switzerland's team managers pick for the relay.
It's been a long time since any man other than Julien Absalon (France) has been the World Champion and he's clearly the favourite, but look out also for Christoph Sauser (Switzerland), Florian Vogel (Switzerland), Jose Antonio Hermida (Spain), Burry Stander (South Africa) and Geoff Kabush (Canada) as possible challengers.
The women's race is much more open with no one woman dominating this season. Favorites include defending champion Irina Kalientieva (Russia), Sabine Spitz (Germany), Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway), Marie Helen Premont (Canada) and Gould among others.
Downhillers will finish just metres away from the cross country course start / finish after a 2.22km run dropping over 500 metres with an average grade of 30 per cent. The course was designed by Pippo Marani and has been described as "technical, fast and very physical" by organisers.
The course has changed only slightly since the Test Event held several weeks ago and won by Australia Sam Hill. The reigning World Champion will be on hand attempting to defend his crown. But he'll face a stiff challenge from an on form Greg Minnaar (South Africa), Steve Peat (Great Britain) and Gee Atherton (Great Britain).
The women's race is shaping up to be a battle between defending champion Sabrina Jonnier (France), Tracy Moseley (Great Britain) and Rachel Atherton (Great Britain).
Val di Sole is no stranger to downhill events. Over the last ten years, it has hosted two Italian championships, two European championships and three European masters championships.
Four crossers will race a highly visible, spectator-pleasing, seven-corner course with a drop of 70m over its 450m length. Designer Phil Saxena has worked in a heap of features for an estimated fifteen jumps including one split line and two big gap jumps. A twenty five metre rock garden should also help keep things interesting.
The course required five thousand cubic metres of dirt and three weeks to build, but it'll take them no time at all to race each run.
In the men's race look out for Guido Tschugg (Germany) to challenge defending champion Brian Lopes (United States). In the women's race, the favourites include Jill Kintner (United States), Anneke Beerten (Netherlands) and Jill Kintner (United States).
Trials get their own venue
While all the mountain bike events are taking place in Commezzadura, the trials events are set in various town squares in nearby Malé, just a few kilometres "down" the valley. Organisers are hoping for quieter, but still spectator-friendly venues away from the hubbub of the mountain bike events. Trials competition will begin Tuesday with events taking place in both the 20" and 26" division for various categories.