Preview: Mountain Bike World Cup XC #9/DH 4X #7

All set for Schladming

Nine weeks of racing complete and with only one to go, the 2008 Mountain Bike World Cup builds to a traditional climax this weekend in sunny Schladming, Austria.

The first riders to be crowned take part in the 4x competition on Friday night – an event newcomer and surprise package Rafa Alvarez has dominated this year, taking over from the more familiar names of Lopes (now retired), Graves and Prokop (both decided to concentrate on the Olympic BMX discipline). However, World Champion Alvarez will have to put on one more performance to ensure the title is his as Guido Tschugg sits perilously close in second.

The women’s events have been more clear cut with perennial favourite Anneke Beerten all but grasping the trophy. Melissa Buhl produced an upset at the Worlds and as the rainbow jersey will always be one to watch, as will Jana Horakova. Qualifying starts tonight and will determine motos for Friday’s main event.

Can Hill make it?

Downhill is arguably where the closest battles lie in both men’s and women’s events. The fast, steep and rough track means everyone is looking toward Sam Hill to produce another mesmerising run in the forecasted wet weather. The pressure is on Hill bigtime though in this race, which he needs to win to rescue what has been a lacklustre season. A fall in the final meters of the World Championships – an event earmarked by Hill as the main goal of the year - while leading by ten seconds has dented confidence.

However, Hill’s fate is essentially out of his control as current leader Greg Minnaar must only finish fifth in Saturday’s final to clinch the overall. Expect a tough battle as Hill tries to put his year back on track and end the IronHorse/DW-link partnership on a high.

Sabrina Jonnier, Tracy Moseley and Rachel Atherton represent the three-way battle for supremacy in the women’s title hunt with a storyline that has seen changes in fortune and an unpredictable series. Early in the year both Jonnier and Atherton dominated, with clear leads over the chasing pack. But as the physical tracks of FortWilliam and Canberra were introduced a different order emerged and British champion Moseley put herself back in the hunt. The Schladming track should suit Atherton best, but the three riders are so evenly matched right now, there’s no big money going on this one.

Cross country

Julien Absalon lost his World Champion status this year, but when it mattered most he came back to claim Olympic gold. The World Cup overall is a staple diet for this great champion and this year is no different, with no one opponent consistent enough to heed Absalon’s three race unbeaten run at the beginning of the year.

The fight for the runners-up spot however is much more closely contested – Geoff Kabush and Christoph Sauser are tied for second and top under-23 rider Burry Stander is close not only to the age group win, but second overall thanks to several podiums in 2008 – his best placing second in Andorra.

For the women, it has been a string of consistent performances which have landed Marie Helene Premont the title before a wheel turns, ahead of Catherine Pendrel and Marga Fullana.

Away from the final race on Sunday there’s sure to be the usual huge end of season party, where we hope to get some official news on the whispers we’ve heard in the pit lane, regarding riders and teams. Expect some big changes in 2009!

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