Preview: Mountain Bike World Cup at Dalby Forest

World's best cross-country racers to battle it out on British soil

The best cross-country racers in the world will battle it out on British soil this weekend as they return to Yorkshire to take on Dalby Forest’s torturous World Cup track

Last year’s race was so good it was crowned cross-country World Cup round of the year – not bad for a first-timer! If you missed out, you have to go this year, for some of the world’s best racing action.

The three-day event starts on Friday (20 May) and is held in the North York Moors National Park. Racing kicks off in Pickering town centre on Friday night, with the Pro Sprint Eliminator and opening party. Then the action heads deep into Dalby Forest for the weekend, with junior and under-23 World Cup racing on Saturday, along with the public Dalby Dare Challenge, and the main elite men’s and women’s races on Sunday.

The course

Last year, the course at Dalby was a real hit with the riders. Many of them said they'd never raced on such a fun course. The 6km lap combines well built manmade trail centre tracks with more natural woodland trails. It shows off the best of Britain.

The course was also loved by the fans, with all the action happening close to the main arena. It was possible to link up several viewing spots during the day and still have time to make it back to check out all the new products in the trade arena.

The start of a World Cup cross-country race is worth watching, as up to 250 riders race flat out to get to the front for the first piece of single trail. A good start is vital on a fast, tight circuit like Dalby so the speed will be insane.

The places to watch

The most popular section for spectators is Worry Gill. This wooded section is a natural amphitheatre so the atmosphere is electric. It’s possible to see the riders three times a lap from here. First as they drop round the fast technical singletrack, then again as they descend the crazily steep rock drop-off (where a mistake will result in some big-time pain), and finally as they drop in near the end of the lap and tackle a difficult technical climb – one that only the best riders can clear.

The other main technical section is the long wooded descent, Medusa’s Drop. Here the riders climb before dropping into a fast, flowing hairpin section. The trail then turns sharply down the fall-line, over a nasty root-strewn trail with steep drops-offs. From the field at the bottom, it’s possible to see the whole descent and, with a separate commentary and beer tent, this spectator hotspot is a winner.

If you like seeing people suffer, the long climb soon after Medusa’s Drop is the place to see the riders at their physical limit. The technical sections are often where the race is lost but this is where the race is often won. It’s a tough, three-minute steep climb from the lowest to the highest points on the course and a killer after 90 minutes of technical flat-out racing.

The finish is an obvious place to watch, and if last year’s sprints are anything to go by it’ll be one of the most exciting viewing spots. The fast-flowing course means that the racing is close and the gaps separating riders are measured in seconds, not minutes. The 2010 men’s race finished in a sprint between cross-country giants Julien Absalon and Nino Schuter, with Schuter winning by the smallest margin ever in a World Cup.

The ones to watch

Last year’s women’s race was a battle between Willow Koerber and Irina Kalentieva. The fight came down to the last lap, with Kalentieva winning by 10 seconds. These two will be the favourites again this year. Meanwhile in the men’s, it was a three-man battle between Absalon, Schuter and Burry Stander. These three guys will again be in the mix, along with Florian Vogel and new world champ Jose Hermida.

On the British side, the woman to watch out for is Annie Last. Having won the silver medal at the under-23 Worlds in 2010, Annie has her sights on the senior women’s podium. In the men’s the focus will again be on Liam Killeen and Oli Beckingsale – will they crack the top 10 in their home World Cup or will a young rider race to best Brit?

Be part of the action

Pro Sprint Eliminator: The weekend’s action kicks off in Pickering town centre on Friday night with the Pro Sprint Eliminator. The music is cranked up, the commentators consume far too much caffeine and the racers sharpen their elbows for some close contact racing.

The race is on a technical urban circuit, with steps, alleyways and a ride through the graveyard, and is raced four-up. Two competitors advance from each race leading to a flat-out final for the big cheque. Last year the race was a huge hit and the high street was rammed, so get yourself down there between 6pm and 8pm before heading off for a Friday night pint or two.

Have a crack yourself: A visit to the Dalby World Cup isn't necessarily all about spectating. You can bring up your own bike and have a pop at the Dalby Dare too. The Dare isn't a race but a challenge. It takes place on Saturday afternoon. The 25km lap starts with a full lap of the World Cup course (there aren’t many sports where you get to have a go on the same course as the pros!), before heading off to sample some of the other top trails that Dalby has to offer.

Essential info: North Yorkshire is a popular tourist spot, which means there are plenty of places to stay, from cottage B&Bs to campsites. The Friday night racing is a free party but for access to the weekend’s racing you'll need a ticket, which can be bought on the gate or in advance for a discount. For everything you need to know about going to the  World Cup race, including the whens and wheres, how to get tickets and info on accommodation, check out www.yorkshiremtbworldcup.co.uk

Anatomy of a pro cross-country bike

For World Cup racers their bikes are based on one thing – speed. The comfort and fun factor built into most mountain bikes is not a concern. Instead they demand the weapon that will get them from the start to the finish in one piece as quick as possible.

Frame: There's a real divide on the start line between hardtail and full-suspension framesets. Everyone is running a 100mm-travel (3.9in) fork with lockout but the debate about whether full-suspension is faster is still raging on. Add in the 29er wheel factor and you could have four very different bikes to choose from.

Wheels: Over the 2009/10 seasons the 29in wheel made a big impact on the World Cup scene. The bigger wheels are heavier, which puts off weight weenies, but they roll over rough ground more effectively. Like the hardtail/full-sus argument, no one has decided for sure which is faster yet…

Gears: The smaller two-chainring setup that is now on offer from most manufacturers was demanded by the World Cup cross-country racers. Staying in the big ring and reducing front shifts saves time and improves efficiency.

Handlebar and stem: While the mountain bike world has adopted the wide riser bar as standard, there are many cross-country racers who still rock the narrow flat bar and many with bar ends. But as the courses have become more technical, the bars have got wider and the stems shorter.

Tyres: Cross-country racers are looking to balance the need for grip while reducing rolling resistance, which can be a tricky thing to get right. For the Dalby course, a fast-rolling rear tyre combined with a secure medium grip front will probably be the choice of most riders.

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