Preview: Mountain Bike Cross Country World Cup 2
By Luke Webber
Thursday, April 24, 2008 4.14pm
Offenburg offering new challenges
This long switchback downhill is reminiscent of UK trail centres and looks great fun to ride Luke Webber
Just 200 miles away from Houffalize, Offenburg on the edge of the Black Forest in south Germany hosts round two of the mountain bike world cup. Because of this short distance there has been something of a split in team strategy – some riders deciding to go home, some staying in Houffalize until later in the week and others travelling immediately to Offenburg.
So far conditions have been damp and slightly humid, with rain overnight and low cloud over the hills. Today was a big improvement and for the first time there was a clear view across the vineyards and a course inspection revealed a mainly dry lap made up of a clay mud base with roots. There is one sticky section but with the good forecast this should dry out just fine for a fast race. The worst affected sections of uphill have also been treated to a top layer of hardcore to prevent damage.
If the forecasts turn bad and the same conditions should strike as in 2007, expect a lot of running, especially through the crowd pleasing sections. Worldclassdrop, Wolfsdrop, Snakepit, Dualspeed and Northshore will all be packed with spectators baying for blood!
Even though the lap is 2km shorter than in Belgium, start numbers are barely down, so expect a lot of riders exceeding the one lap limit. Those lucky enough to score a top sixty in round one will be gridded whereas the rest will rely on UCI ranking and a pair of sharp elbows. And, while the difference is only 2km on paper, there are very few passing places with 90% of the course singletrack and through the trees. While this will give riders at the front with better technical skills the advantage it will cost those outside the top 50.
Thanks to a convincing win in Houffalize, current World Cup leader Julien Absalon will be favourite to make it two from two. Last year he enjoyed the course and in such great condition nobody would bet against him. The women's race is far harder to call. While Ren Chengyuan finished top in Belgium it was not a convincing win, rather benefiting from others' misfortune. Weekend two should prove a much sterner test.
Americans Adam Craig and Todd Wells prop up the top 15 in the men following an excellent opening round and the start is just the opportunity they need. Speaking after the Houffalize race, Craig was well aware the difference a second row grid position can make – last year he had to battle from the back.
"World Cup number one is always a challenge for me but it worked out great. I was half asleep on the start line but over the next few weeks I can adjust and hopefully the results will come. A good start position for Offenburg keeps morale high and is another thing not to worry about."