After La Bresse in the north of France, the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup moves to the French-Spanish border for Round Three of the four-cross and downhill series.
The Principality of Andorra, high in the Pyrenees, is home to the bike park of Vallnord, where riders will compete amid spectacular mountain scenery for the second consecutive year.
The weather leading up to the event has not been optimal, with heavy rain passing through the region. However, organizers have done an excellent job of clearing the snow that covered the downhill track less than two weeks ago. The weather is promising to clear for the start of competition at the weekend.
Test of strength and fitness in four-cross competition
The 500-metre four-cross course will require strength and fitness. Out of a newly constructed start ramp the riders head into three doubles and one big jump before the first left hand corner.
From there, riders will have a choice of different line options into the next right-left-right combination, before the longest series of jumps that traverses the hill. Out of the next right hander there is a new series of step-downs into a left hand turn, then over a final double and into the last right hand turn before the dash to the finish line.
Improved downhill track
The 1.2 kilometre downhill is almost identical to last year, starting out very fast on an open rocky section for the first third of the run, before dropping into the woods. Last year, the race was won or lost in the woods, with mud, slippery roots and rocks making it difficult to avoid mistakes.
The Vallnord organizers have improved this section, without taking away any of the difficulty, by widening parts of the track to create multiple lines, as well as allowing for spectators to get nearer the action. In addition, the bottom of the track has been opened up, so that the riders have a long, fast run into the finish.
Jared Graves (Yeti-Fox Shox) will attempt to make it three straight wins in the men's four-cross, while World Champion Rafael Alvarez de Lara Lucas (Specialized Factory Team) will be hoping to overcome the bad luck and crashes that have kept him off the top step in both previous rounds, and defending Vallnord champion Dan Atherton (Animal Commencal) will be looking to repeat last year’s victory.
The women's series has had two winners in two races, with World Cup leader Anneke Beerten (Suspension Center) winning the first, and former World Cup winner and former World Champion Jill Kintner, of the United States, the second. Who will take this tiebreaker?
Record waiting to be broken
In the downhill last week, Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) tied the record of 16 World Cup victories, which he now shares with Nicolas Vouilloz (France). Will he break the record this weekend? Peat leads the men's standings, and is a strong performer in wet and muddy conditions.
But he is up against some tough competition, in the form of his team mate Greg Minnaar (winner of Round One), Michael 'Mick' Hannah (GT Bicycles), Sam Hill (Monster Energy/Specialized) and last year's winner in Vallnord, World Champion Gee Atherton (Animal-Commencal).
On the women's side, Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) continues to hold the leader's jersey after two rounds, but Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) proved that the leader can be beaten by taking a decisive victory last weekend in La Bresse. Could we see the jersey change hands in Vallnord?
The action begins on Friday evening, with the four-cross qualifying rounds. Both the four-cross finals on Saturday and the downhill finals on Sunday will be broadcast live on Eurosport 2 and on Freecaster.tv.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews.com for complete results and photos.