Nestled between the southern border of France and the northern fringe of Spain, the Principality of Andorra, home to mountain biking's biggest showman – Cedric Gracia – fittingly hosts the biggest weekend of World Cup action so far with all three disciplines coming together for the first triple header event of 2008.
The first World Cup at Vallnord’s new bike park, which has previously hosted the Maxxis Cup, looks to be an unpredictable one though with heavy showers predicted throughout the weekend. That is an aspect sure to affect the downhill event and may see a return to tactical qualification, despite new measures to prevent this.
The XC races open a packed weekend of events and is really one suited to the climbers – the course profile revealing that of the 5.2km lap over half is uphill. Midway through the lap there is a long rolling descent, dumping the riders to the lowest point at 3.5km. From here they must climb all the way back to the top – a total of nearly 4km!
This could favour the lightest riders, such as Marga Fullana and Irina Kalentieva – but descending skills in damp conditions will also be very important in order to keep that gap. Current overall leader Marie Helene Premont will be keen to cement her number one status with her first win after coming so close to Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja in Madrid. Dahle will be missing this week, preferring to take a cautious approach in such a heavy period of training leading to the World Championships which are just a month away.
The men’s favourite is far simpler to pick – if Absalon does not win it will be more of a story than his success. But a victory this weekend and next in Fort William would surely place him into mountain bike legend!
The male downhill racers face the same question as the XC field – how do you beat an unstoppable force? Sam Hill was easily number one in Maribor three weeks back and embarrassed everyone with a winning margin of over three seconds on a course that promoted close times. In contrast to a dusty and hard-packed Maribor, conditions in Vallnord are best surmised as changeable. Getting lucky with the weather will play a big part for the weekends downhilling, should the local forecast be believed.
The women’s event has seen the rise of two stars who have obviously trained a lot harder than the rest over winter. Rachel Atherton and round one winner Sabrina Jonnier were almost inseparable in Slovenia but the disappointment on Atherton’s face after putting everything into getting the win was clear. This time round Rachel will be out to put her season back on track.
If downhill is unpredictable thanks to weather conditions, then four cross is totally impossible to preview at all! Who would have thought that unknown Alvares would win round one in a final with only one recognisable name? Crashes, tight corners and ball bearing gravel were all to blame as big names tumbled. World Champion Brian Lopes will be hoping that type of race is the last of the year and there is a chance to pass somewhere other than the first corner.