Two time world downhill champion Sam Hill, Olympian Jared Graves and Australian four cross champion Caroline Buchanan spearhead the local challenge when world cup mountain bike racing heads Down Under to Canberra's Mt Stromlo Forest Park this weekend (August 30-31).
Over 80 Australians and a world class international contingent of over 200 will contest the three mountain bike disciplines: downhill, cross country and four cross, in the penultimate round of the UCI world cup.
The event is the first time Mt Stromlo has staged a world cup round, with Canberra's cool climate and technical reconfigured courses bound to test the skills and skins of athletes. The event also offers Australian stars the chance to shine at home, at the venue which also hosts next year's UCI Mountain Bike World Championships (September 1-6, 2009).
But if two time world downhill champion, and the current world cup frontrunner, Aussie Sam Hill was looking for some assistance from the course designers – he will be disappointed. The Perth rider confessed today the 2.3km course, with its flatter lower sections would favour the power pedallers, including Aussie rivals Nathan Rennie and Chris Kovarik, and internationals Steve Peat (GBr) and Greg Minnaar (RSA).
"It's going to be pretty difficult, because there's a lot of pedaling and it's a smaller mountain than I'm used to," said 23 year old Hill about the 2.3km downhill course. "However I'm going to give it my best shot."
Hill's track record on this layout is also not great, with the 23-year-old crashing the last time he raced at the venue for the Australian Championships in 2007. He will also need all his renowned line reading skills to hold off Britain's Gee Atherton, who is looking to add the world cup trophy to his newly acquired world championship title. Only 128 points separate the two on the world cup point score with a maximum of 500 points on offer over the final two rounds.
In the four cross, Aussie Olympic BMX aces Jared Graves and Luke Madill will be looking for redemption when they line up for their first outing post-Beijing on Saturday night.
26-year-old Graves finished 6th in Beijing after being taken out in the final, but is back in the saddle for the four cross, as is Sydney's Madill whose Olympic campaign ended in the quarter stages . Although not in the hunt for the world cup title, Aussie four cross champion Madill and Graves will be eager to disrupt the ambitions of others. Their main opposition will come from Spanish world champion Rafael Alvarez De Lara Lucas, who also heads the world cup standings, Germany's creative Guido Tschugg and perennial American Brian Lopes – who boasts six world cup titles and four world championships.
The women's four cross race will be no less hotly contested with Aussies Olympian Tania Bailey (BMX) and current champion Carolyn Buchanan eager to stamp their authority on the course ahead of next year's world championships also at Stromlo. Buchanan lies seventh in the standings behind Dutchwoman Anneke Beerten.
In the cross-country races, all eyes will be watching the ever popular Geoff Kabush (Can) with his trade mark sideburns and Olympic bronze medallist and under 23 world champion Nino Schurter. The technical nature of Stromlo should also provide New Zealander Kashi Leuchs with his chance to shine on the world stage in the men's cross country event.
See also our preview of the new Canberra world cup course.