World Cup finals: What’s at stake?

Though six events will be contested at this weekend’s World Cup finals in Mont-Ste-Anne, Quebec, only two will have significant bearing on the top of the overall standings — the men’s downhill and the men’s cross-country. Saturday will feature a battle between Nicolas Vouilloz (Vouilloz Racing) and Greg Minnaar (Global Racing) to decide the downhill championship. Coming in Vouilloz has a slim 28-point lead over the 19-year-old from South Africa. Vouilloz has won five of the last six overall titles, including three straight, but has struggled this year, winning just one race. Minnaar,

By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor

Though six events will be contested at this weekend’s World Cup finals in Mont-Ste-Anne, Quebec, only two will have significant bearing on the top of the overall standings — the men’s downhill and the men’s cross-country.

Saturday will feature a battle between Nicolas Vouilloz (Vouilloz Racing) and Greg Minnaar (Global Racing) to decide the downhill championship. Coming in Vouilloz has a slim 28-point lead over the 19-year-old from South Africa. Vouilloz has won five of the last six overall titles, including three straight, but has struggled this year, winning just one race.

Minnaar, meanwhile, has made a steady climb up the podium steps, finishing second in Leysin, Switzerland three weeks ago, then claiming the top spot a week later in Kaprun, Austria. The win in Kaprun marked the first time a rider from Africa had ever won a World Cup race.

Both riders have benefited from a rash of injuries and other calamities that have taken out some of their top competitors. Early-season leader Steve Peat (GT) separated his shoulder during practice at Grouse Mountain and missed the next four events. Peat’s teammate, Fabien Barel, took over the lead after winning at Grouse, but was then knocked out for the season when he tore knee ligaments in Arai, Japan. Australian Chris Kovarik (Intense) was also having a strong season, before visa problems forced him to miss the race in Durango, Colorado.

With points being handed out in both the semifinals (20 points separate the first three places) and finals (40 points separates the first two places), one place in Saturday’s results could decide the face-off between Vouilloz and Minnaar.

Saturday’s three other overall leaders are all sitting in untouchable positions, meaning the rest of the day’s racing will be for event wins and pride.

In the women’s downhill, Anne-Caroline Chausson (Volvo-Cannondale) has huge 465-point lead over Missy Giove (Global Racing). Chausson, the three-time defending World Cup overall champion, has won all but one downhill race this year.

In dual racing fellow Southern California natives Brian Lopes (GT-Fox) and Leigh Donovan (Schwinn) also have insurmountable leads. Lopes locked up his title two weeks ago in Kaprun with a pair of wins. Donovan secured her title Friday by taking the top spot in qualifying. With only 10 women in the field, Donovan will get a first round bye on Saturday, assuring her of enough points to hold off Katrina Miller (Jamis), who came in trailing by 45 points in the overall standings.

Saturday’s racing slate begins with downhill semifinals at 11 a.m. EST, followed by downhill finals at 2 p.m., then dual finals at 6. Sunday brings the last two cross-country races of the season, with the women going out at 10:30 a.m., followed by the men at 1:30 p.m.

Like Chausson, Donovan and Lopes, Specialized’s Barbara Blatter has an insurmountable lead in the cross-country. The Swiss has two wins and three second-place finishes this year, assuring her of a World Cup overall repeat. The battle for second and third is still up in air though. With current second-place occupant Marga Fullana not in Quebec, Caroline Alexander (Specialized), Alison Dunlap (GT), and Sabine Spitz (Merida) all have a shot at the No. 2 step.

The men’s race will have even more on the line with six riders mathematically still alive in the chase for the overall title. Of those six, 2000 World Cup champ Miguel Martinez (Full Dynamix) holds the strongest hand, coming in in first place with a 52-point lead over Jose Antonio Hermida (Bianchi-Motorex). Forty-four points behind Hermida is Canadian Roland Green (Trek-Volkswagen). Green would likely have come to Mont-Ste-Anne in the overall lead were it not for his decision to skip the last two European World Cups. But the British Columbia native opted to stay home for the second European swing, focusing instead on next month’s world championships in Vail, Colorado.

The other three riders with outside shots at the overall are Cadel Evans (Volvo-Cannondale), Julien Absalon (Bianchi-Motorex) and Christoph Sauser (Volvo-Cannondale). Absalon has already locked up the under-23 title. The top five places in the cross-country race receive 250, 200, 170, 150 and 130 points respectively.

Check back to VeloNews.com all weekend for reports, results and photos.