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After eight rounds of racing on three contients, the 2009 UCI World Cup winds up this weekend in Schladming, Austria.
By the end of the weekend, overall titles will be awarded Olympic cross-country, downhill and 4-cross.
Racing begins on Saturday with the cross-country. The 5k circuit takes riders on a zigzag route up and down the slopes of the Plana ski slopes at Schladming. Two large climbs in the first half of the lap are followed by a long, switchback descent into the streets of the town, then a final climb before descending to the start-finish area. Recent rain means that the track is muddy.
XC: Absalon and Stander Tops Overall
Olympic Champion Julien Absalon (Orbea) assured himself the men’s title last weekend in Champéry, Switzerland, but the battle for second through fifth in the final standings is still wide open, with seven riders in contention for podium spots.
Similarly, U23 World Champion Burry Stander (Specialized Factory Racing) is guaranteed the U23 title, after the first World Cup victory of his career last weekend in Champéry.
The women’s title is open to three riders – Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost), Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory Racing) and Catharine Pendrel (Luna). Pendrel’s chances of the overall title are slim, but she will be fighting World Champion Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) for third overall. Osl, racing before a home crowd, will try to hold off Byberg to retain her overall lead. The pair goes into the final race separated by 65 points, so Byberg will need to win, while hoping Osl finishes no higher than third in this round.
4-cross: Men Fight for Third
In the 4-cross,World Champion Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) holds an unassailable lead in the men’s competition, but there is a battle going on for the women’s title.
Dutch rider Joost Wichman is safe in second overall for the men, but there is still a fight for third between Roger Rinderknecht (GT), Romain Saladini (Team Sunn) and Dan Atherton (Animal Commencal). Rinderknecht, however, may not start as he is recovering from injuries that kept him out of the World Championships.
On the women’s side, three riders can still potentially take the title: current leader Anneke Beerten (Suspension Centre), Fionn Griffiths (Norco World Team) and American Jill Kintner. Beerten’s 80 point cushion means that as long as she finishes no lower than fifth she has won the title. Griffiths and Kintner are tied on points, so this race certainly provides the key for second and third spots overall.
Downhill: Men Too Close to Call
The downhill competition offers a reversal of the situation in the other two disciplines, with the women’s title already decided, but the men’s remaining open.
After six wins in seven races, Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) has a clear grip on the women’s title.
Recently crowned World Champion Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Centre) has a slightly shakier hold on second place, 85 points in front of Round One winner Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing).
The men’s downhill offers the closest competition of the weekend, with current leader Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Specialized) only 16 points in front of Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate). New World Champion Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) is also still in the race, 69 points back off Hill, as is Gee Atherton (Animal Commencal) at 141 points.
However, the real race is expected to be between Hill and Minnaar: the one who finishes ahead of the other will very likely take the title. The wet and slippery conditions mean that crashes are quite possible as riders take extreme chances in a bid to win.