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MTB World Cup wraps up this week in Kaprun

The international mountain bike season will slide to a wet and muddyfinish this weekend with the World Cup Final in Kaprun, Austria, site ofthe last year's world championships. Nearly all of the teams and riders have arrived from the world’s inLugano, Switzerland to pre-ride the courses. Unfortunately, it is raining,and been doing so for most of the week, with no relief in sight. Indeed,so much rain had fallen by Friday, that the UCI was still debating whetheror not to even run the 4-cross final, because course conditions were sobad. This does not bode well for the weekend - last year, rain

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By Robert Jones, Special to VeloNews.com

Fixing the 4-Cross

Fixing the 4-Cross

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The international mountain bike season will slide to a wet and muddyfinish this weekend with the World Cup Final in Kaprun, Austria, site ofthe last year’s world championships.

Nearly all of the teams and riders have arrived from the world’s inLugano, Switzerland to pre-ride the courses. Unfortunately, it is raining,and been doing so for most of the week, with no relief in sight. Indeed,so much rain had fallen by Friday, that the UCI was still debating whetheror not to even run the 4-cross final, because course conditions were sobad.

This does not bode well for the weekend – last year, rain at the world’s here on the final day turned the cross-country course into a quagmire, and the word from riders that it is worse this year for all the circuits.

Rain, rain go away…
The rain continues to play havoc with racing and training in Kaprun.

The 4-Cross is postponed, with a final decision Saturday at 10:00 a.m. regarding the promoters’ ability to fit it on Saturday. If not, it might take place on Sunday after the cross-country.

Downhill training is on hold right now, but will start up again Friday afternoon if the rain backs off (not likely), and the Saturday’s downhill final is still unchanged.

Some 4-Cross riders are already complaining that they will not be able to change their air tickets to meet the new schedule.

Since 6:00 a.m. Friday the valley has echoed with the sound of a helicopter bringing load after load of crushed gravel to spread on the muddy soup that is the 4-Cross course.

The problem is that the course was made by just scraping the grass cover off of the topsoil underneath. The topsoil was not packed down, so when it started to rain, everything just turned into slop, making it completely unrideable. There is much skepticism that enough gravel can be brought in to completely fill up the mud.

The downhill has its own problems – the grassy corners are all off-camber, so riders are sliding out and heading directly toward a big stretch of barbed wire.

Most have managed to stop before reaching the wire, but a few have become entangled. The other concern that riders have is the amount of cow manure mixed in with the mud, and the danger of falling ill.

Thus far, all is well for the cross-country, although the creeks are getting pretty close to surging over their banks, so we might see a bit of flooding by race time.

Coffee with the rainbow club

Coffee with the rainbow club

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To pass the time, the organizers managed to pull together some of thenew world champions for a press conference and kaffeeklasch.

Elite cross-country champions Filip Meirhaeghe (Specialized) and Sabine Spitz (Merida International) were there as well as 4-Cross champion Michal Prokop. It was confirmed at the conference that women’s Downhill and 4-Cross world champion Anne-Caroline Chausson (Commencal) will not be coming to Kaprun, after all.

Both Spitz and Meirhaeghe said that the week after winning their titles had been hectic.

“I went home Monday to Wednesday, and it was very stressful.” Said Spitz “The telephone was always ringing, both at my house and my parents, and the local press people were wanting talk to me all the time. It was more peaceful for me to come here, and now I can finally take in my victory.”

“The next day I was a lot more sore than usual (after a race), and I had trouble walking down stairs, which shows how hard the race was.” Said Meirhaeghe “The first couple of days were really hard for me to believe that I had won. When I woke up each morning, I was always looking across the room to see that it (the rainbow jersey) was still there. There are still moments even now when i cannot stop smiling. The new (Specialized) rainbow jerseys arrive today, and I am asking Susan, our team manager, every five minutes: ‘Is it here yet, is it here yet?’ I still will not really know what it feels like until I am on the start line.”

Both riders also commented on the current schedule, which puts the World Cup final one week after the world championships.

“In the past, the world’s ended the season,” Spitz said, “and I think it is very hard for riders to re-motivate when the final is a week later. We have a saying in German: ‘the air is out of the body.'”

“The pressure is definitely off here,” Meirhaeghe said, “but it is a good thing that the new world champion can show off the jersey. I am more relaxed here and not as worried, since I cannot win the World Cup overall, anyway.”

With or without rain, what’s ahead this coming weekend?

Downhill
Two months ago, the region suffered a serious storm that took out many of the trees higher in the mountains, making the top half of last year’s world’s course unusable. The organizers are running the downhill on the lower half of the course only, making it less than 1.5 kilometers long, with the top men expected to do sub-two minute runs. The only ‘technical’ sections will be some off-camber grassy turns.

This is particularly disappointing because of the tight races in boththe men’s and women’s categories for the overall World Cup titles. Cedric Gracia (Siemens Mobile Cannondale) holds a slim 4-point lead over Nathan Rennie, with Mickael Pascal (Maxxis-MCS) only 9 points back. In theory, new world champion Greg Minnaar (115 points behind), Chris Kovarick (122 points behind) and even sixth place Ivan Ouleg Moreno (247 points behind) could all still win.

The win brings 200 points, plus there are up to 50 points availablefor the qualifying run. A win in qualifying would put either Rennie orPascal in the lead. Our pick, if the weather stays bad, is world’s silver medalist Mickael Pascal to take both the overall title and the event win.

The women’s series is almost as close, with Tracy Moseley (Kona Clarks
Factory Team) 14 points ahead of Fionn Griffiths and 41 points in front of Sabrina Jonnier. Marla Streb (Luna Women’s MTB Team) also has an outside chance, although she is 168 points behind and, mathematically, even Marielle Saner (234 points behind) and Nolvenn Le Caer (240 points back) could pull off an upset.

Realistically, it will be between Moseley, Griffiths and Jonnier, butwe think Moseley will manage to hold onto her lead and take the title.

4-Cross
If and when the final is held, this contest is already decided: a win brings 50 points, and the series leaders – Eric Carter (Mongoose-Hyundai) and Katrina Miller – both have more than 50-point leads. In fact, neither would have to actually even start the final, since the rules do not require them to do so.

The course for this event is completely new as well, and there appearto be major problems. “It looks like they just scrapped the grass off the side of the mountain, and didn’t even pack it down,” says Carter. “Cedric (Gracia) walked it (Wednesday), and was up to his ankles in mud. If it stays like this it will be a running race.”

With world champion Chausson out, we have to pick Miller for the win and world champion Michal Prokop and Carter reprising their battle at Lugano. We give Carter the edge here, since Prokop’s lightening fast starts won’t help him too much in the mud.

UCI Technical Delegate Kelli Turcotte admitted that the course was notideal.

“The soil on the 4-Cross is not good for this weather, and it doesn’tdrain well. Unfortunately, with the time remaining and the resources availableit is going to be difficult to fix it.”

Cross-country
The cross-country course is mostly unchanged from last year’s worldchampionships – 5.5 kilometers of grinding climb or push, with a slipperyslide down through the mud back to the start-finish. Roland Green (Trek-VW),who won the men’s title on this course last year will not be starting (see”Green Skips World Cup Final” – September 10), but the new world champion,Filip Meirhaeghe (Specialized) will be, and he finished only 19 secondsbehind Green last year.

Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher), who led the men’s race last weekuntil running out of gas in the final two laps, is also strong in theseconditions, and certainly will be motivated to show that his silver medalas a first year senior rider was no fluke.

While Meirhaeghe is our pick for the race win, he is out of the overallcompetition, which is limited to four riders: World Cup leader Julien Absalon(Motorex Bianchi) with 760 points, second place Christoph Sauser (SiemensMobile Cannondale) 695 points, Jose Hermida (Motorex Bianchi) 560 pointsand Roel Paulissen (Siemens Mobile Cannondale) 510 points. For Paulissento win the overall, he will have to win here, and all three of the othercontenders would have to get no points, so it is realistically betweenAbsalon, Sauser and Hermida.

Sauser looked the best of the three last week until his late race punctureput him out of medal contention, but he has to make up 65 points, meaningif he wins, Absalon must finish no better than third, and if he finishessecond, then Absalon must be no better than fifth.

Barring a mechanical problem, it looks like Absalon will take the overalltitle for the men.

The women’s series was wrapped up in Grouse, when Gunn-Rita Dahle (Merida)took her fourth straight win. Dahle is also our pick for the victory herein Kaprun, especially since she has to be eager to redeem herself aftertwo punctures at the world’s destroyed her chances of defending her rainbowjersey.

Alison Sydor (Trek-VW), coming off an extremely strong silver medalride in Lugano, could be the one rider to mount a serious threat to Dahleon this technical, slippery circuit.

World Cup Standings after Grouse Mountain
Cross-country
Men
1. Julien Absalon (Fra) Motorex Bianchi 760 points
2. Christoph Sauser (Sui) Siemens Mobile Cannondale 695
3. Jose Hermida (Esp) Motorex Bianchi 560
4. Roel Paulissen (Bel) Siemens Mobile Cannondale 510
5. Lado Fumic (Ger) T Mobile 480
6. Filip Meirhaeghe (Bel) Specialized 443
7. Roland Green (Can) Trek-VW 379
8. Marek Galinski (Pol) Club Deportivo Orbea 352
9. Bart Brentjens (Ned) T Mobile 285
10. Liam Killeen (GBR) Subaru-Gary Fisher 241

Women
1. Gunn-Rita Dahle (Nor) Merida 1000 points
2. Sabine Spitz (Ger) Merida 675
3. Irina Kalentieva (Rus) Merida 565
4. Barbara Blatter (Sui) Specialized 510
5. Marie-Helene Premont (Can) Oryx 414
6. Alison Sydor (Can) Trek-VW 395
7. Anna Szafraniec (Pol) Lotto-PZU S.A. 371
8. Maja Wlosczowska (Pol) Lotto-PZU S.A. 352
9. Ivonne Kraft (Ger) 338
10. Susan Haywood (USA) Trek-VW 324

4-Cross
Women
1. Katrina Miller (Aus) 190 points
2. Sabrina Jonnier (Fra) 95
3. Moi Suemasa (Jpn) Trek-VW 74
4. Jamie Lilly (USA) 55
5. Tracy Moseley (GBR) Kona Clarks Factory Team 50
6. Anneke Beerten (Ned) 46
7. Tai-Lee Muxlow (Aus) 40
8. Jill Kinter (USA) 40
9. Tara Llanes (USA) 40
10. Celine Gros (Fra) Team Morzine 30

Men
1. Eric Carter (USA) Mongoose-Hyundai 180 points
2. Michal Prokop (Cze) 116
3. Mike King (USA) 79
4. Wade Bootes (Aus) Trek-VW 77
5. Cedric Gracia (Fra) Siemens Mobile Cannondale 75
6. Greg Minnaar (RSA) 55
7. Brian Schmith (USA) Mongoose-Hyundai 47
8. Scott Beaumont (GBR) 45
9. Steve Peat (GBR) Team Orange 41
10. Sascha Meyenborg (Ger) 39

Downhill
Women
1. Tracy Moseley (GBR) Kona Clarks Factory Team 675 points
2. Fionn Griffiths (GBR) 661
3. Sabrina Jonnier (Fra) 634
4. Marla Streb (USA) Luna Women’s Mtb Team 507
5. Marielle Saner (Sui) 441
6. Nolvenn Le Caer (Fra) 435
7. Kathy Pruitt (USA) Luna Women’s Mtb Team 417
8. Celine Gros (Fra) Team Morzine Avoriaz 405
9. Bernardita Pizarro (Chi) 326
10. Moi Suemasa (Jpn) Trek-VW 319

Men
1. Cedric Gracia (Fra) Siemens Mobile Cannondale 555 points
2. Nathan Rennie (Aus) 551
3. Mickael Pascal (Fra) Maxxis-MSC 546
4. Greg Minnaar (RSA) 440
5. Christopher Kovarik (Aus) 433
6. Ivan Oulego Moreno (Esp) 308
7. Steve Peat (GBR) Team Orange 300
8. Samuel Hill (Aus) 293
9. David Vazquez Lopez (Esp) MSC Bikes 292
10. Fabien Barel (Fra) Kona Clarks Factory Team 281

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