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Pendrel, Prémont plot victory at Mt. St. Anne

Rain changed things for mountain bikers in the Northeast this season. Nearly 30 days of stormy weather in May and June altered trails and canceled frequent riding plans and, while sunnier skies are shining in Quebec for this weekend’s UCI World Cup Mountain Bike races, changes in the riding surface caused by moisture could be a blessing to some, a curse to others.

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By Wendy Booher

Rain changed things for mountain bikers in the Northeast this season. Nearly 30 days of stormy weather in May and June altered trails and canceled frequent riding plans and, while sunnier skies are shining in Quebec for this weekend’s UCI World Cup Mountain Bike races, changes in the riding surface caused by moisture could be a blessing to some, a curse to others.

The race to witness will start on Sunday. Expect a frenzied women’s cross-country race since no fewer than five North American racers will be vying for the podium in front of 10,000 dedicated fans. Canada’s Catharine Pendrel (Luna), currently ranked second, will try to topple Austria’s Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost) from the podium’s top spot while hometown favorite, Marie Héléne Prémont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), will attempt to take command of the race that she owned during the 2008 edition.

Mont Saint-Anne highlights Prémont’s racing calendar and she’s circled the date as the race she plans to win. Not so fast perhaps, since losing the national title last weekend to Pendrel. Now Prémont will need to double her efforts to reel in a field loaded with rivals.

For someone who trains in an environment parallel to Mont Saint-Anne but who has proven his superiority in every condition around the globe, this weekend will be flush with potential. Julien Absalon (Orbea), two-time Olympic gold medalist and current World Cup series leader, will seek to pile on another victory at Mont Saint-Anne to go with the fistful of wins he’s already scored at World Cup races this season.

“I like to ride in North America because the tracks are always so technical,” Absalon said. “It’s nice to come to Quebec because the people speak French and seem to like the French racers plus, the American and Canadian racers are always motivated for these races, so it’s interesting.”

Ranked second and third in the world behind Absalon, Spain’s José Antonio Hermida (Multivan-Merida) and South Africa’s Burry Stander (Specialized) should keep things lively in the men’s race since Stander only needs 72 points to overtake Hermida in the rankings.

Stander finished third last year at Mont Saint-Anne behind another huge hreat: Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), who will no doubt seek another podium finish in front of loyal fans in his native Canada. Another one to watch would be current World Champion, Christoph Sauser (Specialized), who effectively ended Absalon’s enduring world domination last year when he seized the title from Absalon. Sauser currently sits in fifth place in the world rankings and trails Absalon by 966 UCI points.

After undergoing surgery in 2008 to heal an old shoulder injury, gravity racer Greg Minaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) has exhibited full recovery by soaring up the ranks and snatching the series’ lead from his Santa Cruz teammate, Steve Peat.

“It was the first time in six years that I had a healthy body,” Minnaar explained. “My shoulder was a problem that was progressively getting worse. I dislocated it at the end of the 2001 season and every year it was more of an issue. Eventually it was coming out during my race runs, so I had no option but to get it sorted out.”

Second place Sam Hill (Specialized) and third place Peat could outrank Minaar by the weekend’s end if either of them wins the downhill event. But Minaar has been preparing to maintain his lead. In the hours remaining before Saturday’s event, he’s been focusing on what adjustments the specific courses require him to make to his bike, “from raising the handle bars, to adjusting suspension, and finding the right tire pressure and gearing that best suits the track.”

Downhill finals kickoff the weekend’s racing on Saturday. Four-cross takes place Saturday evening from 5-8. The cross-country events start Sunday at 1:15 with the women’s race and then the men at 2:30.

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