Tales from the trails, August 26, 2008
The final round of the World Cup mountain bike series will be held in Australia on August 30 and 31 on the same courses as the 2009 world championships. Bikeradar's John Stevenson looks at what's in store for the world's top riders Down Under.
The Olympic cross-country mountain bike course was made more technical when test events revealed it to be a bit too easy. That's not likely to happen with the 2009 world championships course at Mt Stromlo, Canberra, Australia. It's already hard enough that top local rider Ben Henderson thinks some sections will have a significant proportion of the field walking at the final round of the mountain bike world cup, August 30-31.
"The downhillers say that this bit is harder than anything on the downhill course," Henderson told us before piloting his Mongoose hardtail down a pair of treacherous, ultra-steep rock slabs that are made even more interesting by the surrounding rocks, bushes and brambles. They're not a comfortable landing zone if you stuff up.
Henderson showed us round the cross-country course on a sunny but cool afternoon that was typical of the weather riders can expect for next weekend. We basked in the winter sunshine, but reached for armwarmers and gilets when clouds covered the sun.
Downhill rock slabs aren't the only problem lurking in wait for the cross-country riders at Mt Stromlo. There's a 'b' line round that section - though it's not exactly easy - and there are several similar uphill sections.
Riders hit the singletrack - dubbed Cardiac Climb - after a section of fire road. As it twists and turns up Mt Stromlo they're presented with several steep, technical hairpins. Nestled in a few of them are even steeper, more technical sections that will save riders a few seconds - if they can ride them. Going the long way round will be safer but slower.
It's only about a kilometer long in total but Cardiac Climb is expected to be the crux section of the cross-country course. Whoever gets up it first will have a significant advantage and repeated ascents will wear riders down over the six laps of the men's race.
Surprisingly the course doesn't go all the way to the top of Mt Stromlo to the ruins of the observatory that was destroyed in bushfires in 2003. Instead it heads off along the hillside into fun, fast singletrack. While less technically difficult than Cardiac Climb this section's sand-covered surfaces make it tricky to maintain maximum speed, Henderson said.
He then contradicted himself by haring off at about Warp 12, leaving this writer floundering in his wake. Nothing new there then.
As well as the technical aspects there's a sense of humour at play here too. A planned city, Canberra is laid out along the spokes of a wheel radiating from Parliament House, which is at the centre of a huge roundabout. Fitting, then, that the course includes a roundabout!
Enter the UCI
The Mt Stromlo course was originally designed by John Graydon and David McCook of Canberra Off-Road Cyclists, but didn't include Cardiac Climb. After this year's Australian national championships a UCI technical delegation visited the site and asked if the knoll that Cardiac Climb ascends could be included.
Legendary Australian course designer Glen Jacobs was drafted in to design and build the section.
Jacobs was the man responsible for the courses the last time Australia hosted a world championship, in Cairns in 1996. That course memorably included a brutally steep section called Red Ringer, so named because you had to slide forward on your saddle to climb it and… well you get the idea.
The Cairns courses got a rapturous reception from visiting riders and between Jacobs and the ground work of Graydon and McCook's the Mt Stromlo circuit looks set to be another classic Australian race course.
Mt Stromlo doesn't have the elevation change of some North American and European venues, but the downhill course nevertheless uses every bit of the hill. The 2.3km course drops 210m from the top of Mt Stromlo to the event centre and is expected to take top riders about three minutes.
On the way down they encounter moguls, rock gardens and jumps including the trio of gaps known as Triple Treat and First Blood, a 5.5m road gap.
It's all grist to the mill for the downhillers, but it's a compressed, intense course with no let-up.
The two-day program for the World Cup includes four-cross on Saturday evening (bring your duvet jacket, it's been 7 or 8°C at 8pm in Canberra for the last few days). The four-cross course is a classic example of what happens when you let Glen Jacobs loose on a hill with a bulldozer, with fast, slowing berms, big jump sequences and the nine-roller sequence of the Bear Trap.
CORC's Dave 'Morgs' Morgan knows the Stromlo courses intimately. He's been involved with building the trails here for the last several years. His tip for spectators is to watch the cross-country from jyst below the downhill bridge.
"You will be able to see the cross-country start and some of the climb, then the second half of Cardiac and then the Berm Track and other bits all from a 100m radius," says Morgs.