Another fierce battle is expected between World Champion Julien Absalon (BMC Mountainbike) and former World Champion Nino Schurter (Scott-Odlo MTB) this weekend at the Windham World Cup. Schurter is coming in as the defending champion, having won on the slopes of Windham Mountain last season. He also has grabbed the World Cup Series lead last week after Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) faltered at Mont-Sainte-Anne. Schurter now has 850 points while Kulhavy has 740.
Schurter said, "With only two competitions remaining, the Windham race could be the deciding one for the overall world cup. I'm sure it will be a tough fight again with Julien, but also Jaroslav Kulhavy, or good climbers like Matthias Flückiger. It's not a race track itself that suits me in particular. I actually like it more technical but in this point of the season, so close to the world championships, I'm usually in very good shape already."
Last year's race was fascinating to watch. Schurter, who was riding a full-suspension bike, would gap Absalon on every descent. Absalon, riding a hard-tail, would catch Schurter on the climbs and often end up leading back up the mountain.
Schurter explained last year's win, "It was a hard battle with Absalon, but I'd say I'd made it happen on the downhill... It was quite an advantage to have the full suspension on the downhill. I was able to always open the gap, maybe 10 to 15 seconds, and then I'd try to hold it on the uphill."
Julien Absalon has been riding a full-suspension bike more this season. It will be interesting to see which weapon he chooses for the redesigned Windham course this weekend.
Other contenders will include last year's podium finishers, Mathias Flückiger (Stoeckli Pro Team), Dan McConnell (Trek Factory Racing), and Lukas Flückiger (BMC Mountain Bike) (BMC Mountainbike). Manuel Fumic (Cannondale), Florian Vogel (Focus XC), and Ondrej Cink (Multivan Merida) all have been riding well and should contend for podium positions.
America's hopes are not high for the Elite Men's field, but a young crop of riders are making their presence known. Newly crowned USA Elite Champion Howard Grotts (Specialized) and Keegan Swenson (Cannondale) both have a shot at winning the U-23 Men's race on Sunday.
Located just 140 miles north of New York City, Windham has become a popular venue for the world cup teams. The Windham course is not nearly as technical as Mont-Sainte-Anne, but is demanding due to the climbing. The 730-acre mountain, with a summit at only 3,100 feet makes this basically a sea level event for the racers. This year's course design, however, appears to have been altered. It seems to feature even more open climbs and descents to make the track more spectator friendly. Both the climbing and descending may be more sustained than in previous editions.
North American women favourites in Windham
The best female cross-country racers in the world have made the nine-hour drive down from Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec to Windham Mountain, New York, for round five of the Cross-country World Cup Series on August 6-9. No less than seven current/former World Champions will toe the line this weekend in this forth edition of World Cup racing at Windham.
North American women have had quite a bit of success on the Windham Mountain track in the past. Most of them have gained valuable extra experience during USA Cycling events held there over the past few years. There are at least four North American women who have realistic shots at taking the win at Windham.
World/Canadian Champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team) has won the Windham World Cup twice, while Frenchwoman Julie Bresset won the inaugural event held there. However, if you include USA Cycling's Pro-XCT races held at Windham, Pendrel has three 1st places, one 2nd place, and one 3rd place on this track. That is certainly a formidable record, and one that her rivals are well aware of.
Pendrel explained why she likes racing at Windham, "I think the course is good for me as it doesn't penalize a weak start. If you have the legs you can get past traffic and settle into your best pace. Last year I was stronger than Jolanda (Neff) on the climbs and descents. Hopefully, this year too!"
Two-time American Champion Lea Davision (Specialized) has looked brilliant at the last two World Cup races, especially at Lenzerheide, Switzerland where she took the silver medal. She too has won on the Windham course at a Pro-XCT held there. Davison, who lives and trains in nearby Vermont generally has a large contingent of fans cheering for her when she races on the Windham track.
Pan American Champion Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) has been knocking on the World Cup door for a couple years now, and now at age 27 is just coming into her prime racing years. While she has never won at Windham, she finished on the podium at Mont-Sainte-Anne last weekend and appears to have great form. She has waged many epic battles with her countrywoman Catharine Pendrel this year. Sometimes she comes out on top, but always the two seem make each other better.
Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team), who has skipped most World Cup races this year, jumped into the Mont-Sainte-Anne race and finished in seventh place. She previously recorded a second place finish in a World Cup at Windham. While she may not be racing World Cups, her fitness is never in question. She has won domestically several times this year including the demanding Grand Junction Off-Road, and a UCI-HC event held in Fontana, California. Nash may not start on the front row on Sunday but nobody will be taking her lightly.
Olympic Bronze medalist Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team) has struggled on the World Cup circuit this season. However, we cannot forget how she nearly won the 2012 Windham World Cup, but suffered a mechanical within sight of the finish line. She had to watch her teammates Pendrel and Nash finish ahead of her while she ran her bike over the line. She excels on this type of course which has less steep climbing and she is one of the best American descenders.
Challenging the talented North American women will be the current European Champion, former World Champion, and World Cup Series leader Jolanda Neff (Stoeckli Pro Team). She bested Pendrel at Mont-Saint-Anne by 36 seconds. That may not seem like much, but Neff was totally out of sight of Pendrel during the latter stages of the race. At only 22 years old, Neff races with the confidence that she can usually drop the entire peloton when she really needs to.
Forty-two year old Marathon World Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja (Multivan Merida) has been on multiple podiums this year, and notched her 39th World Cup Victory at Lenzerheide, Switzerland. She seems to have been a factor in every race this season. With four world championships and an Olympic gold medal to her credit, Dalhe Flesja has more experience than any other person in the race this weekend. She seems to be racing with renewed enthusiasm for the sport that she helped to define.
Also in the hunt at Windham will be Annika Langvad (Specialized) from Denmark, and former World Champions Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools) from Slovenia and Maja Wloszczowska (Kross Racing) from Poland. On any given day, each of them can win. Eva Lechner (Team Colnago Suditrol) from Italy and former World Champion Irina Kalentyeva (Moebel Maerki MTB) should also be considered podium threats.