After a break of six weeks, action resumes this weekend for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Champéry, Switzerland. The cross country athletes will compete in round seven of the World Cup amid the Swiss Alps, just one week after world titles were awarded in Canberra, Australia.
On the start line in Champéry, site of the 2011 World Championships, will be new world champions Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) and Nino Schurter (Scott Swisspower). They will go up against the World Cup leaders in the men's and women's categories - Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Lene Byberg (Specialized Factory Racing). Both Absalon and Byberg finished second at the World Championships, so this will be their chance for revenge.
However, there will be more than these four riders looking for victory in Champery, particularly in the women's race. The top five riders are within 153 points of each other, and the top-four - Byberg, Elisabeth Osl (Central Ghost Pro Team), Kalentieva and Marga Fullana Riera (Massi) - are within 53 points. This race for the World Cup title is far from over with two races remaining.
On the men's side, Absalon is all but uncatchable, with a 412-point lead in the standings ahead of Jose Antonio Hermida Ramos (Multivan Merida). However, the battle for the remaining podium spots in the overall standings is extremely close, with Hermida, Burry Stander (Specialized Factory Racing) and Ralph Näf (Multivan Merida) all separated by only 50 points.
The 4.8-kilometre circuit is only slightly changed from the World Cup race held here two years ago. A short climb before the finish of the lap has been removed, a few technical sections have been tweaked and a long start loop constructed, but there is much that is familiar about this course, which consists of two loops radiating out from near the finish line. The first sends the riders out along a river for a very fast gravel track section, interspersed with technical singletrack. At the end of this loop, the riders hit the main climb - long with some very steep sections. At the top they begin to descend through a lot of technical, rooty singletrack towards the finish - so there won't be much opportunity to pass after they finish climbing.
The current plan calls for the women to do a start loop and five laps, with the men doing a start loop and seven laps. The forecast is for overcast skies with sporadic showers, which is what the juniors face on Saturday. As long as the rain doesn't get too heavy, all technical portions should remain rideable.