One week after a successful start to the second half of the season in Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec, Canada, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup moves a few hours down the road to the classic Bromont venue for round six of the cross country and round seven of the downhill and four cross. Bromont was the site of the 1992 World Championships and held numerous World Cup events in the early days of the series, before making a strong return last year with a triple event. Last year, heavy rain had an impact on the courses and the racing; however, the forecast is for near perfect conditions all weekend, plus organizers have spent countless hours rebuilding the circuits to withstand wet conditions.
The four cross has 51 men and 16 women registered from 13 countries - a new record for a North American four cross.
Last year, Bromont was the most talked about four cross track of the series, and was voted the top event of the series by riders, teams and the media. The run has been upgraded and tweaked, but still includes the unique, corkscrew 360-degree turn halfway down. Jared Graves (Yeti Fox) has already mathematically won the men's series with two races remaining, but there are lots of other riders hoping to score an individual victory - particularly second ranked Roger Rinderknecht, who crashed out of the final last weekend. The women's series is still wide open, with Anneke Beerten (Suspension Center) opening a small points gap on her perennial rival, American Jill Kintner after Kintner crashed in the women's final, but this series is by no means settled, with Beerten saying, "This one is going to go right down to the last race, I think."
The downhill course has undergone some modifications, with the big drop-off at the top of the course replaced by a smaller one, but it is still a course that requires an all around rider to win. Fionn Griffith (Norco) said, "I's more flowy now, and it has held up really well in the wet."
Last week's men's winner Sam Hill (Specialized Factory Racing) took over the men's series lead after Mont Sainte Anne, and he will be hoping to repeat his 2008 win at Bromont. However, the Santa Cruz duo of Greg Minnaar and Steve Peat have won four events so far this season, and will try to take back the leader's jersey; especially Minnaar after his crash and mechanical-plagued runs last weekend. On the women's side, it is all Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), with five consecutive victories this season. Can she extend it to six?
The cross country course is the one which has undergone the most extensive revision. The entire five kilometre course has been rebuilt, with a new climb in the first half, and hundreds of hours of work in the second, wooded section, to make a track that riders can race come rain or shine.
Organizers went into muddy wooded section with a bulldozer to scrap out the dark, soft topsoil - which turns into a bog when it rains - and laid down gravel, rocks and more clay soil. It has definitely worked; after a huge thunderstorm Wednesday night, the circuit was still 99% rideable the next day, according to both Roel Paulissen (Cannondale) and Derek Zandstra (3 Rox Racing).
Most of the circuit is unrecognizable from last year, with the straight up the mountain climb that started the lap replaced with a winding switchback course. Once at the top, the riders traverse the hill above the four cross run in a series of linked singletrack sections that allow no time for recovery after the climb. From here the course drops into the woods for more singletrack, followed by a long, fast gravel road descent. Along the bottom, the riders head back into singletrack and three rock gardens before finally finishing the lap. The expectation is that the women will do five laps and the men seven. There is no start loop.
The women's race will see local fans hoping for a battle between top Canadian prospects Catharine Pendrel (Luna), the defending champion and last week's winner in Mont Sainte Anne, and the Quebec favourite Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain). Premont suffered mechanical problems on her home course in Mont Sainte Anne, so she will certainly be looking for a better performance here. World champion and World Cup leader Marga Fullana (Massi) will be looking to regain some of the ground she lost in Mont Sainte Anne, and this course has a climb that favours her abilities, with much less technical riding. Second-ranked Irina Kalentieva (Topeak-Ergon), who was second last weekend, will also be looking for a good ride, since she has the opportunity to overtake Fullana in the World Cup rankings.
Julien Absalon (Orbea) is aiming to repeat his 2008 winning ways here in Bromont, and take his fifth consecutive win of the season in the men's race. A win would make him unbeatable for the overall title. However, both Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) and Canadian favourite Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) finished just behind the Olympic champion a week ago and will race to improve upon their placings. Hermida's teammate Ralph Näf is always a stronger starter, and Bromont could be the course where he manages to hold that lead to the finish. One other contender, who is still looking for his first World Cup win, is Germany's Wolfram Kurschat (Topeak Ergon). Kurschat dropped from second to fourth in the overall standings after a poor showing in Mont Sainte Anne. However, the Bromont circuit plays to his strengths.
The action begins on Friday with downhill and four cross qualifying, followed by the finals for both those events on Saturday, and ends with the junior and elite cross country races on Sunday.