After a week off following three consecutive cross country mountain bike World Cup events, favorites are getting ready for the European cross country championships this weekend. The competition kicked off Friday with the team relay, won by France's Jean Christophe Peraud, Arnaud Jouffroy, Laurence Leboucher, and Alexis Vuillermoz. Italy and Sweden finished second and third.
The always strong Orbea Racing team is bringing its usual roster of potential champions including Julien Absalon and Jean-Christophe Peraud with France, and Rubén Ruzafa and Iñaki Lejarreta with Spain. All will race in their national team colors.
Orbea team manager Ixio Barandiarán thinks Lejarreta is one of Sunday's favourites. "The course's features suit his skills and he really wants to win. He's made headway technically speaking, so I think he can have good results." According to Barandiarán, the German race is an easy one, "The parcours is not too tough, unless it rains and it gets muddy."
Of course, no one can discount reigning World Champion Julien Absalon, who has already won all three World Cups so far in 2008, and his team-mate Peraud won on this parcours three years ago. Of Abslaon, Barandiarán only said, "As he's won the first World Cup events, he can relax and slow down, but if he wants, this race is his."
Spain's Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida) will be there, too – he's the most likely rider to be able to keep pace with and challenge Absalon for the duration.
On the women's side, Russian Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) will be aiming for a medal along with German Sabine Spitz (Central Ghost International), Spaniard Marga Fullana (Maxxis) and Norwegian Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida).
"I am excited about the race and my performance following the long break," said Kalentieva. "All the same, I am aiming for the top three." The 30 year-old Kalentieva didn't ride at the last World Cup in Madrid two weekends ago because of illness, and as a result hasn't raced for three weeks. "Ira" is however once again at top fitness but "following my heavy cold my sinuses are still a little blocked."
The World Champion said the course profile does not exactly play to her strengths, but the memory of 2001 in the same location is reasonably fresh. Seven years ago the Russian won a bronze medal at the European Championships in St. Wendel. "The course is reasonably flat, but back in 2001 it didn't stop me from having a good race, why should it again?" Kalentieva asked.