This weekend, Windham, New York, welcomes mountain bikers to the conclusion of the 2010 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. Nestled in the Catskill Mountains, the small resort town of Windham will be the site of the first US World Cup event in five years, and the first ever final to be held on American soil. All three disciplines of the sport - Olympic cross country, downhill and four cross - will come together to determine who will be crowned the World Cup champions for 2010.
Of the six titles up for grabs, only one has been mathematically won: Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) has repeated as men's four cross champion after three victories this season. In the women's four cross, defending champion Anneke Beerten (Suspension Centre) holds a 45-point lead over Austrian rival Anita Molcik, so this title is still in contention. Another rider to watch for the women's event win will be world champion Caroline Buchanan, who has missed most of the season for BMX racing. Rain earlier in the week has softened the course up significantly, and cut down on training time, so the first real chance to see who is going well will be this evening in qualifying.
Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) holds a significant 175-point lead over world champion Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Centre) in the women's downhill, but Ragot is coming off two consecutive victories, so Jonnier cannot celebrate yet. Also returning to action is Rachel Atherton (Commencal), who has missed most of the season with shoulder problems. It will be interesting to see if she is fully recovered.
The men's race for the title is one of the tightest in memory, with a mere seven points separating the current leader Gee Atherton (Commencal) from rival Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate). Whichever rider finishes ahead of the other will take the title. However, Minnaar suffered an arm injury in training, a "subluxation of the elbow", according to team manager Kathy Sessler. Minnaar was at the hospital for x-rays last night, and nothing is broken, but how much of an impact it will have will be seen today in the qualifying runs. Another rider taken out by this course is Mick Hannah (GT), who sustained an injured shoulder, concussion and possible other injuries. Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Specialized), who has missed most of the season with injury, will be returning to the start line.
Atherton is relaxed and ready to race. "It's a good course, doesn't really favour one rider over another, you just have to be in good form and pedal hard," he said.
The 1.9-kilometre course drops 470 metres, for an average grade of 25 percent. It is broken into three segments - a rocky section at the top, more open and flatter in the middle and then another rock section before a fast finish.
The cross country finals will be equally exciting, with Catharine Pendrel (Luna) leading Eva Lechner (Colnago Arreghini Sudtirol) by 54 points and Willow Koerber (Subaru Gary Fisher) by 59. All three have led the World Cup this season, but who will be the final one to don the jersey? Missing from the mix will by Under 23 women's leader Julie Bresset (BH-Suntour), who broke her collarbone in training 10 days ago. Her season is ended, although she has already wrapped up the U23 World Cup title.
"I'm feeling good, really good," said Pendrel, "and I'm really hoping to break that World Cup curse this year - every rider so far has lost the jersey in the race they are wearing it!"
In the men's race, world champion Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) wrested the leader's jersey from Julien Absalon (Orbea) in round five, but his lead is only 26 points, so the title will come down to whomever crosses the finish line first in Windham.
The 5.4-kilometre circuit is very simple: a long climb followed by a shorter, faster descent. The climbing is broken into steps, rather than one big continuous climb, but there is little room to rest between sections. The descent is smoothing out as more people ride it and has significant sections of singletrack.
"It is very traditional East Coast riding," said Christoph Sauser (Specialized). "I like the course, it is pretty fun, and the climb is better for being broken up the way it is."
Riders are still trying decide what to ride - Specialized currently has riders planning on three different bikes, for example: Todd Wells on a 29er full suspension, Sauser on a 26-inch full suspension, and Burry Stander on a 29er hardtail.