By Luke Webber in Madrid, Spain
The Casa de Campo on the western fringes of Madrid will complete the third of three opening rounds of the cross country mountain bike world cup. For the second week running a dry track and hot, sunny conditions greet riders, but the course is substantially different than the one which presented itself in Offenburg.
A hard, cracked surface with a lot of "marbles" on top is presenting problems for many riders - while this course is very fast and smooth, with only one steep descent and climb, tyre choice is not simple. On many corners grip is lacking and the sight of a sliding rider is a common one.
The 8km loop winds around Madrid's city park, with a flat and uninspiring first half mainly on doubletrack with no sections of note. From halfway, the course starts to improve with some singletrack sections and punchy climbs, but there is little in the way of a bumpy surface. The weather forecast suggests conditions will not change.
For the women's race last week's winner and leader of the World Cup, Irina Kalentieva will not start. Following Offenburg she was suffering a sore throat, something which has still not cleared entirely. This clears the way somewhat for countrywoman Marga Fullana to impress at her home race, while Marie Helene Premont will also be a big favourite. Ren Chengyuan has started poorly in the last two races and will not be hoping for a repeat performance this weekend. If everything goes to plan on lap one and her performance mirrors her comebacks in Houffalize and Offenburg it could be a runaway victory.
In the men's race it seems there is nobody who can stop Julien Absalon. Already on the course completing three laps this morning, the flying Frenchman looks in great form to make it three from three. The followers from the previous two races remain the same. Jose Hermida, will be hoping for better luck on his home course after snapping a chain last week while vying for a top three finish. Christoph Sauser and under-23 Nino Schurter will also be in the hunt for the top position. With an improved grid position Burry Stander may also be in with a chance following last week's spectacular result.
It is not such great news for American Adam Craig however. Following an encouraging start to the season Craig faced a setback on Thursday, crashing hard while training on the trails in the nearby mountains. His left side is badly cut and this will affect any podium aspirations for Sunday's race.
See more photos previewing the Madrid round and stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full reports and updates.