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Todd Wells (United States) after finishing off the team relay.
National champion optimistic about Saturday's title race
The American got to scope it out at high speed on Wednesday as a member of the US squad in the team relay. While the team suffered from a crash on the first lap that put it out of medal contention, the riders continued to plug away, trying to catch as many other nations as possible.
"It's nice to get in a hot lap under race conditions," said Wells after finishing off his lap. "The course has changed this week since we got here. The bark has come off the roots and they become more slippery. The course has so many people on it right now that it's hard to get in a good fast lap during training without stopping."
Wells will opt for a 29er full suspension bike for his race on Saturday. He'll be on the new 2012 Specialized Epic.
"I think it will be a good course for me. I'm a big guy so generally the less climbing, the better for me. This is about as little climbing as you can get for a mountain bike race, and I feel like the big wheels will excel on this course."
The just over 4km course is very technical with many roots and rocks. Yet Wells predicted that the climb will be where the definitive moments occur. "You go pretty hard in the flat sections, then you send the best guys in the world up a three-minute climb several times and when they go in tapped out, it will separate them."
"If riders are close in ability, yes, then the technical riding might separate the race, but all the top guys are good technically."
Another factor may affect the racing for the elite men: time of day. Run at 4:30 pm on Saturday, it may be challenging to see in the deep woods.
"We don't usually race this late, so it's very dark in the woods and the sun was in your eyes in some sections, while in others it was completely dark," said Wells after racing the team relay at about the same time of day. "Today we had a beautiful day. If we have other conditions, it could be really dark."
Wells was philosophical about the 21st place of the US team in the relay. "We started with a big deficit and were never able to recover. Usually, we don't have four strong riders on the US relay team. This year, we had four good riders and had a shot, but things don't always work out the way you plan."