By Rob Jones, Canadian Cyclist, in Madrid
The cross-country mountain bike world cup could almost be considered to be starting up for a second time tomorrow in Madrid, after a six week break from the season-opener in Curacao at the beginning of April. The long gap has meant that it's difficult to know who is in good form, with many riders having gone from Curacao (or Sea Otter right after) to training, and having no results to show. Extremely large fields and a very hard, fast course also mean that a good start (and start position) will be crucial to doing well.
The Madrid circuit is extremely fast and dusty. Held in the Casa de Campo park, it's just on the outskirts of the city centre with the Metro making it easy for thousands of fans to get to the race. Some of the descents are so hard packed that there are literally black rubber skidmarks on the dirt. The removal of a set of stairs that riders usually bounce down towards the end of the lap have added to the speed. The stairs were removed because park authorities felt that too much damage had been done in the past.
A few other minor modifications have also been made to the course, all resulting in a 7.5 kilometre loop with almost nowhere to rest. The number of laps will not be known until the manager's meeting, but the expectation at this point is that the men will do seven laps and the women six.
The fields are almost among the largest ever seen at a world cup, with over 110 women and at least 225 men on the start list. The UCI is no longer holding qualifying races for the men, so all 225-plus riders will start. To thin out the field, an 80% rule is being used on the first lap - riders not within 80% of the first placed rider's time for the first lap will be cut. So, a mechanical, flat or crash on the first lap by any of the top riders could result in a very short day at the races.