The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is making its first of two North American stops this weekend in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada.
High heat and humidity made for a sweaty day of cross country pre-riding and downhill practice and qualifying on Friday.
"It's a little bit on the chilly side," joked Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) to Cyclingnews. "No, really I'm melting. It's been unseasonably cold and rainy in Missoula lately. I'm used to being wet when I ride, but not from my own sweat; rather from the rain."
Schultz, who was recently selected for the US Olympic team, is enjoying the always technical course at Mont-Sainte-Anne, which has hosted cross country World Cup or World Championship action every year but one in the past 20 years.
"It's like a full body workout out there. It'll be great to race," he said. "It's super fun. They changed things up a little bit. Where we had a gravel road climb before, we have full body technical climbing. The back stretch used to be more recovery in the past, but now it's full on. It's going to hurt out there, but if things are going well, it's going to be good."
Schultz's teammate Jeremy Horgan Kobelski shared his impressions of the course after pre-riding it. "This year, the course is hard. Physically it's more demanding than it has been. There are a couple more technical bits in there, mostly climbing," said JHK to Cyclingnews. "It feels like you can't ride anything easy out there. You have to be pushing just to make it through some of the sections smoothly. It's going to be hard tomorrow."
"There is more up and down and they routed one of the singletrack sections the opposite way. It used to be slightly downhill, so you had a lot of rest and you could get into the flow and recover, and now that part is all uphill. It feels like there is no rest anywhere. I feel like this race is always hard from start to finish, so maybe it will just be a bit more of a race of attrition than usual."
The cross country course is exceptionally dry, even covered with powdery dust in some places. An overnight shower would make conditions perfect, but only time will tell if the weather will cooperate.
"I like wet races here, but I feel comfortable either way, wet or dry, and I'll take whatever," said JHK.
"I wasn't too keen on the top section. It's just a straight line like it was a few years ago. Once you get into it, it's good," said Hart to Cyclingnews. "We'll see who can stay off the brakes the most. It's getting rough now and it's dusty. It's good, and I really like it."
"I'd like to see a little rain overnight to pad down the dust, but not torrential rain. I like it like it is. It was a little like this at Worlds a few years ago when I got eighth in my first year as an elite. But last year, it rained and was wet."
The reigning world champion paused for moment, and said, "It's all the same track for everyone. We'll see who can go fastest down it."
In the attached gallery, Cyclingnews captures some of the action of day one. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage from Mont-Sainte-Anne. The elite women will race four laps plus a start lap and the elite men will race five laps plus a start lap on Saturday while the downhill finals will happen on Sunday.