By Luke Webber in Offenburg, Germany
Just 200 miles away from Houffalize, Offenburg on the edge of the Black Forest in south Germany hosts round two of the cross country mountain bike World Cup. Because of this short distance there has been something of a split in team strategy - some riders deciding to go home, some staying in Houffalize until later in the week and others travelling immediately to Offenburg.
So far conditions have been damp and slightly humid, with rain overnight and low clouds over the hills. Thursday was a big improvement and for the first time, there was a clear view across the vineyards, and a course inspection revealed a mainly dry lap made up of a clay mud base with roots. There is one sticky section but with the good forecast, this should dry out just fine for a fast race. The worst affected sections of uphill have also been treated to a top layer of hardcore to prevent damage.
If the forecasts turn bad, however, and the same conditions should strike as in 2007, expect a lot of running especially through the crowd pleasing sections. Worldclassdrop, Wolfsdrop, Snakepit, Dualspeed and Northshore will all be packed with spectators baying for blood!
Even though the lap is two kilometers less than in Belgium, start numbers are barely down, so expect a lot of riders exceeding the one lap limit. Those lucky enough to score a top sixty in round one will be gridded whereas the rest will rely on UCI ranking and a pair of sharp elbows. And, while the difference is only two kilometers on paper, there are very few passing places with 90% of the course singletrack and through the trees. While this will give riders at the front with better technical skills the advantage it will cost those outside the top 50.
Fortunately for the US, Adam Craig and Todd Wells prop up the top 15 following an excellent opening round, and this start is just the opportunity they need to support their continued quest to make the US Olympic team. Speaking after the Houffalize race, Craig was well aware the difference a second row grid position can make - last year he had to battle from the back.