Many of North America's top pro mountain bikers head to Windham, New York this weekend for round seven of USA Cycling's Pro XCT series. The site of World Cups during the past two years, Windham will treat the racers to one of the best tracks on this year's schedule.
In addition to elite cross country racing, the mountain will be hosting amateur cross country races, Pro GRT and Gravity East series downhill races, a super D and a kids' race.
In the national series standings, Todd Wells (Specialized) narrowly leads Jeremiah Bishop (Sho-Air/Cannondale) by just 15 points heading into the weekend. Both are committed to winning the series if their schedules allow it. Each has a massive 500+ points over Ben Sonntag, who sits in third place.
Sonntag told Cyclingnews this week, "I broke my hand in a training crash and will be off the mountain bike for a few weeks. I started riding the road two days ago and so I'm hoping for a strong late season starting in July!"
Wells won the Pro XCT races at Fontana and Bump N Grind, while Bishop won at Bonelli Park. Another epic battle between the two was shaping up this past weekend in Missoula when Wells lost time due to mechanical issues. He later said, "I'm looking forward to Windham. I had my best ever World Cup there last year. It's close to where I grew up, and it looks like it could be muddy this year."
The World Cup course at Windham has been extended by 0.5 miles for the racing this weekend. There appears to be slightly less time spent on the steeper sections in the trees, but riders will still see plenty of bridges. The climb is split up into two major sections, with some wide traversing across the ski mountain in between. The descents are fast and could be a muddy due to heavy rains that have hit the area during the past couple weeks.
Rising star Howard Gotts (Specialized), who convincingly won last week in Montana, is expected to give Wells and Bishop a run for their money. A climbing specialist, He could benefit from the expected six trips up the Windham ski hill. Grotts won the junior World Cup held on the Windham course in 2011 by a huge margin of 24 seconds.
Also expected to be in the mix this weekend are Derek Zandstra (Scott-3Rox); Stephen Ettinger (BMC Mountainbike Racing Team), who finished third in Missoula; and Mitch Hoke (Kenda-Felt), who has improved his results this season. Both could make the podium. Max Plaxton (Sho-Air Cannondale) is home recovering from an illness he picked up at the World Cup in Val di Sole, Italy.
It appears that Lea Davision (Specialized) will come to Windham as the heavy favorite in the women's race. She has had an impressive World Cup season so far that includes two top-10 finishes in Germany and the Czech Republic. In addition, the Vermont native considers Windham a "home" course.
The 2012 Olympian said, "After a lot of time racing overseas, I'm thrilled to be back racing on home soil. It's always good to race on the east coast. I'm excited to test the legs against a stacked pro women's field and see how it goes. I have high aspirations for the weekend. I love the Windham course, and it's where I scored my first World Cup podium. "
Chloe Woodruff (Crank Bothers) currently leads the Pro XCT Series with 705 points but will not be attending Windham due to the pressures of the nine-race schedule. She said, "There are just too many races in the series." Pua Mata, winner at Missoula last weekend, will also be absent due to dealer commitments.
Erica Tingey (Jamis), who currently sits in second place with 487 points, is looking forward to racing at Windham. She told Cyclingnews, "I am stoked to see what the racing is like there."
Scott-3Rox will be represented by Amanda Sin.
Too many races in the Pro XCT?
The nine-race Pro-XCT schedule this year has dramatically affected the competition level at most of the Pro XCT races. Even the largest, well-funded teams cannot afford to travel to the entire series, plus some events conflict with other important dates on their calendars.
Missing in action this weekend will be the entire Luna Pro Team (currently ranked number one in the world), the Trek Factory Team (with first round World Cup winner Daniel McConnell), Crank Brothers Race Club, and Scott 3-Rox Racing. [ Geoff Kabush will be racing at the Valley of the Sun Enduro in Idaho.] This will also be the first time there is no American or Canadian champion in the pro races at Windham.
Sho-Air Cannondale will only be sending Bishop to Windham despite Mata having just won the Pro XCT in Missoula, Montana. Team Manager Ty Kady said, "USA Cycling needs to really rethink the current logistics of the national cross country series. Nine rounds not only tax the riders' schedules, but stretch the team budgets and staff."
"Additionally, some of the promoters in the series suffer, as some events are not well attended due to the over-taxing schedule and other event conflicts as we saw at Bump N Grind. I feel a compact five or six round series would best benefit the industry, riders and teams. A series that stretches from March to August is way too long."
Wells also offered a suggestion. "The Pro XCT could be improved by making all the races UCI events and having an actual overall prize."
The flip side of the nine-race debate is that it has allowed other domestic racers to shine including Sonntag, Woodruff, Erica Tingey, Ryan Woodall, and Hoke.
In the Pro XCT team competition, Sho-Air Cannondale currently leads with 1626 points. Specialized racing sits in second place with 1450 points. Trek Factory Racing is in third place with 1165 points.
The weather forecast for this weekend in Windham calls for temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s (degress Fahrenheit) with scattered thunderstorms in the afternoons.
Cyclingnews will bring you full coverage of the racing at Windham Mountain this weekend. Stay tuned.