By Sue George
After more than a month off the World Cup Circuit, racers will return for the next round in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada. For cross country racers, it will be round six and for gravity racers, round four. Mont-Sainte-Anne is just 40km from Quebec City, which just celebrated earlier this month the 400th anniversary of its founding by Samuel de Champlain.
Although a North American World Cup entails extra travel for racers from Europe, many will make the trip, especially with the next World Cup in Bromont, Quebec one week later.
The last round of the World Cup was contested in Fort William, Scotland, the first week of June. During the break in the World Cup schedule, racers have been busy at the World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy, and many have also been contesting their national championships, too.
Mont-Sainte-Anne is the only venue to have hosted either a World Cup or World Championship every year since the UCI's first mountain bike calendar in 1991. It will again host the World Championships in 2010. It is part of a three-week festival known as Velirium, which also includes the Canadian National Championships and Quebec Cup racing. More than 2,500 athletes are expected to compete.
Racing action will kick off with the 4X. Riders will qualify on Friday evening and compete in the finals on Saturday evening. World champions Melissa Buhl and Rafael Alvarez De Lara Luca are the clear favourites going into the race.
In the women's 4X race, American Buhl will see tough challenge from Dutch woman Anneke Beerten, who is ranked number one in the world, Austrian Anita Molcik and Japan's Mio Suemesa. Not yet on the start list, Czech's Jana Horakova could also challenge for a medal. And wouldn't be a surprise if some downhill stars like Sabrina Jonnier decided to also race the 4X.
On the men's side Spaniard Alvarez de Lara Luca will face France's young Romain Saladin, Dutchman Joost Wichman and Germany's Guido Tschugg. Former World Champion and American Brian Lopes is believed to be skipping this round while attending the Kenda Festival in Massachusetts.
Gravity racers will see plenty of action Saturday as downhillers will undertake qualifying and finals in the same day on a 3.1km course dropping 650m. The Atherton siblings Gee and Rachel will be looking to repeat their World Championship-winning performances. They sit first and second respectively in the men's and women's world rankings.
Unlike the gravity disciplines, many of the cross country contenders will have their sights firmly set on the Olympic Games in Beijing, China, next month. That means some of the fastest racers will not be focused on a top result at Mont-Sainte-Anne as a top priority goal, but no doubt many of them will be in fine form with just a few weeks to go before the big day in China. There will also be a collection of racers not going to the Olympics who will be giving it 100% for a chance at a World Cup medal.
North Americans historically do better in the Canadian World Cups than the European World Cups, so look out for a possible surprise break-out or even career-best World Cup performance from a young Canadian or American racer.
Cross country racers will compete on a 6.3km course with three major climbs and several smaller ones. Each lap begins with a substantial climb to separate the strong from the not-so-strong.
Read the complete preview of all events, including 4X, downhill and cross country and stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup all weekend.