By Rob Jones
The best mountain bikers in the world have converged on Fort William, Scotland, for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships which started Tuesday and will continue through Sunday.
The elite men and women will get their chance to race the cross country course, set with the mighty Ben Nevis Mountain as a backdrop, on Saturday. It's a 7.9 kilometre circuit (7.6 kilometres for the opening lap) described by American pro Adam Craig as "a climber's race for sure."
The newly crowned world singlespeed champion had more to say about the course, "I'm not really a big fan; you go up a lot and then down, it's been over-prepped to the point that it's a decent bike path, really. I prefer the old one; it was more raw."
The under 23 and junior women and the junior men have already had a chance to race the course. The talented young Chinese women made their mark in the U23 race with Liu Ying and Chengyuan Ren taking first and second place ahead of Elisabeth Osl (Austria). Ren was the U23 women's champion in 2006.
Alla Boyko (Ukraine) won the junior women's event Wednesday while Thomas Litscher (Switzerland) took the junior men's event Thursday. That was Switzerland's second gold of the championships. Switzerland also won the team relay opening event Tuesday ahead of Poland and the US.
The American squad was thrilled with its bronze in the team relay. Led by Craig and Georgia Gould, with Sam Schultz as the U23 rider and Ethan Gilmour the junior man, the team logged the highest-ever American finish in the event. A strategic decision to send Gould off first and sacrifice an early lead paid off for the US Team as the only squad to opt for a slow start and a fast finish.
"I figured we'd be better off if we let Georgia ride by herself because that's what she's been doing all year anyway," Craig explained of the team's tactics. "She could time trial it and then the younger boys were fine with just picking off a person or two a lap. I figured if I was on the last lap with a bunch of people to catch, I'd be fired up. It's good for morale to be passing people."
The sun finally came out after the junior men's cross country race Thursday, just in time for downhill qualifying. Riders are reporting that the course is drying out quickly. The top times in qualifying were posted by British riders in the junior men's (Richard Cunningham) and elite women's (Rachel Atherton) categories, while Floriane Pugin (France) was fastest for junior women and Greg Minnaar (South Africa) for elite men, just ahead of another Brit, Gee Atherton.
4X racers are also racing qualifying rounds Friday. The 4X will wrap up Saturday with the Downhill finals on Sunday. The 4X is considerably longer than the previous version, with the first corner crucial to winning.