The world's top cross country racers made the drive down from Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada where they competed last weekend, to Windham Mountain in New York for round 6 of the UCI World Cup Series on August 8-10. This will be the third time Windham Mountain has hosted the prestigious World Cup and it was recently announced that they would do so again in 2015.
Located just 140 miles north of New York City, it has become a popular venue for the World Cup teams. It offers easy travel, a challenging course, and a charming country town that has embraced the idea of a racing festival weekend.
The North American women finished well in last weekend’s race at Mont-Sainte-Anne. Canadian Champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team) was only a minute behind 21-year-old sensation Jolanda Neff (Liv Giant), who leads the World Cup series. Czech native Katerina Nash, who has lived in the US for many years, finished third. US Champion Lea Davison (Specialized) continued her amazing comeback from hip surgery with a fourth place finish. Finally, former Canadian Champion Emily Batty finished fifth just two minutes off the winning time.
The 5.1 km Windham course is not nearly as technical as Mont-Sainte-Anne but is demanding due to the climbing. The 730-acre mountain, with the summit at only 3,100 feet, will also level the playing field for racers who do not live at altitude.
Former world champion Pendrel won the 2012 edition of the race, with Nash in second, and Gould third. Gould had over a minute lead in that race but flatted near the finish and had to run with her bike over the finish line. Pendrel, one of the best climbers in the world, should have a slight advantage over the larger Neff on the Windham course.
The long, mostly non-technical descent at Windham does not seem to favor any particular rider. The biggest problem racers have faced on the descent in the past is that the track constantly moves from bright open ski slopes to much darker forested sections, making it difficult for the racer’s eyes to adjust.
Davison is no stranger to the Windham course. She won the Pro XCT race held here last year by a whopping five-minute margin. She has the closest thing to a hometown advantage of any rider, as many of her Vermont fans and family will make the trip to Windham to watch her race.
Gould had an off week at Mont-Sainte-Anne, finishing 15th, but is hoping for a better performance in Windham. She said on her Facebook page, "MSA World Cup was a sufferfest for me today. Was hoping for more, ended up 15th. She later added, "But I’m not dwelling on my race here-just heard that the Lone Wolf heckle pit will be at Windham! Just made my day/week/month."
Former Olympian and US Champion Mary McConneloug (Kenda NoTubes) fractured her fibula during a practice run at Mont-Sainte-Anne. She said on Wednesday, "The bummer news is I will not be able to race this weekend at the World Cup in WIndham, New York. The good news is that it is stable (I don't need surgery or crutches) and I can get back on the bike with a protective boot, which will allow me to ride and train up to pain tolerance. Doc says it will heal completely in six weeks."
The women's race will be stacked with riders like last year's World Cup champion Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools Team) and former world champions Catharine Pendrel, Sabine Spitz (Sabine Spitz Haibike), Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon), and Maja Wloszczowska (Liv Pro XC Team). Also on the start list is the 2012 Olympic gold medalist Julie Bresset (BH-Suntour-KMC) who coming into form. It is uncertain whether multi-time world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida Biking Team) will be racing since she did not start at Mont-Sainte-Anne and is busy preparing for the Worlds in Norway next month.
In the men’s race, the Windham spectators are likely to be treated to another battle between former world champion Julien Absalon (BMC) and current champion Nino Schurter (Scott-Odlo) who won at Mont-Sainte-Anne by just 16 seconds. Absalon has been having one of his best seasons and leads the World Cup standings with 2077 points, to Schurter’s 1870 points.
Burry Stander, who was killed in a tragic crash in South Africa last year, won the 2012 Windham World Cup by a slim margin over Sergio Mantecon Gutierrez (Trek World Team). Marco Fontana (Cannondale), who did not display top form at Mont-Sainte-Anne last week, finished third.
The crop of North American male riders will be somewhat weaker than normal. Newly crowned US Cross Country Champion Todd Wells (Specialized) will be seeking another victory at the Leadville 100 this weekend. Former champion Sam Schultz (Sho-Air Cannondale) has missed most of the season with a back condition.
The best chances for podium spots may be Canadian Champion Geoff Kabush (Scott 3Rox Racing) and his long-time nemesis and fellow Canadian Max Plaxton (Cannondale). They both had top 10 rides here in 2012. Kabush is the only rider with a feature of the course permanently named after him. "Kabush Falls" is the spot where years ago he fell into a ravine and had great difficulty climbing out.
Former US Champion Stephen Ettinger (BMC) will be racing. He finished a disappointing 33rd at Mont-Sainte-Anne but has had excellent form over the past month. He later said, "Sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail. Today I was the nail. Next week I'll be the hammer."
Elite racing will start on Friday with the eliminator events. Saturday will feature downhill races, and Sunday the cross country races. There will be amateur and kids races throughout the weekend as well.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews.com for complete race results, photos, and race articles.