The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup moves to Canada this week for the first of two rounds - both doubles (cross country and downhill) - in North America, held at the legendary Mont-Sainte-Anne venue east of Quebec City. Mont-Sainte-Anne - known as MSA - has been a fixture on the World Cup since it began in 1991 and, other than not hosting World Cups during the two years it hosted the world championships, has never missed a year.
Mont-Sainte-Anne is known for tough, technical courses and, often, hot and humid conditions. This year will be no different. The cross country has been revised to make it, in the words of world champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna), "One of the toughest I have done. They've made the opening climb harder with a singletrack section and reversed the second loop, which is much more difficult."
The downhill has returned to its roots, losing the turns at the top that slowed the riders, to become an extremely fast drop out of the starting gate. One of the longest runs on the circuit, this year Mont-Sainte-Anne is likely to have some of the highest speeds as well.
The cross country, on Saturday, has lost a few top riders as they go into Olympic preparation, but the majority of the best riders in the world will be here. Missing from the women's field are World Cup leader Julie Bressett (BH-SR Suntour-Peissey Vallandry), Maja Wloszczowska (CCC Polkwice) and Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol). Pendrel will be looking to add MSA to her list of wins, but she will have a very tough battle against home town favourite Mare-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain), who has won here twice before. Another to watch for in the women is Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida), who won the last round in La Bresse, France.
The men's field is missing two big names - Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale). However, the World Cup leader Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) is here, plus his teammate Florian Vogel. Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan Merida), who won the world championship title here in 2010, will also be one to watch, as will Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized), the 2011 World Cup champion.
For the downhill, we can expect a full field. Rachel Atherton (GT Factory) and world champion Emmeline Ragot (MS Mondraker) will renew their rivalry here, as Florian Pugin (Scott 11) continues to chase her first victory of the season.
In the men's race, as always these days, the prohibitive favourite is Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing). The defending World Cup champion has two wins in three races, against one for his main rival Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate). Others to watch for include world champion Danny Hart (Giant) and the Canadian favourite Steve Smith (Devinci), who won a silver medal here at the world championships in 2010.
The action begins on Friday with the downhill qualifying.