The US Pro Cross Country Tour (XCT) makes its first visit to Montana for the final round of the series at the Missoula XC Race on July 23-24. Missoula is hosting a full weekend of pro and amateur racing with the elite men and women competing on Saturday.
Going into the finals, Georgia Gould (Luna) and Max Plaxton (Specialized USA) sit atop the standings. The racing should be interesting because some top favorites are not attending.
Plaxton will be there to defend his lead just one week after winning the Canadian national championship race. His nearest challenger and the only person who could overtake him in the series standings, US national champion Todd Wells (Specialized), who is second overall, will be absent. Along with Plaxton, hometown favorite Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) is the top candidate to win this round.
Schultz has been eagerly anticipating this race at home and will have have the most amount of pre-ride time on the course of any of the favorites. He has 700 points in the series to Plaxton's 970 points. The winner will get 200 points, with 10 points less per place going to each subsequent finisher.
Plaxton and Schultz will take on other top riders such as Adam Craig (Rabobank-Giant) and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski who won the super D and short track national titles, respectively, last weekend.
Another racer to watch will be Stephen Ettinger (BMC Development Team) who lives in Bozeman, Montana. Ettinger was flying at last weekend's US Mountain Bike National Championship, where he won the Under 23 cross country race. He's been a regular in the top 10 at US Pro XCT races this season and has a real shot at a top three finish.
Other potential favorites like Ryan Trebon (LTS/Felt) and Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale) will be absent.
Series leader Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team) is sitting out the final round. Given she has 910 points to runner-up Lea Davison's 900 points, it seems likely Davison will win the overall series.
"I'm not going to Montana. It's my only time to have some time at home," said Gould after winning last weekend's US National Championship. "I'm going to the Olympic test race the following weekend, and I had to make a choice. While I would love to go to Montana, I'm hoping they will have it next year and I can go."
Davison, on the other hand, is keeping her racing streak alive for another weekend. "I'm going to Montana to finish up the US Pro XCT, and then I'm off to the two World Cups (in August)." She just won the super D national championship one week ago.
As for the Missoula XC race victory, Davison will face a real challenge from Katerina Nash (Luna Pro Team), who is not ranked in the top five of the series. Emily Batty (Subaru-Trek), Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Trek) and Chloe Forsman (BMC Development) are three others to watch.
US short track national champion Katie Compton (Rabobank-Giant) will be absent. She is sticking closer to home this weekend.
A brand new course was constructed for the race on private land at Marshall Mountain. Each 4.4km lap features 850m of climbing and descending. The course follows the contemporary World Cup model with steep, technical climbs and descents and a mix of singletrack, doubletrack, and infrequent dirt road sections.
Frequent rhythm changes should keep racers on their toes and some fast sections will add to the fun.
The elite men will race for six laps while the women will do five laps.
See US Pro XCT standings going into the final round.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage from Missoula.