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Mont-Sainte-Anne celebrates 20 years of international MTB racing

In mountain biking, World Cup and World Championship race venues come and go, but Mont-Sainte-Anne in Canada has endured on the UCI's international calendar for two decades. The Quebec ski resort has hosted a UCI Mountain Bike World Cup or World Championship every year since 1991. On September 1-6, Mont-Sainte-Anne will host the World Championships for its second running; the first was in 1998.

Spend some time on the race circuit and mention Mont-Sainte-Anne to both the cross country and the gravity pros, and the faces of most of them will light up with a smile as their minds fill with positive associations. Historically, the racers have enjoyed the courses and the atmosphere that surrounds each event there.

Maybe it's the warmth of the fans who come out regardless of the weather or bugs? Or maybe it's the passion of the Gestev group's employees and volunteers who organize the event?

Whatever the secret, Mont-Sainte-Anne has won several awards including "2009 Event of the Year" from an industry group of international teams, tech support companies and event organizers and "2009 Best four cross World Cup" from the UCI, which also ranked it in the top three for best cross country and best downhill World Cups last year.

"We feel so blessed that people seem to enjoy coming to Mont-Sainte-Anne. Our whole organization is very passionate about this event," said Chantal Lachance of Gestev to Cyclingnews. "We put all our heart into it for 20 years, and I think it shows." For example, this year, volunteers will donate 10,760 hours (the equivalent of 1,537 shifts) to help pull off the World Championships.

"We've always gone beyond racing to have all the athletes, media and guests feel at home and welcome. That means things like parties, a lounge, internet cafe, family area and daily newsletters. From the beginning, we've always tried to ask for constructive criticism after each event in order to get better."

Mont-Sainte-Anne's location, just 25 minutes from the major city, Quebec City, is also a plus, and finally, its traditionally technical courses have drawn praise world-wide.

"Mont-Sainte-Anne ... always featured technical downhill and cross country courses. The challenge always been to push the limit where technology and skills could meet, at a step higher, safely," said Patrice Drouin, President of Gestev to Cyclingnews.

A blast from the past

The list of past winners and podium finishers at Mont-Sainte-Anne reads like a list of who's who throughout the history of international mountain bike racing. Remember Daryl Price, Thomas Frischknecht, Nicolas Vouilloz, Roland Green, Jürgen Beneke and Rune Höydahl? Or maybe Sara Ballantyne, Julie Furtado, Missy Giove, Elke Brutsaert, Alison Sydor, or Paola Pezzo? All are retired racers who are formers winners at the popular venue.

Others, like Tinker Juarez, Dave Wiens, Julien Absalon, Eric Carter, Sabrina Jonnier and Ryder Hesjedal are podium finishers still currently racing and a few, such as Leigh Donovan, are past World Cup round winners who have made comebacks.

Memorable moments

- Mountain bike racing at Mont-Sainte-Anne started long before that first World Cup in 1991. Its first off-road race, a local event, was in 1983. "Using the cross country skiing trails, a long loop in the forest was marked and about 30 riders took the start, some of them wearing just a small cycling cap on their head!" recalls Drouin of the era before mandatory helmets. "From that moment, mountain bike racing never stopped at Mont-Sainte-Anne. From that local race, provincial, regional, national and international-level events were produced including 48 World Cups races and two World Championships."

- In the early 90s, every Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup finished with a huge party with all the athletes. "Seeing cross country riders like Paola Pezzo, Thomas Frischknecht and Miguel Martinez and many others all costumed and partying until the early morning with Bob Roll and Shaun Palmer - you had to see it to believe it. It was so much fun!" said Lachance. "Every year from 1991 to 2004, we had a different theme like Elvis, Disco, Miss World Cup Contest, talent night, Austin Powers, etc. Seeing Gerhard Zadrobilek, Dave Wiens and others in bikinis was quite funny."

- "From 1991 to 1997, the rain and fog kept making it harder and harder. Mixed in with mosquitos, I don't understand how we kept that World Cup for so long at the beginning," said Lachance. Fortunately, eight years of sunshine followed.

- "The 1998 World Championships stands out because we heard the French national anthem 25 times! Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but the Frenchies had wings that year," said Lachance. Elite cross country winners Christophe Dupouy and Laurence Leboucher, Under 23 men's cross country winner Miguel Martinez, downhill winners Nicolas Vouilloz and Anne Caroline Chausson, junior cross country winners Julien Absalon and Cecil Rode and junior downhill winner Fabien Barel were all among those who got to hear the French anthem played in their honor.

- In 2001, two Canadians won gold in the same year in the elite men's and women's cross country races. Roland Green and Chrissy Redden took top honors in the World Cup cross country race.

- Local and crowd favorite Marie-Helene Premont won the World Cup in 2005, 2006 and 2008 to the delight of spectators, who come out in droves to support her. In 2004, she finished second. "At Mont-Sainte-Anne, we have a bigger crowd during the women's race than during the men's," said Lachance.

- Every year, the venue hosts kids' races, just before the elite cross country race. It often draws 200 children from four to eight years old.

Countdown to Worlds

There is no more important race than the World Championships to most professional mountain bikers. It's the one race of the year that gives an athlete the right to wear the rainbow stripes for the next year. It's also a big deal for organizers.

"There is a lot more importance around the worlds: more media attention, more TV interest, more spectators to welcome which means a bigger infrastructure, more volunteers and a longer event in terms of days. There are more athletes, too," said Chantal Lachance of promoting World Cups versus World Championships. "We can easily say that the worlds are twice as big as a World Cup. The operational budget is also twice as big. So for the organizer, there is twice as much stress."

Marie-Claire D'Aoust told Cyclingnews that 100,000 visitors are expected to the four-weekend-long annual Velirium Mountain Bike Festival, which this year includes the World Championships. 850 athletes from 50 countries are expected.

Those attending can expect beautiful, late summer weather. "It's not as warm and humid as July, but it's perfect to be outside and enjoy the day. The average day time temperature will be around 68 degrees Fahrenheit," said D'Aoust.

They'll also be able to attend an expo featuring products and services from over 150 companies, opportunities to test ride bikes, chances to get autographs from top current athletes and legends.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the 2010 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships as well as more features leading up to the event.

Past winners for Cross country - Elite men & Elite women
1991 Daryl Price (USA) & Sara Ballantyne (USA)
1992 Thomas Frischknecht (Swi) & Chantal Daucourt (Swi)
1993 Tinker Juarez (USA) & Juliana Furtado (USA)
1994 Thomas Frischknecht (Swi) & Juliana Furtado (USA)
1995 Rune Höydahl (Nor) & Juliana Furtado (USA)
1996 Christophe Dupouey (Fra) & Alison Sydor (Can)
1997 Miguel Martinez (Fra) & Paola Pezzo (Ita)
1998 Christophe Dupouey (Fra) & Laurence Leboucher (Fra) [World Championships]
2000 Cadel Evans (Aus) & Barbara Blatter (Swi)
2001 Rol& Green (Can) & Chrissy Redden (Can)
2002 Filip Meirhaeghe (Bel) & Annabella Stropparo (Ita)
2003 Julien Absalon (Fra) & Gunn-rita Dahle (Nor)
2004 Christophe Sauser (Swi) & Gunn-rita Dahle (Nor)
2005 Christoph Sauser (Swi) & Marie-Helene Premont (Can)
2006 Christoph Sauser (Swi) & Marie-Helene Premont (Can)
2007 Julien Absalon (Fra) & Irina Kalentieva RUS
2008 Julien Absalon (Fra) & Marie-Hélène Prémont (Can)
2009 Julien Absalon (Fra) & Catharine Pendrel (Can)

Canadians to watch at the 2010 Mountain Bike World Championships

Mont-Sainte-Anne's nearby residents are super supportive of the Canadian athletes who come to race the World Cups and World Championships.

Local Marie Helen Premont is, of course, the favorite for many to watch in the women's cross country, but eyes should also be out for Catharine Pendrel, a top World Cup contender in recent years.

Others to watch are Quebec's Raphael Gagne, a first-year elite rider; downhiller Steve Brown from British Columbia; past podium visitor Seamus McGrath; and Under 23 women's racer Emily Batty.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.