Former gravity World Cup winner and four-time gravity world champion Brian Lopes wasn't someone you would expect to see on the start line of the eliminators at the Dalby and Offenburg cross country mountain bike World Cups, but he was there participating in a style of mountain bike racing that the UCI is trying to grow.
Lopes was spotted earlier this year racing several short tracks in the US and he offered his comments on both types of racing. "For me, the eliminator is better than the short track physically. I think they are both exciting," said Lopes to Cyclingnews. "I love watching short track back home, it's usually good racing and one of the best events to watch."
The UCI is working on adding eliminator-style events to more cross country events and there is talk that it could become another World Cup event. Unlike a short track, which features a mass start and lasts 12-20 minutes, an eliminator features qualifying followed by heats of four or six riders, similarly to a four cross style event, but on more level terrain.
"If the eliminator becomes a World Cup event, you'll see a lot of guys doing it. It's just like with four cross and dual slalom - when those became World Cup events, we had a lot of guys like myself who specialized in them," said Lopes. "I'm sure there is a whole slew of guys out there who are built machines for this kind of racing and they just need to learn the technical aspects."
Lopes described the kind of rider who he think would excel at eliminator-style races. "Somebody who has a good sprint. Someone who can jump out of turns from a slow start. That's my strong point, getting up to speed. What I'm not good at is keeping it on up a climb. As courses get more techincal, technical skill plays a role. Someone who is smart and has road and crit experience would be good. It's also important to be able to recover well between each heat."
He likened the experience of moving through heats of short races to that of doing dual slalom. "In dual slalom, as you got closer to the finals, you were going against faster people and the recovery time was less. I always prided myself on doing that well and wanting the racers to go quicker and quicker."
In Dalby, four racers at a time progressed through eliminator heats until the final whereas in Offenburg, six-rider heats were used.
"I like the six riders better than four. It depends on the course but with the four, if you're in the second position, you have to watch your butt. At least with the six, there is more room to play safe and if you get passed by one, it's not the end of the world. With four you have to fight for every position."
In doing just two eliminators so far, Lopes, who was racing in US National Team colors, said he has learned a lot. "At Dalby, there were more road tactics, and I didn't know what I was doing. I was like a fish out of water. I watched after I got eliminated and learned a lot."
At Dalby, heats were taking about one minute and 30 seconds while in Offenburg, it was more like two minutes.
Gravity star Lopes is just out there to have fun. "These are great training and it's a good cross over. I'll never be a world champion at something like this. I'm nearly 40, and I'm trying to have fun, push myself and try different things."
"I have to thank all my sponsors and especially the cross country racers who have let me come here and given me a warm welcome."