Preview: Offenburg World Cup

The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup moves to Germany one week after the Dalby Forest round in the United Kingdom.  Round three of the cross country series is happening in Offenburg.

Offenburg has become one of the modern classics of the World Cup, with a course that combines both technical and endurance requirements for a rider to do well. This German town near the French border has been awarded a World Cup for the fifth year in a row, and twice has been chosen as the best cross country event of the season (2008 and 2009).

For 2011, the organizers have stuck with the circuit that has worked so well in the past: a 5.1-kilometre course, with a 1.1-kilometre start loop.

After the 1.1-kilometre loop, which will spread the riders out with a climb; the field heads out onto the course proper. Last year, the women did five laps and a start loop, while the men did two more full laps.

The course is dry so it's riding very fast, even over the rooty sections.  The women will again do five laps, but the men will drop to doing six laps this year in keeping with the shorter overall races per the UCI.

Giant Rabobank rider Adam Craig described the course as "the driest I have ever seen".  So it is hard and fast, while rooty sections are more carved out and rougher than ever.

So far, the cross country World Cup has produced new winners and series leaders at each event, with Julie Bresset (BH-Suntour-Peisey Vallandry) winning in Dalby and taking over the women's series lead, and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) doing the same on the men's side. However, the men's series are still tight enough that we could see another change in the lead in Offenburg.

Bresset had expected to face competition from round one winner Ren Chengyuan (Specialized), plus the return of Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon), who missed Dalby due to visa problems. However, Chengyuan crashed during training and injured her back and will not be racing on Sunday. 2010 Offenburg winner and World Cup overall winner Catharine Pendrel (Luna) and German star Sabine Spitz (Central Haibike) will also be in the mix. Bresset has a 60-point lead on Chengyuan and a 170-point lead on Annika Langvad (Easton Rockets) in the overall standings, so there is a good chance that she will complete this spring campaign for the cross country series still in the overall lead.

Kulhavy put in a dominating performance at Dalby Forest, but he is only 10 points ahead of Julien Absalon (Orbea), who has the unique distinction of being the only man to have ever won at Offenburg; a clean sweep of the past four years. Can Absalon make it five consecutive wins, after having finished second in each of the first two rounds of 2011? While the Olympic champion has not won a World Cup this year, he has been the most consistent rider, with a pair of second places.

Other riders who will be looking to break Absalon's record include round one winner Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower), current world champion Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) and the German hope Manuel Fumic (Cannondale).

The action begins Friday evening with the second round of the short track eliminator series, followed by the junior and Under 23 men's cross country races on Saturday, and culminating in the elite races (and under 23 women) on Sunday.

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