The best mountain bikers in the world are converging in Hafjell, Norway for a week of world championship racing. Hafjell is located just a few kilometers up the highway from Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics.
2014 marks the historic 25th year of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships.
The first race of the 2014 Worlds will be the eliminator, hosted in Lillehammer on Tuesday evening. Although the UCI recently announced the end of the eliminator World Cup, the world championships go on - for the third time ever this year.
The eliminator is the newest sub-discipline of mountain biking. Defending women's champion Alexandra Engen (Sweden) will not be back - she has missed the second half of the season due to issues with chronic fatigue. Other favorites include Switzerland's Kathrin Stirnemann, who is the 2014 World Cup champion and Jenny Rissveds of Sweden.
In the men's race, Paul van der Ploeg (Australia) will defend his title against riders like World Cup champion Fabrice Mels (Belgium), Daniel Federspiel (Austria) and Catriel Andres Soto (Argentina).
The team relay will kick off the cross country racing on Wednesday. Each nation will be represented by four riders including one elite man, one elite woman, one under 23 man and one junior man. Racers can go in any order, making picking the ideal race order a key part of every team's strategy.
Some favorites include Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Canada and the Czech Republic.
Junior, under 23 and elite individual cross country races will follow on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Elite women's 2013 champion Julie Bresset (France) will be on the start line, but she's had a tough season and will face real challenges from several top riders, among them home crowd favorite Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa of Norway, Catharine Pendrel (Canada) and Tanja Zakelj (Slovenia).
Perhaps the most exciting women's battle will be in the under 23 category with Jolanda Neff (Switzerland), the winner of the elite World Cup, against Pauline Ferrand Prevot (France). Both riders are among the fastest on the circuit at the moment, but have to race the U23 category instead of the elite category per UCI rules.
In the elite men's race, Nino Schurter (Switzerland) will aim for another world title to continue his streak. World Cup winner Julien Absalon (France) will likely be his top rival as has been the case all season, but any number of top favorites could step onto the podium for a medal on race day.
The Worlds will wrap up this year with the downhill finals for elite and junior men and women.
Defending champion Greg Minnaar (South Africa) won't have the home course advantage this year as he faces World Cup champion Josh Bryceland (Great Britain), Aaron Gwin (United States), Troy Brosan (Australia) and Sam Hill (Australia). Brosnan, Bryceland and Gwin never won an elite-level downhill title.
In the elite women's downhill, defending champion Rachel Atherton (Great Britain) will race her compatriot Manon Carpenter, who won the 2014 World Cup, and former elite world champion Emmeline Ragot (France).
There is no junior women's downhill World Cup, so it's hard to predict the favorites in the category, but among the junior men, Luca Shaw (United States) and Loris Vergier (France) are two favorites to watch.
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