Best gravity racers head to Val di Sole World Cup

Gravity racers once again take center stage at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup this weekend, after an 11-week hiatus following the opening round in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. For round two, the series returns to Val di Sole, Italy, site of last year's World Cup Final and the 2008 world championships. The qualifying session on Saturday has over 250 competitors registered, a testament to the desire to race this course.

Val di Sole is known for its use of the natural terrain, and sections of rocks and roots that require great technical skill. The course will be familiar to racers, since all of the major features from past years remain, including the crash-inducing opening rock garden. Organizers have cut a few new lines, but over 80 percent of the run is the same as last year. The course is very dry, so the dust and deep soil that Val di Sole is notorious for is certain to be a factor, especially in the newly cut sections, where it will hide obstacles.

All 10 of the top women from round one in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, are on the start list for Val di Sole, led by Australia's Tracey Hannah (Hutchinson United Ride), who made a triumphant return to the sport with her win in round one, after taking a few years off.

However, Hannah will have her work cut out for her in Val di Sole. At the iXS European Downhill race last weekend in Austria, Hannah could only manage fifth against former world champion Rachel Atherton (GT Factory Racing), who has returned to the World Cup after a long recovery from a shoulder injury. World champion Emmeline Ragot (MS Mondraker) was second to Atherton last weekend, and second to Hannah in round one, so we could see a possible change in the World Cup lead in Val di Sole.

On the men's side, 19 of the top 20 riders are in attendance, with only number seven ranked Troy Brosnan ((Monster Energy-Specialized) missing due to an injury last weekend. Round one winner Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) showed last weekend in Austria that he is still the man to beat with a convincing win in the lead up to the World Cup.

Canada's Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing) was the only rider to come close to Minnaar in Austria, but Minnaar was beaten last year in Val di Sole by the 2011 World Cup champion Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing), and Gwin sits second to Minnaar in the World Cup standings. Others to watch include Gee Atherton (GT Factory Racing) and Mick Hannah (Hutchinson United Ride).

The action begins with qualifying on Saturday.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage.

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