After a break of over a month, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano starts up again this weekend at Vallnord, Andorra. All three disciplines - Eliminator, Olympic Cross-country and Downhill - will be showcased, starting with the Eliminator on Thursday and finishing with the Downhill on Sunday.
The Eliminator has proven to be a great success in its first full season of competition, and Round 4 in Andorra offers a completely new style of course to the riders and spectators. After dropping into a BMX-style berm corner, riders zig zag through grass corners and over three BMX jumps before hitting singletrack. However, this singletrack has multiple lines and options, so riders will have to decide on the fly which one is the fastest. Coming out of the singletrack there is a steep climb to the final 100 metres of finishing straight.
Round 1 winners Alexandra Engen (Ghost Factory) and Daniel Federspiel (Otztal Scott) continue to lead the women's and men's rankings, but either could quickly lose that lead with one bad race. Engen leads Kathrin Stirnemann (Sabine Spitz Haibike) by 30 points, while Federspiel is 45 points ahead of Slovenian rider Miha Halzer.
The Cross-country returns to Andorra for the first time since 2008, and organizers have kept much of the original circuit intact. Probably the biggest factor will be the altitude - from a low point at 1850 metres (6000') and topping out at 2000 metres (6500'), riders will be gasping for air as they top the climbs. From the start riders begin climbing, first on an open grassy hill and then into singletrack. They then finish the climb on a gravel road before dropping into singletrack to lose all the altitude they just gained, then facing a short and very steep climb that should be decisive. From here the riders descend onto the Eliminator track to go over the BMX jumps and final singletrack section before climbing up to the finishing straight.
Tanja Zakelj (Unior Tools), with two wins in the first three rounds of the women's series, showed superb form in the first half of the season, but does she still have that form, or have her rivals caught up? Maja Wloszczowska (Giant Pro) sits 160 points back, but could start to close the gap here. Others to watch for include Round 1 winner Eva Lechner (Colnago Sudtirol) and Katerina Nash (Luna). Lechner finished second the last time Vallnord was part of the World Cup.
In the men's competition, World Champion Nino Schurter (Scott Swisspower) is coming off back-to-back wins, and holds a 120 point lead over the surprise winner of Round 1, Daniel McConnell (Trek Factory Racing). However, McConnell continues to impress in this breakthrough season for the Australian. Julien Absalon (BMC) has finished second to Schurter in the past two rounds, and recently beat his Swiss rival at the European Championships, so he could take his first win of the season at Vallnord.
The Downhill is a completely new course, and already riders are commenting on how steep and difficult it will be. It is technical, with roots, rocks and mud, all made more difficult with the very steep final third of the run, which finishes in the town of La Massana.
The Atherton duo (GT Factory) have dominated the Gravity World Cup so far this season, with Rachel Atherton winning both rounds of the women's series, and her brother Gee doing the same for the men. Rachel Atherton holds a 120 point lead over perennial rival Emmeline Ragot (Lapierre Gravity Republic), while Gee is 138 points ahead of second place Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing). Can the Atherton's manage a three-peat, or will someone finally break their winning streak?
Fans from around the world can follow the action live at redbull.com/bike, starting with the Eliminator on Thursday, July 25th, at 17:52 CET.