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After the opening race of the season in England’s Dalby Forest, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup heads to Houffalize, Belgium this weekend.
Houffalize is one of the classic venues on the World Cup circuit with some of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans in the world. The four-cross series opens its 2010 season in Houffalize, while the cross-country athletes reconvene for round two of their series.
The action begins on Saturday evening with the four-cross, where the top pros will battle for the right to don the first World Cup leader’s jersey of the season. The reigning World Champion and World Cup winner, Australia’s Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox), will be looking to continue his winning streak and defend his title. Others to watch include Dan Atherton (Commencal), Joost Wichman (RSP 4 Cross Racing Team) and his team mate Tomas Slavik.
Two big names are missing in the women’s competition. Last year’s winner in Houffalize, American Jill Kintner, as well as Caroline Buchanan, the reigning World Champion out of Australia, won’t be at the race. The 2009 World Cup winner Anneke Beerten (Suspension Centre) is therefore the favorite.
This year, the cross-country competition will be raced over a new course that is two kilometres shorter (5.42 km) and provides spectators with more opportunities to see the riders. However, shorter does not mean easier; the new circuit includes multiple short, sharp climbs that zigzag across the hills surrounding Houffalize, and require repeated explosive efforts from the riders. Each climb is immediately followed by a technical descent, leaving little recovery time for the participants.
In the men’s race, round one winner and World Champion Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) will renew his battle with defending Houffalize champion Julien Absalon (Orbea).
In their past two meetings — the 2009 World Championships and Dalby Forest last week — Schurter has beaten Absalon in a sprint. Other men to watch include the Under-23 World Champion Burry Stander (Specialized) and Multivan-Merida’s Ralph Näf, who battled for the win last year with Absalon.
In the women’s competition, World Champion Irina Kalentieva will try to extend her lead in the standings with a second consecutive World Cup win. However, there is enormous depth in this field, as seen in Dalby Forest when the top six all finished within a minute of each other.
American Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher) will be looking to improve upon her second place, while the formidable Luna Pro Team had three riders in the top six at Dalby Forest — Katarina Nash, Georgia Gould and Catharine Pendrel. Another rider who can never be discounted is defending Houffalize champion Marga Fullana (Massi Team).