Cowbell Preview – XCO World Cup Round 5

The Games may have begun, but the World Cup goes on!  In two weeks, all cross country eyes will be on Rio, but this weekend we are in Mont St Anne, Quebec, for round 5 of the 2016 World Cup Series.

In any Olympic year the cross country schedule gets a bit mixed up.  World Champs are run early, and North American World Cups require most racers to cross a number of additional time zones just prior to the Games.  The riders must decide what their priorities and strategies will be in order to perform at their best when it matters most.  This year, the running of only one World Cup in North America prior to the Olympics, provides less incentive than usual to travel to this iconic race.  So, who’s racing, who isn’t, and how will the podiums look?  Read on…

The Course

There are minor changes to the course of 2015, primarily out to the right hand side of the map below, where 250m has been added to bring the total lap distance up to 4.15km.   All of the exciting features remain including the brutally steep L’Enfer de Sainte-Anne and always more technical than it looks on camera La Marmotte climbs.  The tight inside line entry to La Beatrice looks to have been tidied up and open to more riders, which could make for some interesting, high risk, passing moves.  Le 4X also looks to have been tweaked so that the tricky rock section is ridden in the downhill direction.

Nathalie Schneitter posted an entertaining lap of the course.

Being Mont St Anne, conditions aren’t too different to what the riders will encounter in Rio in a couple of weeks, so spending some time here on the way from Europe won’t be a bad thing.

MSA course map

Elite Men

There aren’t many of the world’s best missing.  The odds-on favourite for every round he’s at, current overall leader Nino Schurter, and the big Czech who has been showing some real form recently, defending Olympic champion Yaroslav Kulhavy, aren’t in MSA.  The 5th ranked rider, Luca Braidot, is also skipping the North American leg.  Aside from them, there are only two others missing from the top 20 – both Swiss, Lars Forster and Thomas Litscher.  Litscher isn’t on the team for Rio, but Mathias Fluckinger is and he will be in attendance this weekend.

The absence of Nino and Yaro leaves the podium wide open.  Julien Absalon will look to capitalise on the opportunity to move in to the overall leaders jersey and take a 4th MSA win (previous wins coming in 2008, 2009 & 2013).  But it’s likely he will come under pressure from his own countryman, Maxime Marotte, who has been knocking on the door for his first world cup win all season.  A third Frenchman, the young Viktor Koretzky, will also be in the mix if his form from earlier in the season has returned.

In addition to the French, the Swiss are likely to help push the pace early on.  Stirnemann, Giger, Vogel and Flukiger are all capable of a podium result, but in the build up to the Olympic race, Mathias Fluckiger should have the best legs to take on the Frenchmen.

Elite Women

The women’s start list might be missing some significant names but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of depth left in the women’s field.  The men are missing 5 of the top 20, the women are missing 6.  Jolanda Neff and Pauline Ferrand Prevot are both racing in the Olympic road race which starts at the same time as the MSA elite women’s race, only several thousand miles away.  Linda Indergand, Jenny Rissveds and Alessandra Keller are also skipping MSA.  Indergand and Rissveds have both been on the elite podium this year, and Keller has missed it by one spot three times.  Missing #6 is Maja Wloszczowska, who has been showing better form in recent races, getting back on the podium at round 4 and the world champs after an out of character 2015 and early 2016.

Annika Langvad leads the World Cup overall with two wins, and backed those up with the world championship title in June.  Her confidence will still be sky high with the season she is having, and there is no question that her motivation is at its peak.  But the idea that she can walk away with a World Cup win without challenge just won’t fly.

It’s higmsacatharinehly likely that two Canadians will step up on to the podium once all is said and done.  Despite setbacks and crashes, Catharine Pendrel has shown all season that she’s got some top level form stored away this season.  She’s won in MSA 3 times (2009/11/12) and also has a handful of 2nd places (2008/14/15).  She elected to sit out the Canadian national champs due to the significant additional travel it would involve from BC so will be amping for a top level race on home soil (4 1/2 thousand kms away is local in Canada) and a strong result before heading south to Rio.

Emilymsaemily Batty is even more local than Catharine.  She has been on World Cup podiums sporadically over the years, but 2016 has seen her make it twice so far (including world champs) and it has really looked like the training methodologies this year will put her in the right place at the right time.

If they can pull it off, it’ll be the first time since 2008 that two Canadians have been on the podium together at home (in fact it happened twice in 2008, in Mont St Anne and a week later in Bromont).

Catharine’s Luna team mate, Katerina Nash, knows better than most how to put it together for the World Cup races.  She’ll be back on the front row at the start.  Ahead of her 3rd summer Olympics (plus 2 winter!) can she go all the way in MSA like she did in 2013 to win her only World Cup so far?

On paper Lea Davison hasn’t had a great season, with the exception of world champs.  But in the races she has demonstrated just how dangerous her potential is.  Because of that, I still see her as a podium pick, but she’ll have to contend with the likes of the Germans – Sabine Spitz and Helene Grobert.  With a medal in each colour from 2004, 2008 and 2012, at this point in an Olympic year Sabine will definitely have some form.  And having announced her retirement earlier in the year, this will be her last World Cup at MSA so she’ll want to leave with some great memories.

U23 Men

It’s not unusual for the fields to be trimmed down for North American racing, and even more so for the U23 fields.  This year is no exception.  In fact MSA is the first World Cup of the year for around half of the field.  Most relevant from the Kiwi perspective is that there are no Kiwi’s in the field either.

With the absence of Sam Gaze, Romain Seigle, and Simon Andreasson (2nd, 3rd and 4th in the World Cup respectively), it’s unlikely that anyone but Titouan Carod will take the win this weekend.  It will however make it near impossible for Sam to take back the overall leaders jersey in the final round.

Coverage

Live timing for U23 races – U23 men are up at 1am Monday NZT, U23 women at 8:30am.

Live stream for elite races – women are at 3am Monday NZT, men at 6am.

 

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