The first round of the UCI XCO World Cup is on this weekend at Smithfield Mountain Bike Park north of Cairns. The mountain bike world has been flying in to the tropical paradise over the last week or more. As the first round of the World Cup in an Olympic year, and the fact that Smithfield hosts the World Championships in 2017 – it’s no surprise that the race venue is pretty busy with elite athletes and their teams. It also means there’s a fair bit of new equipment around, or riders getting to terms with their new gear.
There’s quite a lot to see, as Trek Factory Racing are getting around on their bikes with the yet-to-be-released Bontrager carbon wheels.
Julien Absalon is racing a BMC Fourstroke, however it is not only equipped with a KS Lev Ci dropper post, but also a custom 8mm bolt up rear axle, carbon rocker link and custom handbuilt wheels.
We bumped into Paul van der Ploeg who’s just been backed by Shimano and Fox, and Cyclinic Suspension technician Shaun Hughes was getting his dual lock out dialled for the event.
Hughes has flown up from Brisbane to assist with Fox servicing for the weekend, and there are plenty of athletes out racing on the 32 SC fork, and many with the Fox IRD electronic lock out.
Florian Vogel was riding around on his new unreleased Focus 29er full suspension bike. We’re yet to know the full details of the bike – but there’s a chance the rear end is using a VPP style linkage. The shock is clearly mounted vertically, but there is no rear drop out pivot, and the cover of the linkage has some height above where the top of a shock body would need to be, or where a standard linkage would operate from.
We caught a Fox technician tuning the Orbea of Georgia Gould, and noted the slim grips wired on.
Gould was also using a destickered Stan’s Race Gold rim on the front, built to an unknown hub. This might have just been for training, as she had a Shimano XTR Race rear wheel – but a Race Gold rim or wheel can offer some serious weight savings.
We’ve all seen a few riders running tubulars for XCO racing – but if you can still pinch the latex inner tube – is it really worth it? We did spy some new Dugast tubs on a Dutch rider’s bike in the Shimano tent.
Fitted to his XTR tubular wheels were a new model, where the casing is complete and sealed without an inner tube. Essentially, ‘a tubeless tubular, and with latex inside’ according to the Dutch head coach.
There’ also all the rumours… is Sagan hitting the dirt to help launch a new Epic for Specialized? What tyres is Aaron Gwin running if not Hutchison? Has the XCO course been made too short? Why does Kyle Ward run two bidons for XCO?
The word on the Cairns course
Speaking to a variety of riders, from Trek Factory Racing stars like Dan McConnell, to Australian based riders like Jon Odams, and BMC’s Julien Absalon and Scott-Odlo’s Jenny Rissveds – the general agreement is that the course is great.
It’s clear that a full-suspension bike is being favoured, although McConnell has opted for a hardtail, as has Bec Henderson. Rissveds has said it’s her first year on a dual-suspension bike, but her Scott Spark is the right choice for the rocky course. We also took a look at the Scott Spark of Nino Schurter.
Odams was candid in his appraisal of the course, noting that there aren’t lots of passing opportunities on the descent, where he would normally aim to make up some ground. Michiel van der Heijden does find that the downhill offers enough chances for extra speed to make a difference, but it’s likely he’ll be in a different part of the race to Odams.
Racing starts on Sunday at 9am AEST with the men’s U23 XCO race – stay tuned for more from Cairns before then.