• Nino Schurter (L) continues to be the man to beat in 2016 (Rob Jones)Source: Rob Jones
Round three of the UCI MTB Cross-country World Cup takes place this weekend at La Bresse, France, after a hiatus of three years.
29 May 2016 - 9:43 AM  UPDATED 29 May 2016 - 9:48 AM

La Bresse, nestled in the Alsace region by the German and Swiss borders, has twice held a Downhill World Cup, but 2012 was its first cross-country event. 

Under-23 Women will race Saturday (4 laps), with Under-23 Men (5 laps), Elite Women (5 laps) and Elite Men (6 laps) on Sunday.

The competition holds additional significance, since it comes one week after the Olympic nation quotas were announced for the Rio Games, and there are still many riders looking to qualify for their nation's Olympic spots, so riders will be fighting for every position.  This includes Australia, which has two spots for the men and one for the women.

The organizers have made full use of the slopes surrounding the town in designing their cross-country course.  After a short start loop, riders head up the valley to tackle the major climb of the 4.3 kilometre circuit.  It is a steep climb that starts on asphalt and gravel, before turning to singletrack with roots and rocks that requires both strength and technical skill. 

From there, the riders traverse the slope and hit the highest point of the course.  After this it is, literally, all downhill to the finish, on a twisting, technical run where skilled riders will open gaps.  This is Julien Absalon's (BMC) home course, and he won the last time the race was held here.

For the women, Annika Langvad (Specialized) is a clear favourite after two straight victories.  However, Catharine Pendrel (Luna) and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) have also been on both World Cup podiums this year, and Jenny Rissveds (Scott-Odlo) had an impressive ride back from a crash last weekend to finish second. 

The big question mark is defending World Cup champion Jolanda Neff (Stockli), who has missed both World Cups this season, last week because of illness. If Neff is back to feeling healthy, she could challenge, but she also has a poor start position. Another to watch is world champion Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Rabo Liv), who is also slowly coming back from illness.

Australian champion Rebecca Henderson (Trek Factory) will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 26th last weekend in Albstadt, after her third place at the opening round in Cairns.

The men's race will likely come down to the latest in the ongoing battle between Nino Schurter (Scott-Odlo) and Julien Absalon. Schurter has two straight wins, but last weekend was a sprint victory by half a bike length, and this weekend Absalon will have the entire local community behind him, on a course that plays to his strengths. 

Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) showed in Albstadt that he is on his way back from a broken wrist, with a fourth place, so look for him on the podium also.

Dan McConnell (Trek Factory) will be looking to break his string of bad luck and poor showings at the World Cup here after finishing 22nd last week.