Last year, Bromont was a mystery to most riders on the World Cup circuit. But most of them walked away impressed. The DH track was short and nasty, filled with roots and rocks. Technical skills were definitely required. The 4X was one of the longest and most creative tracks on the circuit. And the cross-country was pretty fun: not too long, not too short, not too much climbing… most racers said it was just about right.
But heavy rain—a deluge, really—over the past days quickly erased many of those fond memories. The DH track went from short and fun to damn tricky in a hurry. The first 4X practice was cancelled and the whole event was nearly called off. And the XC? Well, riders finished practice runs coated in mud, completely dazed, and ready for a beer. Even the ones who don't drink.
This year saw an amazing infusion of cash from the provincial government for course improvements—a touch north of $200,000, to be exact. Needless to say, all the courses have seen some love; some of it's obvious, some of it is not. The main building efforts were channeled into making the tracks weather resistant. The rain last year and some other torrents that have hit the venue have made these improvements almost a necessity.
The XC course saw the most love. Initially, organizers just wanted to change the start. Last year's rather aggressive climb was changed into something even more fierce—an initial climb that only a masochist could love. Or someone with one of those new XX 36 tooth rear cassettes. But when torrential rains during a Canada Cup race earlier this summer destroyed the other half of the track, designers bit the bullet and constructed an entirely new track. The new course entails proper drainage and incorporates features designed to resist the elements: namely rock gardens.
The 4X track saw few obvious changes, but course builders used 650-odd dump truck loads of material to rebuild the start (it's a bit steeper of a drop in now), reinforce the berms, and tweak the finish. The track is now 100-percent permanent, and should be "weather proof," according to organizers. But given the raging fury unleashed on the hill by Mother Nature Wednesday afternoon, we'll keep our fingers crossed.
The downhill was a short, rather nasty surprise to most everyone last year. The new track follows the same line as the old one, but just like the other two tracks, it now features better drainage and loads of reinforcing in the high-wear areas to limit track degradation. But about 180 riders are about to knock ten bells of hell out of it in practice today, and where it isn't rock, the track is going to be decidedly gooey.
Picks for the podium?
XC: The usual suspects for sure, but for XC, both Nino Schurter and Christoph Sauser have been on a podium free diet of late, and they're about due. For the women, look for both Marie Helen Premont and Marga Fullana to make moves for a podium placing: MHP will want a bit of redemption for last week's ninth-place effort, and Fullana is almost unbeatable on a stiff, opening climb like this one. If she can get away on the first climb and stay away leading into the second lap, barring a mechanical, a win will almost certainly be hers. Elisabeth Osl is likely to be in the mix, too.
4X: Jared Graves is almost invulnerable this season, but Joost Wichman will gladly take any opportunities Grubby Graves leaves open. For the women, Jill Kintner is a bit overdue for a win. And she tends to edge out Anneke Beerten on technical tracks like this, but Beerten does well on longer tracks. Unless those two tangle again and take themselves out, they'll go one-two.
DH: Sam Hill spent the three weeks prior to Mont-Sainte-Anne training and racing in Bromont. That makes him the odds-on favorite. A dark horse pick would be win number one for Aaron Gwin—he's feeling it. Other than those two, it's impossible to say who will be on the podium: Peaty, Minnaar, Leov, Blenkinsop, Gee Atherton, Brendan Fairclough… there is just so much depth in the top 10 riders. As for the ladies…Sabrina Jonnier looks to be unbeatable, but Tracey Moseley is waaaay overdue for a top step. Given the pedally nature of the bottom of the track, I'd tip Moseley for the "W."