It's a cool spring here in Albstadt, Germany. The land of the Black Forest, and villages that look like they may have dropped out of Grimm's Fairy Tales is home to round two of the XC World Cup. The vegetation is lush and bright green, but it's the total opposite end of the conditions spectrum compared to Cairns just a few short weeks ago; the track is a much different beast from the first stop. Where Cairns had tech in spades and was loose and dusty, Albstadt is a classic climber's track. Long, steep, punchy climbs offer little in the way of recovery for racers as they plunge into the greasy descents. Albstadt is a slippery snake indeed. The crushed limestone base makes an extra fine mud that's heavy, won't clear from tires, and has its own unique brand of slip.
The woods let little in for light on a good day and intermittent rain this week has kept conditions in various states of sloppy. Tire choice will be crucial, vision will likely be impaired if one is closely following a wheel. Expect to see the field using their hardtails rather than dual suspension rigs to save weight. This should, by all means be a battle between Schurter and Absalon, but there are a few who could upset. Dan McConnell won here four years ago in very wet conditions, and will be hungry after double flatting in Cairns. Maxime Marotte, Mathias Fluckiger, and Florian Vogel could all be danger men. This is the first time we will see the full pro women's field, as Jolanda Neff and Pauline Ferrand Prevot were missing from the first round.
There is some fine architecture to be seen in Albstadt.
The side streets of Albstadt transport you to another time. Perhaps one where you are lured into a pointy roofed house by a lady with candy who might roast you in a wood fired oven.
Albstadt has some wonderfully strange artworks along its streets. These are the Baby Men Dinosaur Hatchlings. Not sure on the real name, but it's close enough for these purposes.
Detail of baby dinosaur man. German artists certainly have a sense of humor.
The Bowl will be wall to wall with German fans come Sunday, for now it's quiet as a mouse.
The first tracks on fresh grass.
Giacomo makes the final adjustments to the SRAM Eagle group set on Manuel Fumic's bike. Eagle looks to be just the gearing for the climbs here in Albstadt.
Bec Henderson and Dan McConnell warm up before braving the elements.
Evidence of a time when Albstadt was once underwater is abundant in the limestone.
Final tweaks are being made as practice gets underway.
Sometimes an ear is the only the gauge needed for adjustment.
Throwing shapes into slippery corners.
Chloe Woodruff on the fast single track descent during practice.
The track becomes slipperiest after it's had a chance to dry out a bit when the rain stops. That's when the clay mud becomes ultra slick and a full slide is in effect.
Keegan Swenson wearing a mud mask many would pay top dollar for.
Bec Henderson will be looking to follow up her third place finish in Cairns with another strong result this weekend.
Catharine Pendrel out for a wet lap. She will be looking to improve on her fourth place result in Cairns here in Albstadt.
Julien Absalon out on his first lap of practice. He flatted in Cairns and made an incredible comeback through the field to finish third. Will he take his first win of the season here in Germany?
Much of this race will be about grip. We just have to wait and see how nice Mother Nature will play.
The snails in Albstadt are huge, and probably delicious with butter.
Evidence of a wild ride. It's like greased lightning out there at the moment.
Went out weighing 20 pounds, came back weighing 28.
A sink wash and rooftop drying done early on in the day are key if you want to ride in clean, dry kit tomorrow.