The World Cup has two types of tracks: one is non-MSA tracks, and the other is MSA tracks. Canada's Mont-Sainte-Anne (MSA for short) has been hosting the World Cup since 1991, and in the 32 years since then, it has hosted 25 World Cup rounds and 3 World Championships, making it one of the few venues in the history of the Mountain Bike World Cup that has been almost consistently present every year. Even in the late 1980s, when mountain biking was not yet recognized by the UCI, local mountain biking enthusiasts in this area were already organizing races, connecting teams, and developing local associations. Local leader Patrice Drouin was invited by the UCI to plan international mountain bike events, which gave birth to the Mountain Bike World Cup and mountain bike rules, making MSA an integral part of it. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that "the history of MSA is the history of the World Cup."
Race with Full Satisfaction
MSA Mountain Bike Park is located on the left bank of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada. It boasts 30 downhill trails and 67 cross-country (XC) routes, making it a prominent mountain biking destination on the eastern coast of North America. The total length of the trails is approximately 2.7 kilometers, with an elevation drop of about 560 meters, offering an indescribable charm. Despite over 30 years of evolution, the actual trail layout itself has not seen significant changes. One might assume that such an "oldest" trail would lose its appeal for athletes achieving ever-better results and bike manufacturers advancing their craft. However, reality is quite the opposite. Even though some athletes occasionally complain about the lack of novelty in the same venues year after year, none of them dare say they can't handle this "age-old" trail, with MSA being a favorite for many.
The length, diversity of terrain, challenging weather conditions, and the organizing belief that prioritizes the feedback of athletes in modifying the course contribute to the fact that while the trail may appear the same every year, it continues to offer fresh challenges, becoming a lasting symbol of the World Cup.
Beyond the satisfaction provided by the trail itself, the event takes care of all aspects of the athletes' and teams' lives. When European teams travel to America for the race, they often have to downsize their operations due to the logistical challenges. They might not have the luxury of large team buses or support trailers, and they need to rent vehicles locally or coordinate with dealerships or local subsidiaries for support. In such fluctuating circumstances, the performance of the athletes is inevitably affected. However, MSA's event planning makes teams and athletes feel right at home, especially with the post-race festivities, which resemble an annual gathering of friends between Europe and America.
"Track for the Adults"
The initial section of the MSA track is located beneath the cable car in a short grassy area. It features a series of seemingly relaxed turns and jumps, but the surface is interspersed with large boulders. As a result, riders must tighten their lines from the very beginning to navigate the course cohesively. The track then enters a wooded area, where the ground isn't as intricate as European tracks, but the region's distinctive large rocks are scattered across the path. Thanks to the clever design by the organizers, despite the relentless bombardment on the wheels, riders can continue to move forward. Speed or caution depends on the rider's skill.
Emerging from the woods once more and descending into the grassy area below the cable car, this is the fastest section of the course. Riders must traverse the high-speed, centrifugal slopes and tight drops at speeds exceeding 60 kilometers per hour. Large rocks in the straight path are like hidden landmines waiting for every rider. The sight of riders speeding through this section with the backdrop of the St. Lawrence River mouth is the iconic view of MSA.
In the second wooded section, the bombardment on the ground intensifies. Calling it a "rocky area" is an understatement. The continuous drops of large rock faces, mixed with sharp-edged medium and small-sized rocks, demand riders to not only find the fastest line but also consider the well-being of their wheelsets. At MSA, the wear and tear on wheels can be as substantial as tire consumption. There is no part of this track where riders can catch even a second of rest. As a result, riders exiting into the finish area, after over 4 minutes of high-intensity anaerobic effort, are often exhausted, but they also carry a sense of fulfillment for completing the MSA track once again.
In the past, MSA rounds were always held in August. However, this year's new schedule, no longer needing to align with Whistler's Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival, pushed the event to October. This change introduces a new variable to the already challenging MSA track: "low temperatures." Quebec experiences rainfall year-round, and by October, the average temperature has dropped to nearly single digits. The MSA track, which starts at an elevation of 800 meters, will have temperatures in the single digits as well. This is not the typical temperature range for a World Cup downhill race, and the regulation of rider body temperature could potentially have a decisive impact on the competition.
New Format, New Competition
This year marks the first year of the new World Cup format, where the UCI has integrated all mountain biking events, including various XC disciplines, downhill racing, enduro, and e-MTB enduro, into the "World Series." The new event rules brought unprecedented competition intensity to the downhill racing in the last round at MSA.
In the previous seven rounds, there were seven different male elite winners, including five first-time victors. Jordan Williams and Jackson Goldstone even claimed victories in their first year in the elite category, and Oisin Callaghan secured a win in his second year. Andreas Kolb and Benoit Coulanges, on the other hand, broke through after a decade of competing in the World Cup, creating a rare scenario of a battle between the old, middle, and young generations.
Currently, the top five male elite riders in the World Cup are within 260 points of each other. Andreas Kolb, who won the second round and finished in the top ten in the seventh round, has 1262 points and currently ranks fifth. Fin Iles, who won in front of his Canadian compatriots at MSA last year, has achieved top-ten finishes in all rounds this year except for a slight mishap in the fifth round in Loudenvielle, accumulating 1320 points. He carries the weight of leading the entire Canadian downhill scene, making him a focal point and under immense pressure. Another young Canadian talent, Jackson Goldstone, claimed his first victory in the third round in Val di Sole, an outstanding performance for a newcomer to the elite category. Like Fin, he will need to handle the expectations of Canadian fans, just as Finn does. Loris Vergier, while consistently performing well this year, has yet to secure a round win. He currently has 1458 points and is in second place. Loic Bruni, who shares a close bond with Loris, has had a similar season with fluctuating results but gained a significant number of points by winning in Loudenvielle. He currently leads with 1518 points.
Under the new format, points for winning the elimination, semi-final, and final races are 50, 100, and 250, respectively. If a rider can win all three races in a single round, they can accumulate as much as 400 points. Therefore, even with only the final round at MSA remaining, there is still room for a dramatic conclusion in the male elite category.
In the female elite category, Valentina Holl has dominated the season with three round wins. With her biggest rival, Camille Balanche, ending her season early due to injury, Valentina secured the title with a lead of over 400 points before the U.S. round leading up to MSA. Nina Hoffmann and Marine Cabirou, currently in second and third place, are separated by only 29 points, so any slight error in the final MSA round will be a decisive key.
American rider Dakotah Norton, sponsored by Intense and TRP, secured third place in the previous round in Snowshoe, USA. Dakotah, familiar with the cultural and natural environment of MSA on the eastern coast of North America, has previously secured second and third places. Whether he will achieve his first career victory in the World Cup is highly anticipated.