Seven months have passed since Loic Bruni claimed his second World Champs in three years. Now, Aussie dust turns to Croatian rock as an off-season spent training and testing is set to come to fruition on a hillside in Losinj for the inaugural round of the 2018 World Cup season. As ever, with a new season and a new venue come new challenges. Alan Milway, coach of Brendan Fairclough, Joe Breeden and more, takes a closer look at what to expect this coming weekend.

The Venue/Track :

Ever since details of the track emerged, riders and teams looked to prepare by either visiting the venue itself or by heading to similar terrain in a bid to dial bike set up and rider preparation: Loic Bruni and the Specialized team have been to Croatia itself whilst others have chosen to head to San Remo, or like the Scott team, to Peille. This track is southern France was used by Nico Vouilloz to hone his technique; technical, rocky and very hard to ride with any flow by all accounts- but similar for what is to come in Croatia from initial footage.

The track is short by World Cup standards, with runs times estimated to be a little over 2mins (2mins is the UCi minimum duration and as a comparison, the winning time at Cwmcarn last weekend was 2mins 29.5secs).

Most venues on the calendar are serviced by chair lifts or gondolas, but here there will vehicle uplifts, which presents a different challenge as generally the number of runs a rider can do are reduced as the uplift takes a lot longer. This will throw in another dimension to race run preparations too as it may be harder to time a very smooth and prompt uplift to the start -unlike a routine 7mins gondola ride.

Weather looks great for the weekend too

Rule Changes this year:

The Mens final has been reduced to the top 60 qualifying times, and timed training is for the top 60 ranked riders (in 2017 this was the top 80). Being ranked in the top 60 is an important first benchmark for a rider as this will mean they are in A practice and will have extended track time (timed training). B practice starts much earlier, so conditions can be worse (often wet with dew even on dry days in the mountains) and there is much less track time.

The top 10 ranked men and top 5 ranked women from 2017 are protected for finals all year, with the best ranked 10 men in this current years standings and top 5 women (not including above) making up 20 protected riders for men, and 10 for women.

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UK Riders to watch:

Men:

Matt Walker: The current Junior World Champion. He has been joined on Madison/ Saracen by multiple World Champion and big money signing Danny Hart... and promptly beat him at last weekend’s National in their first head to head race. Matt will be riding high with confidence and know he has the pace to win at World Cup senior level having just won the national race first time out. By this very fact watch out for Danny too – he will not take this lightly.

Charlie Hatton: After a stellar year in 2017 he has been signed up by Atherton racing and partnered with the experienced Gee Atherton. Gee will want to stay ahead of his team mate, but Charlie has shown his speed and will be gunning for the top 10. If he can enjoy the added attention of a big team and all the things that come with this, he could really shine.

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Women:

Tahnee Seagrave: The publicity and exposure has been high over the winter for Tahnee, with expectation from sponsors to de-throne Rachel Atherton. It will be interesting to see the Rachel v Tahnee battle that Redbull are fuelling.

Katy Curd: After a long absence from racing, Katy returned in January and in a pre-season race in Portugal was only 2 seconds behind Tahnee, and again last weekend in Cwmcarn was only 2 seconds behind her. My Dark Horse prediction for a podium in Croatia.