With the start of the UCI World Cup rapidly approaching and the world's fastest riders readying themselves for another season of wild race action, we bring you a breakdown of the events that will determine the fastest men and women on two wheels.
Last year's World Cup champions Josh Bryceland and Manon Carpenter have had contrasting off-season preparation in the run up to the first stop in France, but they'll both be looking to retain their titles in 2015 — although doing so will be harder than ever.
Round 1: Lourdes, France, April 11-12
One of two new tracks on this year's UCI World Cup calendar, Lourdes gets the coveted pole position as season opener. The track is not brand new however, having played host to French national championship races in the past.
Rider to watch: Loic Bruni. So near yet so far for much of last season, kicking things off with a win on home soil, on a track he's ridden, will be high on Bruni's agenda.
Round 2: Fort William, Scotland, June 6-7
The grand dame of the World Cup circuit returns for yet another year. The Aonach Mor hillside has hosted a round every year since 2002, only taking a break in 2007 to host the Worlds. Notable winners include Steve Peat in 2005 and Troy Brosnan, who won his debut World Cup here last season.
Rider to watch: Danny Hart. The nearly man of British DH came achingly close last year, only to lose to Brosnan. That won't have gone down well.
Round 3: Leogang, Austria, June 13-14
One of the most picturesque rounds on the roster sees the circus roll into the Austrian Alps and Leogang bike park. The track often divides opinion due to its bike park origins, but always guarantees close racing. In 2013, Canadian Stevie Smith rode to the narrowest of overall victories ahead of Gee Atherton. Last year it was Josh Bryceland who claimed his first win there.
Rider to watch: Aaron Gwin. He came dead last in 2014, but did well even to get to the bottom of the course, having punctured early in his race run.
Round 4: Lenzerheide, Switzerland, July 4-5
The second of the two debutants, Lenzerheide has attempted to attest to its pedigree by boasting design input from World Cup legends: Steve Peat and Claudio Caluori. The venue already hosts World Cup skiing and in the opening race on the new DH track Brendan Fairclough took the win. Could this be the venue that finally sees Brendawg take his place amongst the immortals?!
Rider to watch: Brendan Fairclough. Time is ticking for Fairclough and he's already beaten some top flight names to a win here — this could be the one.
Round 5: Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada, Aug. 1-2
Another track steeped in World Cup history is the legendary Mont-Sainte-Anne, in French-speaking Quebec. Older heads may tell you that the course has mellowed somewhat of late, but everything, as they say, is relative. This is still one of the toughest hills on the calendar and to win here you have to be among the very, very best.
Rider to watch: Stevie Smith. Returning from injury is never easy, but by this stage Smith should be back to full speed and feeling up for it on home soil.
Round 6: Windham, New York, U.S., Aug. 8-9
The circus stays in North America for back-to-back rounds and the tiny ski town of Windham, New York, hosts the penultimate round. The track is short and fairly one line, but as last year's winner Josh Bryceland proved, it's all about carrying speed to the finish. The rock gardens remain high risk but tame them and you might just cash out with the win.
Rider to watch: Josh Bryceland. Gwin thought his run unbeatable here last season ... until Ratboy smashed it.
Round 7: Val Di Sole, Italy, Aug. 22-23
The last few seasons' "post-Gwin-domination" have seen the title come down to the wire — and what better venue than Val di Sole to wrap things up in 2015. The steep, rooty track becomes a dust ball when dry and a slimy gutter-fest in the wet. Sam Hill's run to World Champs heartbreak here in 2008 remains for many critics one of the greatest, if ultimately doomed, pieces of bike riding ever.
Rider to watch: Sam Hill. 2008 loitered on the edge of genius and he's now back in the World Cup winning groove. If he feels up for it, he won't be stopped.
Watch the 2015 UCI World Cup unfold right here on Red Bull Bike. See live coverage and exclusive highlights throughout the season.
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