All the world’s best for MTB

2011-04-22 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG — The world’s best mountain bikers converge on the Cascades MTB park at the foot of Town Hill for the season-opening UCI MTB World Cup presented by Shimano with virtually all the world’s top ranked fourcross, cross-country and downhill stars confirmed in the starting line-up.

World number one Jared Graves of Australia and world champion Tomas Slavic of the Czech Republic head up the field for the men’s fourcross that includes nine of the top 10 riders in the world.

Top-ranked woman fourcross rider Anita Molcik of Austria and world number two Anneke Beerten will race alongside South African entries Rika Olivier and U.S. based Joanna Pettersen.

The biggest field is entered into the cross-country competition where all eyes will be on Umtentweni star Burry Stander, currently ranked number six in the world and fresh from his win in the Absa Cape Epic earlier this month.

That competition will be cut-throat.

Every one of the world top 10 will be on the startline alongside him, including world champ José Hermida of Spain, World Cup series champ Nino Schurter of Switzerland, current world number one ranked rider Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic, and the potent Swiss siblings Matthias and Lukas Flückiger, who dominated the CSA nationals on the same course last weekend.

The women’s cross-country field also sports the entire top 10 ranked riders in the world, topped by Elisabeth Osl of Austria and Canadian star Catharine Pendrel in what promises to a hugely competitive class.

While the cross country tussle over the 6,1 km track will capture the attention of the massive local MTB community that is expected to attend the event, few spectacles can rival the nerve-jangling exploits of the downhill riders hurtling headlong down 416 metres over the three-kilometre descent on the downhill course.

In 2009 Greg Minnaar delivered the goods for the massive local audience that packed the downhill course.

The world number two ranked rider will be hell-bent on repeating that exhilarating feat again this year.

The Santa Cruz team rider will be racing downhill against 113 elite men — the entire world top 10 ranked riders — including ace Briton Gee Atherton and U.S. star Aaron Gwin.

In the women’s downhill, world champion Tracey Moseley will have to hold off four classy flying French women in Sabrina Jonnier, Floriane Pugin, Myriam Nicole and Emmeline Ragot.

The event looks set to start amidst a charged atmosphere at the MTB park.

It has been heightened by a strenuous week for the organisers spent tending the course after a 10-day weather blitz that started with a devastating hailstorm followed by a weekend of torrential rain that dumped 100 mm on to the course that is prone to become a mudbath under a heavy downpour.

A few international riders had to endure a stressful build-up to the event with bikes and equipment arriving late in Durban and then being hastily ferried to the competition site in Pietermaritzburg.

Germany’s under-23 cross-country ace Barbara Benko — when it became clear that her bike had not yet left Germany — had to scramble to arrange alternative equipment for the event.

After two days for the riders to walk the courses and then practice, the competition started with yesterday’s qualifications rounds for the spectator-friendly fourcross competition in which only the two fastest riders in each four-bike heat advance to the next round.

Today the attention shifts to the steep downhill course for the first qualifying round, and then to the nearby fourcross descent for the finals of the fourcross discipline.

On Saturday morning the cross-country course will play host to the men’s and women’s elite and under-23 racing, where KZN icon Stander will strive to secure a medal that will be warmly received by the big crowd that is expected to pack around the cross country course that winds through the forest.

Easter Sunday mornings programme starts with the junior cross country medal deciders before the massive crowd packs on to the downhill course for the World Cup finale — the downhill decider for elite men and women.

In 2009 a crowd estimated to number 12 000 crammed into the Cascades MTB park creating an electric atmosphere for the downhill finals.

With Pietermaritzburg hero Greg Minnaar poised to defend the World Cup title we won in thrilling fashion in 2009, his massive local fanbase will be vocal and animated as this nerve racking discipline builds to its climax.

UCI MTB WORLD CUP ROUND ONE, PIETERMARITZBURG

Total entry 441 riders from 38 nations (Africa 83, America 37, Asia 4, Europe 293, Oceania 24)

Cross-country:

Elite men 115 riders from 27 nations

Elite women 60 riders from 25 nations

U23 Men 54 riders from 19 nations

U23 women 18 riders from 10 nations

Junior men 14 riders from 3 nations

Junior women 6 riders from 1 nation

Downhill:

Men 114 riders from 18 nations

Women 19 riders from 9 nations

Fourcross:

Men 32 riders from 10 nations

Women 9 riders from 7 nations

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