Early praise for champ city

2008-12-26 00:00

The Pietermaritzburg round of the 2009 Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, presented by Shimano, has received early praise well ahead of the prestigious event, which takes place over the Easter weekend from April 10 to 12.

Event director Alec Lenferna presented the South African event at the official World Cup organisers’ seminar staged at the International Cycling Union (UCI) offices in Aigle, Switzerland on December 10 and 11 and was commended on the significant work already completed on the race routes and competition arena.

Three disciplines of mountain bike racing, cross-country, downhill and 4X (four-cross), will be held on the forested slopes on the north-west of Pietermaritzburg, adjacent to the Cascades Centre. The world’s best mountain bike racers will be in action at the event, giving Pietermaritzburg and South Africa a significant boost as an international racing location.

“Due to the fact that the Pietermaritzburg leg of the series is the opening event, the majority of the international teams and national federation teams are expected to attend”, said Lenferna, adding that many of the teams have already made inquiries as to whether they will be able to come to the region earlier and train in the warmth of the South African sun in the weeks leading up to the event.

This will also boost the fourth round of the MTN South African National Cup Series that will be staged at the same venue the weekend before the UCI MTB World Cup event, giving local riders a chance to compete against some of the world’s best mountain bike racers.

“At this point in time, the major interest is in the cross-country and downhill disciplines, but the newly-built 4X course, which is the longest and steepest on the competition calendar, is eliciting a high level of curiosity too,” said Lenferna.

The discipline of 4X is new to South Africa and because it is such a spectator-friendly event, is expected to be one of the highlights of the weekend’s racing. In 4X, four riders at a time compete in an elimination format competition on a steep, obstacle-riddled slope with the first two finishers of each race advancing to the next round, until only four riders remain to contest the final.

Pietermaritzburg will also inaugurate a new category, which has been introduced by the UCI, the Junior World Cup Series, which offers riders, aged 17 to 18 years a premier international racing series for the first time.

Junior men and women selected by their national federations will be eligible to compete in this category in an effort to prepare young stars for the rigours of professional racing when they leave the junior ranks. Each national federation may enter one junior male and one junior female per World Cup event, although the host nation may enter two males and two females, giving MTB South Africa a new opportunity to showcase its junior talent.

Lenferna and his team have already reached an advanced stage of preparation for the event, which is expected to attract more than 1 000 riders, team support staff, sponsors, officials and media from around the world. There’s also a development aspect being introduced at the Pietermaritzburg round, which brought accolades from the UCI.

“The level of support we are receiving from the City of Pietermaritzburg is exemplary and this is evident in the fact that the city has made a prime piece of real estate available to us to develop, which is part of the Legacy Project rollout that is attached to each of our events,” explained Lenferna.

“Before and after the UCI World Cup event, the competition courses and facilities are available for national and regional mountain bike clinics and races throughout the year, which helps to assist in further developing the sport as well as Pietermaritzburg as the African hub of the sport. Local and international visitors to the area can also ride the courses, the only UCI MTB World Cup graded courses in Africa. There are not many places in the world this kind of public access exists,” said Lenferna.

Lenferna and his company, Treble Entertainment, have a wealth of experience in staging large cycling events, having already staged the 62-nation 2007 UCI B Road World Championships and the 58-nation 2008 UCI Junior Road World Championships, both held in Cape Town, South Africa.

“Africa is becoming more and more important as a new market for the UCI in its drive to fully globalise the sport and to this end, the UCI is very keen that we succeed in staging a very good event in April 2009.

“I’ve always believed that in Africa in general and in South Africa in particular, we have some excellent event organisers and we don’t need to stand back for anyone. I’m confident that we will show the rest of the world a thing or two in 2009 and beyond,” he said. — OC.

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