Can Greg do it again?

2014-04-05 00:00

THE echoes of the chainsaws have hardly died and the celebrations are still ringing in the ears of the local mountain biking fans after hometown hero Greg Minnaar lit up the Cascades MTB Park’s downhill track in 2013 to claim a famous World Championship victory.

Seven months on, the UCI World Cup, presented by Shimano, is back in Africa’s “Bike City” for what should be an exciting weekend of action from April 11 to 13.

With a change in schedule for the 2014 World Cup, the downhill finals have been moved to Saturday with the Cross Country happening on Sunday. Considering the local interest in the downhill, Saturday’s action could be hot with Greg Minnaar attempting to claim a hat-trick of victories in his hometown.

An injury at the end of the 2013 season has meant that it has been a long road to recovery for Minnaar, who has not set his sights too high for the opening scene of the 2014 event — but never write the three-time World Champion off.

British rider and Team GT Racing star Gee Atherton finished the 2013 season as the top ranked men’s downhill rider and although he has never managed a win in Pietermaritzburg, his ability will always have him in with a shout.

An injury to the always threatening Steve Smith could rule him out of the opening leg of the 2014 season, but if he comes out of the starting gate he will always remain a threat.

The women’s Downhill World Championships was a one-sided affair with Gee’s sister Rachel Atherton proving to be far superior to the chasing duo of Manon Carpenter and Emmeline Ragot, who have been trying to hold on to the English flyer.

The men’s Cross Country might not follow the same script as previous years with current men’s World Champion Nino Schurter heading into the event on the back of the Absa Cape Epic that only wrapped up two weeks before the World Cup. Julien Absalon will be heading into the event fresh having not taken part in the Epic and will be hoping that he can break the Swiss maestro’s hold on the Cascades MTB layout.

Australian Dan McConnell had a horrible World Champs in 2013. But he produced consistent performances throughout the World Cup season that saw him start 2014 in third place on the UCI rankings, and with a fresh start to 2014 could provide the surprise package at Cascades.

Two former winners at Cascades will be on the starting line with Julie Bresset and Maja Wloszczowska looking to add to their impressive records at the venue. Having taken a title challenge ending tumble at the World championships in 2013, current world number one Tanja Zakelj is heading into the event hoping to break her Pietermaritzburg duck with a flawless performance at the event.

The Cascades MTB Park will be abuzz with riders and spectators as the training starts on the Thursday, April 10 with the official racing getting under way on Saturday with the Men’s junior downhill final at 12.30 pm.

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