Is track too dangerous?

2013-08-29 00:00

WITH temperatures comfortably breaching the 30° mark, the hot and dry day two of cross-country training at the UCI MTB & Trials World Championships took place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg yesterday.

Here riders looked to utilise every opportunity available to come to terms with every metre of the popular Nick Floros creation.

Despite the vast majority of the globe’s top mountain bikers being in town and raring to go, two notable absentees in the elite men’s and women’s fields were Switzerland’s Mathias Flückiger and Germany’s Sabine Spitz.

Twelfth seed in the world and brother of fellow Swiss star Lukas, who is currently fifth on the world rankings, Mathais was forced to withdraw from the event shortly before his plane to South Africa was set to take off, after he failed to recover from illness.

Women’s world number 11 Spitz got a little further than her Swiss counterpart; however, her trip to KZN’s capital too was short lived, as she crashed on the first day of training on Tuesday, tearing the ligaments in her right shoulder and forcing her out of the competition.

The 42-year-old was training and raced hard into the log drops at Sharka’s Playground, overshooting the first drop and then cartwheeling downhill, tearing ligaments in her shoulder. This was a mirror image of the injury to her left shoulder she suffered in May in the Albstadt leg of the UCI MTB World Cup.

After being discharged from hospital, Spitz was booked on a flight back to Germany today, her World Championship podium dreams in tatters.

“It’s really frustrating, because after my World Cup win in Andorra I was really confident about putting in a good performance here. Physically and mentally I was well prepared, so to have to go home now is very frustrating,” said Spitz.

For Spitz, one of the most experienced female cross-country riders on the world circuit, the injury has fanned the flames of the debate around the marked increase in difficulty of the courses being prepared for World Cup and World Championships globally.

“I speak a lot to other riders and we all agree that in the last five years the courses have become a lot more difficult,” she said. “Organisers and the media want spectacular courses, but do we need spectacular and dangerous courses?” she asked.

“You have to think about it from the point of view of a rider who has to go for five or seven laps with a heart rate of 170 m or more, and when you get to the end of the race when you are tired, you just don’t have the same concentration.

“Before I saw the changes to the course I thought Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa and Mala Wloszczowska would be the strongest riders, but now you have to look at Eva Lechner, who is technically very good, or Julie Bresset and Katerina Nash, who will also be well prepared and Tanja Zakelj.”

Despite the testing conditions, one of the many young talents who will take to the course over the course of the next few days is junior women’s competitor Sofia Wiedenroth. She will be out to build on her silver medal finish at her first ever World Champs in 2012, as well as her 2013 German junior national title.

“You always hope to win but you never know,” said Wiedenroth of her expectations for this year’s event. “There are some really good riders here and I think it will be a very good, tough race.

“The course is not easy to ride, there are lots of small stones that make it quite slippery, the climbs are tough and the technical sections are difficult, but I love it! [The course] is very different to what I’m used to back in Europe, where most of the courses are in forests, which means they are wet and quite slippery. This course though is really hard and so is a different kind of slippery,” she added.

The cross-country events get under way today with the junior women’s event starting things off at 9.30 am and the junior men’s race at 11.30 am, before the women’s and men’s U23 races take place tomorrow, and the elite women’s and men’s clashes unfold on Saturday.

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