World’s top riders hit town

2011-04-07 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG — The vital 2011 BMX Supercross World Cup circuit that will decide participants for the 2012 London Olympic games gets under way in the picturesque surroundings of Alexandra Park tomorrow. The cream of the world’s riders will do battle for the titles, series points and critical headway towards Olympic qualification.

Over 150 male and female riders representing 21 countries are in Pietermaritzburg, eager to get their first taste of the tricky track layout when the solitary day for official practice opens today.

The rainfall that has persisted over the province may also play it’s part. It aggravated the track preparations initially, but with the track now complete, the layout is being kept under plastic sheeting to ensure the red clay soil stays dry for racing.

There is a heightened buzz of anticipation amongst the BMX elite, as the playing fields have been reshaped by the absence of the rampant world number one Latvian Maris Strombergs who has been sidelined by injury. Strombergs is the only rider in the UCI top-10 rankings who will not be at the starting line.

The powerful men’s field will be spearheaded by established superstars such as Marc Willers of New Zealand, Australian Sam Willoughby and French flyers Thomas Hamon and Joris Daudet, along with a host of youngsters eager to prove themselves on the difficult track.

The potent elite women’s field is just as eager to bag early season points, given that two women in the current UCI top-10 rankings not at the startline are world champion Shanaze Reade of Great Britain and French world No 2 Letitia le Corguille.

This leaves the door wide open for the class of the U.S. racer Alise Post, Australian Caroline Buchanan and in-form New Zealander Sarah Walker to snatch crucial series points and get a handy headstart in the Olympic qualification process.

The South African challenge will come from 10 men and one woman, with Swiss-based Kloof female star Teagan O’Keeffe keen to test her preparations for her long-term Olympic plans against the best riders in the world in the season-starting Supercross.

U.S.-based Gavin Lubbe will also fancy his chances, particularly with the emotional boost of being able to race in front of his hometown supporters for the first time in several years. He will be joined on the startline by experienced BMX racer Dean Holdstock and youngster Kyle Dodd.

The brand-new track that has been built next to the Pietermaritzburg Cricket Oval has been the source of massive interest, as track designer Tom Ritzenthaler has factored in a number of highly technical sections which he is testing for the London 2012 BMX layout.

The track will include a world first in a dangerous 15-metre jump option early on in the track, as well as a carbon-copy of the second turning “berm” planned for the London Olympic track.

“The track really looks very cool, it looks pretty tight and I think there might be a fair amount of follow-the-leader, especially in the first few rounds whilst everyone tries to get used to it,” said Australian ace Sam Willoughby.

“I would imagine there won’t be too much passing in the corners as they look really tight so we’ll have to work hard on the straights to get past.

“I think everyone will just have to be a bit more patient and definitely a little more creative than usual.

“I really like the idea of changing a few things up on the track. They’ve taken it away from the traditional M-shape which I think is really healthy for the sport.” he added.

The South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) is enthusiastic about the ongoing establishment of Pietermaritzburg’s capacity to host cycling events at the highest international level, after the hugely successful BMX World Champs last year, the MTB Downhill World Cup of 2009 and the Worlds View road race.

In addition to underscoring the ability to stage BMX events as part of any potential future Olympic bid, the racing also gives local athletes the advantage of racing against the world’s best and enjoying the opportunity of performing in front of their hometown fans.

The UCI BMX Supercross takes place at Alexandra Park on April 8 and 9.

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