10 April 2014
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa will be the centre of the mountain biking world from Friday through Sunday as the sport’s leading cross-country and downhill competitors do battle in the opening round of the 2014 UCI MTB World Cup.
It is the fourth time that the KwaZulu-Natal provincial capital, which played host to last year’s UCI MTB & Trials World Championships, has been on the World Cup series calendar, having previously hosted World Cups in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
After partnering South Africa’s Phillip Buys to fifth place overall in the recent Absa Cape Epic, cross-country world champion Nino Schurter, who won in Pietermaritzburg in the 2011 and 2012 World Cups, followed by a World Championship victory last year, will be out to continue his run of success at the Cascades MTB Park.
The Swiss star goes into the World Cup season opener as the favourite, especially after Specialized Racing’s Jaroslav Kulhavy, a former overall World Cup winner and the 2012 London Olympic gold medallist, was forced to withdraw late last week due to illness.
French star Julien Absalon and Aussie Daniel McConnell will be hoping their off season efforts will be enough to overcome Schurter’s Pietermaritzburg dominance. Cannondale Factory Racing’s Manuel Fumic and Multivan Merida Biking Team’s Jose Hermida, who were on the World Championships podium with Schurter in 2013, will also likely be in the mix again.
The women’s cross-country duel is set to be a fascinating one as 2013 World Cup overall winner Tanja Zakelj attempts to deal with the challenges posed by, among others, Eva Lechner of Italy, 2013 world champion Julie Bresset of France and Polish star Maja Wloszczowska.
South African downhill sensation and triple world champion Greg Minnaar, riding for the Santa Cruz Syndicate, will be hard-pressed to repeat his 2013 World Championships’ heroics as he underwent surgery on his left knee late in 2013. However, given his past World Cup successes in Pietermaritzburg – two wins and a runner-up finish – he should still deliver a good performance.
British big gun Gee Atherton is again expected to be a factor in the seven-leg 2014 World Cup series, along with the likes of young French star Loic Bruni, Australia’s Sam Hill, American ace Aaron Gwin, and Kiwi Brook Macdonald.
Atherton’s sister Rachel, who dominated last year’s World Championships, despite it being her first appearance in Pietermaritzburg, will again be the woman to catch in the women’s downhill competition on Saturday, with fellow Brit Manon Carpenter and 2012 Pietermaritzburg World Cup Tracey Hannah likely to be her nearest rivals.
A timed training session for the downhill competitors takes place on Thursday afternoon, while training for both the cross-country and downhill competitors has been set for Friday morning before downhill qualification takes place at 12:30.
In a change from previous World Cups in Pietermaritzburg, the downhill finals will take place on Saturday afternoon, with the cross-country moving from Saturday to Sunday.
Clear blue skies and warm temperatures are expected for most of the weekend, with a slightly cooler, overcast day forecast for Sunday – ideal for the gruelling cross-country clashes. Thousands of mountain biking enthusiasts are expected to be in attendance.