April 21, 2011 (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa) – For the opening round of the 2011 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano, the athletes and teams have returned to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, after a one year absence. All three disciplines are represented in the opening round – Olympic Cross-country, Downhill and Four-Cross. Contested on three continents, both the Cross-country and Downhill World Cup series will feature seven events, with the Four-Cross offering five.
From Pietermaritzburg, the disciplines split, with the Cross-country returning to Dalby, Great Britain and Offenburg, Germany in May, while the Gravity events resume in June with Fort William, Scotland, and Leogang, Austria. For July, the World Cup moves to North America, with a triple event at the classic Mont-Sainte Anne venue in Canada, followed by a Cross-country/Downhill double in Windham, New York, in the United States. August returns the World Cup to Europe for the final three races – La Bresse (France) for a stand-alone Downhill, the new Czech venue of Nove Mesto Na Morave for Cross-country number six, and the World Cup Final bringing all three disciplines back together in Val di Sole, Italy.
The Cross-country is entering a critical phase in Olympic qualifying for next year’s London Games, so the competition is expected to reach new heights in intensity. The men’s side will see renewed rivalry between France’s Julien Absalon (Orbea) and the 2010 World Cup Champion from Switzerland, Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower), while Spain’s Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), who won the opening round the last time the race was in Pietermaritzburg, will wear the rainbow stripes of the World Champion through the year.
Canadians on the start line include – Geoff Kabush (Maxxis Rock), Derek Zanstra (Team Canada), Andrew Watson (Team Canada) and Adam Morka (Trek).
For the women, Canada’s Catharine Pendrel (Luna) will start the year with the Number One plate, however, she faces strong competition from Americans Willow Koerber (Trek World Racing) and Georgia Gould (Luna), as well as Italy’s Eva Lechner (Colnago Arreghini Sudtirol) and Russia’s Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon). The Cross-country will also introduce, for the first time, separate World Cup races for the Under-23 categories. Joining Pendrel on the start line for Canada are Marie-Helene Premont (Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), Emily Batty (Subaru-Trek) and Amanda Sin (Team Canada).
The cross-country is also introducing separate World Cup races for the Under-23 categories for the first time – look for Canada’s Francis Morin in the men’s race.
Check this YT video on the South African MTB XC Nationals held last weekend in Pietermaritzburg on the UCI WCup Course.
In 2010, the crowd-favourite Downhill saw a tremendous battle for the men’s title between Great Britain’s Gee Atherton (Commencal) and South African Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), with the lead seesawing back and forth until Atherton took the title in the final event. This year, we can expect to see both riders fighting it out again, with World Champion Sam Hill (Monster Energy/Specialized/Mad Catz) in the mix also. The women’s competition was dominated by French star Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) last year, but her countrywoman Emmeline Ragot (Team GR) and World Champion Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) will both be looking to dislodge Jonnier from the top spot.
Canada’s lone starter is Steve Smith, now with Devinci Global. The 2010 MTB Worlds silver medalist will be looking for a good start to the season and landing on the podium. There are no Canadian DH women in Pietermaritzburg.
The Four-cross will once again see perennial men’s favourite Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) of Australia go up against the powerful RSP four-cross squad led by Czech rider Tomas Slavik and the Netherland’s Joost Wichman. Graves repeated as the World Cup Champion in 2010, however, Slavik was able to take the world title from him. On the women’s side, Austria’s Anita Molcik took the 2010 title from multi-time World Cup Champion Anneke Beerten (Milka Trek) of the Netherlands, so Beerten is sure to be anxious to regain her number one status.
Complete schedule HERE.
The 2011 action starts on Friday in Pietermaritzburg, with the Four-cross.
All finals are streamed live on www.uci.ch and on www.freecaster.tv and live timing