April 10, 2009 (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa) – The first Nisssan UCI MTB World Cup of the year takes place in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and it’s a triple XC/DH/4X to boot. This marks the first time the World Cup circuit has made its way to the Republic of South Africa (RSA) as well. Following the DH and 4X qualifications on Friday, the racing gets underway on Saturday with the women’s and men’s XC followed by the 4X finals later in the day. The World Cup wraps up on Sunday with the DH finals.
For Saturday’s XC World Cup opener, there are 47 women and 166 men registered, including Canada’s Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), Raphael GagnÃ© (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), and Kris Sneddon (Kona). There are no Canadian women set to compete, not even Marie-HÃ©lÃ¨ne-PÃ©mont (Can) Maxxis-Rocky Mountain and Catharine Pendrel (Can) Luna Women’s Team – the first- and second- ranked World Cup riders from 2008 who have opted not to attend the opening round. A top contender is Olympic Champion Sabine Spitz (Ger) Ghost Central Racing who will be on deck to contest the first World Cup of 2009. The women will start at 11:15 am local time race five laps of the 4.7km course to total a 23.5km race, while the men are set to launch into their seven-lap, 32.9km race at 2:00 pm local time with a stacked field, including Beijing Olympic winner Julien Absalon (Fra) Orbea and MTB World Champ Christoph Sauser (Sui) Specialized.
The 4X course in RSA is long and filled with extremely well-built doubles, triples, step ups and step downs. It’s built in a steep canyon and weaves it’s way back and forth across the walls of the canyon. The downhill joins and crosses the course a few times, leading to a maze of tape and jumps. The new UCI timing system includes a photo finish camera and timing chips, so it should be extremely accurate and will possibly speed up results during 4X rounds.
The downhill itself is 2.8km long and the fastest riders will make their way down it and stop the clock in just under 4 minutes. It’s a course that favours those with huge sustainable power output as it includes a huge pedaling section mid course. The top of the course is steep and off camber, and features a large rock wall with two lines, followed by another rock n’ roll into a rock garden with a slightly tricky exit. After that it’s flowing single track until you hit two large table tops and a small trench section that Australia’s Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Specialized) is using as his own personal playground, launching it 50+ feet in practice with his head in the trees. After that it’s the Gum Tree Flats where off-season training will be put to the test before riders drop into the canyon that runs alongside the 4X to the finish.
Defending World Cup overall Champion Greg Minaar’s (RSA) Santa Cruz Syndicate house backs onto the nature preserve that the course is built in, so expect him to do very well here. The pedalling style of course favours him as well, and now everyone knows why – he has ridden tracks like this his entire career. Also look for Australian Chris Kovarik (Chain Reaction Intense) to do very well. His horsepower is legendary and he smashed the test event here last weekend against some of the world’s top riders. Tracy Moseley (GBR – Trek) looked to be uncontested this week for the women. DH World Champion Rachel Atherton (GBR – Animal Commencal) is still out with nerve damage to her shoulder sustained in a training accident over the winter.
Canadian contenders Steve Smith (Evil) and recently married Claire Buchar (Chain Reaction) are looking for good results here. Buchar qualified in the top three and has the fitness to do very well here. Smith had an off day in qualifying and in his words, “monster truck jumped” his bike off of a rock and into the weeds.