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August 27/13 12:00 pm - The Mountain Bike World Championships Go Into Africa


Posted by Editoress on 08/27/13
 

Final preparations are underway for what will be the first ever UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships on the African continent.  The host of the Championships is Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, who are well qualified after organizing World Cups in three of the past four years.  Pietermaritzburg is in the KwaZulu-Natal region on the eastern side of South Africa.

 

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The track is hard, dusty and fast

 

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The XC's opening switchback climb up Noogies Knoll

 

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The Ampitheatre will be a fast section

 

 

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Rapid Rocks is the first major technical section, coming at the one-third mark of the lap, and is also in the Eliminator course

 

Rainbow jerseys will be awarded to a total of 18 riders across the Trials, Cross-country, Downhill and Eliminator disciplines, in the Junior, Under-23 and Elite men and women categories.  Canada has one of the larger teams at the championships at 38 athletes, across every category except Trials, with nine Downhillers and 29 Cross-country.  In total, the championships have 813 entries and 46 nations.

The first world title will be awarded tomorrow (Wednesday) in the Team Relay, a cross-country event contested between nations, with each team consisting of a Junior Man, Under-23 Man, Elite Woman and Elite Man.  Each rider has to do one lap of the cross-country circuit, with the first team to complete four laps being awarded the title.  Italy are the defending champions and the current European champions, but France, Switzerland and Canada usually field strong squads also.  Germany would usually be among the contenders, however, they suffered a serious blow when Elite woman Sabine Spitz crashed out of the championships earlier today, injuring her shoulder. [see Daily News]

 

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Sharkas Playground has already taken Sabine Spitz out of competition

 

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Riders check out the Tree House rock garden

 

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The Corkscrew is the final technical section of the lap

 

Teams can send out the riders in any order they wish, so there is considerable strategy involved; do you send out your fastest riders first to build up a lead and try to hang on, or do you keep them to last and hope you can catch the early leaders.  The winner usually isn't known until the final straightaway.

Canada is not entering its top elite stars.  The team will consist of Derek Zandstra (Elite Men), Sandra Walter (Elite Women), Mitch Bailey (Under-23 Men) and Peter Disera (Junior Men).

 

The Trials competition takes place throughout the week, and is one of the most popular events with spectators.  Consisting of a series of extremely challenging obstacle courses, riders hop, jump and ride through each section, with the goal of avoiding putting a foot down.  Each 'dab' results in a penalty point, and the rider with the lowest number of points wins.  Riders advance through qualifying rounds to reach the medal finals in each category.  Canada's medal hopeful John Webster will not be competing for the first time in 5 years. Webster finished 7th in 2010, 4th in 2011 and 6th in 2012.

 

The cross-country begins on Thursday with the Junior categories, and culminates with the Elite races on Saturday.  This is the Olympic event, and every top star of the World Cup circuit is in attendance.  This season, the Elite men's category has been a battle between defending champion Nino Schurter of Switzerland and Julien Absalon of France, and we can expect to see the same here at the world championships.  Schurter holds the edge, with wins in the past two years at Pietermaritzburg, but Absalon decisively won the last round of the World Cup leading into these championships.  Geoff Kabush, Max Plaxton and Canadian champion Derek Zandstra are joined by Raphael Gagne and Cameron Jette in the Elite men.

 

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Nino Schurter on Sharkas Playground at 2012 World Cup

 

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Defending Champion Julie Bressett rides the rocks at 2012 World Cup

 

The Elite women's race is wide open, with five or six strong contenders for the title.  Defending champion Julie Bressett of France has returned strongly from a broken clavicle early in the season.  Slovenia's Tanja Zakelj leads the World Cup after winning two events and is the most consistent rider.  Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) is coming off the first World Cup win of her career, and Maja Wloszczowska (Poland), third in the World Cup standings, can never be discounted.  Canada's top two women, Catharine Pendrel and Emily Batty, both battled injury and sickness earlier in the season, but both are healthy here, and have been improving steadily, so either could be a medal threat, since both have been on the podium here in the past.  They are joined by Andreanne Pichette, Amanda Sin, Sandra Walter and Mikaela Kofman.

On Sunday morning, after the Cross-country races have finished, the riders will line up again for the Eliminator, the newest world championship discipline, only in its second year.  The top 32 riders in the men and women from qualifying runs will race in heats of four riders at a time on a short, very technical course, with the top two riders moving on to the next round.  The top four in the men and women will race for the world titles.

Alexandra Engen (Sweden), the defending women's champion, has been the most consistent rider all season, but she will face stiff competition from her team mate Jenny Rissveds, as well as Eva Lechner (Italy) and Jolanda Neff (Switzerland).  Canada has entered a full slate of riders - Pendrel, Batty, Pichette, Andreane Lanthier-Nadeau, Rachel Pageau, Maghalie Rochette and Laura Bietola.

The men's Eliminator should come to a showdown between the two most consistent riders of the season, Daniel Federspiel (Austria) and Miha Halzer (Slovenia).  Others sure to be in the battle for medals include Simon Gegenheimer (Germany) and Mels Fabrice (Belgium).  Again, Canada has seven riders entered - all the Elite men, plus Leandre Bouchard and Evan Guthrie.

The final event of these world championships will be the Elite Downhill, and the course at Pietermaritzburg is one of the most physically demanding on the circuit.  To do well here requires both technical skill and endurance for the long pedaling sections.

Rachel Atherton (Great Britain) has been the most consistent woman on the circuit this season, with three wins in four World Cup races, but she was beaten in the last round by former world champion Emmeline Ragot (France).  Others to watch include Manon Carpenter (Great Britain) and defending world champion Morgane Charre (France).  An interesting tidbit is that Rachel Atherton has never raced here before.  Canadian champion Micayla Gatto, Casey Brown and former Junior world champion Lauren Rosser will race for Canada.

 

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Greg Minnaar is hoping to win on home ground

 

In the men's Downhill, all local eyes will be on Pietermaritzburg's own hero Greg Minnaar, the defending world champion.  Minnaar is locked in a tight battle on the World Cup with Gee Atherton (Great Britain) and Steve Smith (Canada).  The South African also has two wins in three years on this home course, however, Smith is on a tremendous roll, winning at Mont Ste Anne as well as at Crankworx in the past few weeks.

 

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Steve Smith will be looking to improve his World Championship record

 

Canada also has strong medal possibilities from defending Junior women's world champion Holly Feniak, and from Mark Wallace in the Junior men.

The action begins on Wednesday at 1600h (local / 1000h Eastern)

 


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