The world’s best mountain bikers spent a scorching hot day getting to grips with the cross country and downhill courses on the first official training day for the 2012 RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg that starts today (Friday).
Local downhill star Andrew Neethling posted the second fastest run in the afternoon time straining session, four seconds quicker than world champ Danny Hart, with the day’s fastest time being laid down by Frenchman Cedric Garcia, while the fastest woman on the day was Sabrina Jonnier (FRA).
South African Olympic star Burry Stander exuded positive energy after training on the re-jigged 5,5km cross-country layout, hinting that it would be a good platform for tight racing on Saturday.
“It is a great course and vastly improved on the good course that we raced last year,” said Stander. “It’s tough and the racers from Europe and all over the world like it. It is certainly earning their respect. It will be a tough atmosphere to race in, but then this is the biggest stage for world mountain biking.”
The Umtentweni-based star has been extremely thorough in his preparations for this Olympic season, and comes into the season-opening World Cup in great shape. He has been training on the new layout, keen to avoid mishaps that derailed his bid at last year’s World Cup when he crashed at the Rapid Rocks rock garden.
“That rock garden deserves respect,” he said with a wry grin. “It takes just a momentary lapse in concentration and crashes like that happen.”
The reworked downhill course hosted the first timed practice session, which reinforced the belief that the changes made to the gravity track would make it significantly faster than the layout used last year.
Local downhill stalwart Tim Bentley said the riders were unanimous in their view that the course was faster, tougher and tactically challenging.
“The top section is sick,” said Bentley. “The pedally section has been greatly improved by laying down the decomposed granite on the track, which has made it flow a lot more.”
The major changes made to the steep rocky drop called Cloud Nine attracted most attention from the downhillers. “It is much faster and a lot of guys are opting to take the chicken run rather than try the main drop,” said Bentley.
With the unstable weather making the possibility of rain realistic, Bentley said critical choices would need to be made by riders on the day. “So much is affected by rain – the tyres, the lines you race; everything changes if it rains.”
The track has already claimed victims from serious falls, with Pietermaritzburg downhiller Dylan Jacklin rushed to hospital with a broken femur earlier in the week.
Today sees official training on the downhill and cross-country courses in the morning, with the downhill qualifying round, where the 135 men’s entrants will be trimmed to 80 riders for Sunday’s final. The 19 women entered will all be assured of places in the twenty-strong final.
The cross-country title deciders in the senior, under 23 and junior take place on Saturday.
The RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg takes place at the Cascades MTB Park from 16 to 18 March 2012. More information can be found at www.mtbworldcupsa.co.za