The vital 2011 BMX Supercross World Cup circuit that will decide field for the 2012 London Olympics, gets under way in Alexandra Park in Pietermaritzburg on Friday where the best racers in the world will do battle for the titles, series points and critical headway towards Olympic qualification.
Over 150 male and female riders representing 21 countries are in Pietermaritzburg, eager to get their first taste of the tricky track layout on the solitary day for official practice (today). The rainfall that has persisted over the province may also play it’s part. It aggravated the track preparations initially, but with the track now complete, the layout is being kept under plastic sheeting to ensure that the red clay soil stays dry for racing.
There is a heightened buzz of anticipation amongst the BMX elite, with the playing fields reshaped by the absence of the rampant world number one Latvian Maris Strombergs who has been sidelined by injury. He is the only rider in the UCI top ten rankings that will not be on the startline.
This means that the men’s field will be spearheaded by established superstars such as Marc Willers of the New Zealand, Australian youngster Sam Willoughby and French flyers Thomas Hamon and Joris Daudet.
The potent elite women’s field is just as eager to bag early season points, given that the two women in the current UCI top ten rankings that will not be on the startline are world champ Shanaze Reade of Great Britain and French world number one Letitia le Corguille.
This leaves the door wide open for the class of the US racer Alise Post, world number two Australian Caroline Buchanan and in-form New Zealander Sarah Walker to snatch crucial series points and get a head start in the Olympic qualification process.
The South African challenge will come from ten men and one woman, with Swiss-based Kloof female star Teagan O’Keeffe keen to test her preparations for her long term Olympic plans against the best riders in the world in the season-starting Supercross. US based Gavin Lubbe will also fancy his chances, particularly with the emotional boost of being able to race in front of his hometown supporters for the first time in several years. Lubbe will be joined on the startline by experienced BMX racer Dean Holdstock and youngster Kyle Dodd.
The brand new track that has been built next to the Pietermaritzburg cricket oval has been the source of massive interest, as track designer Tom Ritzenthaler has factored in a number of highly technical sections which he is testing for the London 2012 BMX layout.
The track will include a world first in a dangerous fifteen metre jump option early on in the track, as well as a carbon-copy of the second turning “berm” planned for the London Olympic track.
“The track really looks very cool, it looks pretty tight and I think there might be a fair amount of follow-the-leader especially in the first few rounds whilst everyone tries to get used to it,” said Australian ace Sam Willoughby after getting a sneak peek at the course.
“I would imagine there won’t be too much passing in the corners as they look really tight so we’ll have to work really hard on the straights to get past. I think everyone will just have to be a bit more patient and definitely a little more creative than usual. I really like the idea of changing a few things up on the track. They’ve taken it away from the traditional M-shape which I think is really healthy for the sport!” he added.