Photo: Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media
After months of eager anticipation, the serious racing gets under way this week with the UCI MTB Masters World Championships, which for the first time ever is being hosted in conjunction with the UCI MTB & Trials World Championships that gets under way next week.
581 competitors from 30 countries have converged on the Cascades MTB Park at the foot of Town Hill to contest the coveted UCI rainbow striped world championship jerseys in the various over-30 age groups in the cross country and downhill disciplines, testing themselves against the best veterans and masters on the planet, and the tough and technical courses built for the occasion.
This week represents a gilt-edged opportunity for local riders who have been unable to travel to previous editions of the masters Champs to make their mark, and not surprisingly South African men and women make up the lion’s share of this entry – 424 riders or 72% of the entry.
Masters rider have been spending as much time on the course as possible to familiarize themselves with the layout, and to masters the numerous new technical challenges on what is being widely viewed as the most demanding Masters cross country course ever built.
With course inspections and various other formalities taking place on Tuesday 20 August, the action on course gets underway on Wednesday and Thursday as all cross country and downhill riders look to take full advantage of the free practise sessions from 09h00 until 16h00 daily.
The downhill training then continues on Friday – women only from 09h00-10h30 and men only from 10h30-12h00 – the main focus will turn to the cross country course where all of the women’s titles will be decided throughout the morning.
Friday’s women’s cross country action gets under at 09h00 with the 30-34 and 35-39 categories setting off together where South African national champs Nedene Cahill (30-34) and Nicky Booyens (35-39) will look to fly the flag high for the host nation.
The 30-34 clash will also see Mariela Scott, national champion of Chile, and her Argentinian counterpart, Graciela Vargas in action together with South Africans Jeannie Dreyer and Annie David whilst South African resident Eszter Erdelyi will also compete but in the colours of her home country, Hungary.
The women’s 35-39 race will undoubtedly see 2012 Women’s 30-34 World Champion as the firm pre-race favourite however South African national champion Nicky Booyens and Genevieve Weber, Namibia’s national champ, are likely to have other plans, as will the likes of Sedly Rivas Gomora (Mexico) and Marie Walsh (USA).
South African marathon pocket-rocket Natalie Bergstrom knows no meaning to “can’t” and will look to defy all odds as she builds on from the women’s 40-44 national title she claimed in Port Elizabeth a few weeks ago. She will however enjoy stiff opposition from local compatriot Andrea von Holdt, Sweden’s Anna Persson, Great Britain’s Anne Murray and Switzerland’s Carrer-Enz Eva.
The women’s 45-49 title battle is likely to be current World Champion Maria de Bernardi of Argentina, South African nation al champ Ann Harrison, Vivienne Quann (South Africa) and Monica Glover (Canada).
With only three entries received for the women’s 55-59 category this will be amalgamated into one category with the 50-54 entries, thus creating a women’s 50-59 category for cross country. Favourite to take this title will almost certainly be Gjertrud Bø of Norway who comes into the 2013 race as current World Champion in the 50-54 category however Australian 50-54 cross country national champ Sharon Heap and South African 55-59 national champ Fran Ferreira may well be thinking otherwise.
Also in this group will be the colourful personality of South Africa’s Sharlene McGilvray, seeking to become the first to ever reigning world champ in both BMX and MTB cross country, as well as Pauline Cound, who will look to build on her road World Champion title she claimed at the UWCT Final in Pietermaritzburg in 2012.
The second half of Friday morning’s programme will see the first of the men’s cross country action get underway when the men’s 55-59 (11h00), 60-64 (11h02) and 65-59 and 70+ (both 11h04) are staged whilst the downhill seeding runs will take place on Friday afternoon ahead of Saturday’s finals.
Current men’s 55-59 World Champion Benny Andersson (Sweden) will be the pre-race favourite however Great Britain’s national champ Gregor Grant and South Africa’s Colin Gibbings are sure to give Andersson a run for his money whilst the 60-64 race is likely to be hotly contested by current world champion Helio Carvalho (Brazil), Great Britain’s national champ John Shirley and South African national champ Linus van Onselen.
The 65-69 and 70+ races will run concurrently with defending world champion Christian Jupillat of France likely to be pushed by South Africa’s Sandy Rae and Johan Botha for 65-69 top honours whilst oldest competitor of the masters event, Michael Smith, will battle it out with Adrian Schoeman and Justin Henderson (both South Africa), Guy Durand (France) and Albeo Otazo (Venezuela) in the 70+ category.
Saturday’s programme gets underway at 08h30 when the men’s 50-54 cross country race signals the start of the second day of finals action with the men’s 45-49 cross country race also scheduled a little later on however much of the day’s focus will be on the downhill course as all downhill titles will be decided from 13h00 onwards.
On the women’s front South Africa’s Kathryn Fourie and Gina Nixon will look to battle it out with the likes of France’s Tifenn Vialatte, Switzerland’s Simone Futter, Australia’s Sharon heap and Jorge Mela of Chile.
The men’s 30-34 downhill competition promises to be a thrilling encounter as South African national champ Mark Millar battles it out with Great Britain’s Matthew Steadman, downhill course designer Nigel Hicks (South Africa), Matthias Reichmann (Germany) and Lionel Vaccarini (Argentina).
The 35-39 boasts yet another competitive field as current world champ Francisco Rojas (Chile), Robin Rumbelow (South Africa), Matt Smith (South Africa) and Parabanne Mendoza (Philippines) square off.
In the 40-44 category Matt Thompson of the US will look to get his firm grip on the World Champs’ jersey however South African national champ James Morland, Jaco Azevedo (South Africa), Myles Kelsey (South Africa) and Gaël Gougne (France) will ride with all their might in a bid to make the title their own.
The men’s 45-49 downhill clash will see defending world champion Miguel Giovannini (Brazil) go up against the likes of South African national champ Chris Nixon, Ricardo Gutierrez (South Africa) and Luiz Meneguci (Brazil).
The men’s 50-54 tussle could well see Benoit Fellay of Switzerland successfully defend the title currently in his possession however the likes of South African national champ Maartens Prins, Peter Hoyer (South Africa) and Ulrich Ellwart (Germany), amongst others, will do everything in their power to ensure this does not happen.
The men’s 55-59 encounter is likely to see the South African trio of Edward Fourie, Paul Morris and Kim Phillips – the man behind the highly talked about trials course at Cascades – square off with France’s Hellin Jean-Marc and Claude Gex of Switzerland for top honours whilst Denis Leppan, Neil Fourie, Cornelius Malan and Graham Jupp (all South Africa) lock horns in the 60+ category.
The two cross country races of the day will see men’s 45-49 defending champ Jean-Paul Stephan of France try claim the 50-54 title ahead of Argentinian national champ Sergio Ferrer and South Africa’s Johan Geyser and Craig Rankin whilst Namibian national champ Petrus Swiegers and well-known cycling analysis Andrew McLean look to bring the men’s 45-49 title to Southern Africa.
Sunday programme is a lot less packed than the days before however this will by no means detract from the level of competition out on course. Three men’s cross country titles will be up for grabs in the three ‘racing snakes’ categories.
The day starts with the men’s 40-44 cross country encounter where current world champ Zaglio Manfredi of Italy will battle it out with South African’s national champ Neil Bradford, Argentina’s Alejandro Duran and Brazil’s Albraao Azevedo at 08h30.
Racing commences again at 10h30 when the men’s 35-39 category race gets underway and South African national champ Paul Corde will be hoping the local support will see him overcome the challenge of Tyson Kaman (USA), Mirco Balducci (Italy), Geddan Ruddock (South Africa) as well as the six-strong Argentinian team lead by Nestor Yobe.
The masters competition the comes to a head when the final race of the programme, the widely anticipated men’s 30-34 cross country clash, takes place. Fabio Zampese of Italy will hope to hang onto the rainbow stripes he claimed in 2012 however South African national champ Jan Withaar, Andrew and Rowan Grobler (both South Africa) and Samuel Brännland (Sweden) will also be giving it their all to secure top honours.
The late Burry Stander’s brother, Duane, will also take to the trails in the final event as he looks to ride in the memory of the South African cycling legend who passed away early this year.
Photo: Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media