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MTB World Cup XC, DH & 4X #1 - CDM
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, April 10-12, 2009
By Rob Jones in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
For 2009, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is proving to truly be a "World" Cup, with the season-opener taking place in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa - the capital of the Zulu Nation, and home to 2008 Downhill World Cup champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz). The event boasts a couple of firsts: first Olympic cross country World Cup in Africa, and first World Cup "Triple" in Africa.
The vast majority of the top pros have made the long trek down here, with the defending World Cup titleholders in four of the six classes of competition are here to wear the number one plates on the start line. In total, seven medalists from the Beijing Olympics are in attendance, including cross country gold medalists Julien Absalon (Orbea) and Sabine Spitz (Ghost).
Many of the Olympic riders are describing the circuit here as having similarities to Beijing - fast and relentless. From the start line, the circuit radiates out in two loops, each with a long climb. However, the descent doesn't offer much chance to rest, with tight and narrow switchbacks requiring complete attenti on from the riders.
"The climbs are longer than Beijing," said Absalon, "but the heat and the hard, dusty track are very much like China."
Besides Absalon - who is also the defending World Cup champion - the men's favourites have to include world champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized), Jose Antonio Hermida (Multivan-Merida), Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and South African favourite Burry Stander (Specialized). Americans Adam Craig (Giant) and Todd Wells (Specialized) will also start on the front row.
Missing from the men's roster are Jakob Fuglsang (moved to the road), Ralph Näf (Multivan-Merida) who is sick and 2000 Olympic champion Miguel Martinez who, earlier in the week, was fired by his team - Felt - after being convicted of assault against his wife in a French court.
On the women's side, the number one and number two ranked Canadian riders Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Catharine Pendrel (Luna), are both absent - Premont decided to not make the long trip to South Africa to defend her title and will focus on individual race wins this season, while Pendrel, along with teammates Georgia Gould and Katrina Nash have stayed in California for the Sea Otter Classic next week, a very important event to their sponsor. However, Spitz will face tough competition from world champion Marga Fullana (Massi), and Olympic silver and bronze medalists Maja Wloszczowska (CCC Polkowice) and Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon). Wloszczowska won the test event on the circuit last week.
The course is the longest ever for a World Cup, at 850 metres, so fitness will be a factor. Last year's breakthrough rider, Rafael Alvarez de Lara Lucas (Specialized), took both the World and World Cup titles in the four cross, so it will be interesting to see if Guido Tschugg (Ghost ATG) and Dan Atherton (Animal Commencal) can mount a challenge to the Spaniard. All of the top-10 ranked men are here; it is a strong field.
Women's defending champion Anneke Beerten (Suspension Centre) will go up against two strong challengers - world champion Melissa Buhl (USA) and Jill Kintner (Red Bull-Intense), a former World and World Cup champion returning to the sport after leaving for a year to go and win the Olympic bronze medal in BMX, and now hungry to win again. Second and third ranked Anita Molcik (Cze) and Mio Suemasa (Jpn) are not here - victims of the shrinking sponsorship pie and the cost to come all the way here.
The downhill has not inspired wild enthusiasm from the riders. At nearly four minutes long, not especially technical, and with a flat section in the middle, to do well requires a strong and fit rider who can pedal. The top portion sends the riders through sweeping turns amid rocks, before they hit bumps that should see some substantial air action. From here they enter the flat section before dropping into the final descent that spills them out onto the four cross course.
On the women's side, world champion and defending World Cup champion Rachel Atherton (Animal Commencal) is out due to injury, which leaves the opportunity for former champions Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) and Tracy Moseley (Trek) to battle it out for victory. Both are on new teams.
Moseley won the first round, in qualifying on Friday, with Jonnier well back in eighth place. Jonnier crashed heavily in training, which may have slowed her down in qualifying. Former junior champion Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Center) took second to Mosely in qualifying, over nine seconds back, while Canada's Claire Buchar (Chain Reaction-Intense) could score her first ever podium at a World Cup, after finishing third in qualifying.
The men's downhill is the final event of the weekend, and the one most likely to hold the interest of local fans, with hometown hero Greg Minnaar under immense pressure to deliver a victory. Defending World Cup titleholder Minnaar has the ability; however, he will face strong competition from perennial favourite Sam Hill (Specialized), as well as world champion Gee Atherton (Animal Commencal) and another former World Cup champion Steve Peat (Santa Cruz). Other potential spoilers include fellow South African Andrew Neethling (Trek) and Chris Kovarik (Chain Reaction-Intense), who won last week's test event on the course.
In qualifying, Minnaar made it clear that he is here to win - first out of the gate, he delivered a stunning 3:50.31, six seconds faster than Kovarik's winning time the week before. Kovarik was the only one among the top contenders to come close to Minnaar at 3:53.49, with Steve Peat (Santa Cruz) at 3:56.09 . It appeared that Minnaar had qualifying all sewn up, until Mick Hannah (GT) took over a second and a half off of Minnaar's time. Hannah is a former top contender, but took the previous season off. Clearly, it has not hurt his form.
Canada's Steve Smith (Evil) qualified 39th, after going off course part way through his run. "It was a spot where I had hit a pointed rock in two training runs, flatting both times. So I think I was focussed too much on missing the rock, and ended up off the course."
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Rob Jones /www.canadiancyclist.com
Images by Sven Martin
Images by Gary Perkin
Cross country Downhill Four cross Cross Country Elite men 1 Julien Absalon (Fra) Orbea 2 Christoph Sauser (Swi) Specialized Factory Racing 3 José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spa) Multivan Merida Biking Team 4 Geoff Kabush (Can) Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Bicycles 5 Burry Stander* (RSA) Specialized Factory Racing 6 Adam Craig (USA) Giant Mountain Bike Team 7 Florian Vogel (Swi) Scott-Swisspower MTB-Racing 8 Nino Schurter (Swi) Scott-Swisspower MTB-Racing 9 Lukas Flückiger (Swi) Trek World Racing 10 Todd Wells (USA) Specialized Factory Racing 11 Martin Gujan (Swi) Cannondale Factory Racing 12 Cédric Ravanel (Fra) Lapierre International 13 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Massi 14 Christoph Soukup (Aut) Merida Biking Team 16 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Cze) 17 Kashi Leuchs (NZl) Felt International MTB Team 19 Ralph Naef (Swi) Multivan Merida Biking Team 20 Liam Killeen (GBr) Trek World Racing 21 Marco Aurelio Fontana (Ita) Cannondale Factory Racing 22 Roel Paulissen (Bel) Cannondale Factory Racing 23 Ruben Ruzafa Cueto (Spa) Orbea 24 Jürg Graf (Swi) Felt International MTB Team 25 Hannes Metzler (Aut) 27 Oliver Beckingsale (GBr) Giant Mountain Bike Team 28 Inaki Lejarreta Errasti (Spa) Orbea 29 Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (USA) Subaru-Gary Fisher 30 Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez (Spa) Giant Italia Team 31 Rudi Van Houts (Ned) Multivan Merida Biking Team 32 Moritz Milatz (Ger) Multivan Merida Biking Team 33 Chris Jongewaard (Aus) Trek-Brentjens Mountainbike Racing Team 34 Milan Spesny (Cze) Ceska Sporitelna MTB 37 Wolfram Kurschat (Ger) Topeak Ergon Racing Team 38 Yader Zoli (Ita) Torpado-4US 39 Tony Longo (Ita) 40 Mathias Flückiger* (Swi) Trek World Racing 41 Emil Lindgren (Swe) Felt International MTB Team 42 Sergio Mantecon Gutierrez (Spa) Cemelorca-Trek-Lorca Taller Del Tiempo 43 Michael Broderick (USA) 44 Jiri Friedl (Cze) Merida Biking Team 45 Jan Skarnitzl (Cze) Giant Mountain Bike Team 46 Bas Peters (Ned) Dutch National Team 49 Jochen Kass (Ger) Multivan Merida Biking Team 50 Stéphane Tempier (Fra) TX Active Bianchi 51 Andreas Kugler (Swi) Felt International MTB Team 55 Samuel Schultz (USA) Subaru-Gary Fisher 58 Connor McConvey* (Irl) Felt International MTB Team 61 Dario Alejandro Gasco* (Arg) Massi 62 Raphael Gagne* (Can) Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Bicycles 63 Lachlan Norris* (Aus) Discovertasmania.com 64 Alexis Vuillermoz* (Fra) Lapierre International 65 Robert Gehbauer* (Aut) Multivan Merida Biking Team 66 Frank Beemer* (Ned) Trek-Brentjens Mountainbike Racing Team 67 Dries Govaerts* (Bel) Lingier-Versluys Team 68 Nathan Haas* (Aus) Discovertasmania.com 69 Martin Fanger* (Swi) Giant Mountain Bike Team 70 Charlton Durie* (Aus) Discovertasmania.com 71 Alban Lakata (Aut) Topeak Ergon Racing Team 72 Daniel Mcconnell (Aus) Torq Performance Nutrition 73 Sergiy Rusenko (Ukr) ISD Cycling Team 74 Periklis Ilias (Gre) ISD Cycling Team 75 Davy Coenen (Bel) Team Saeco 76 Maxime Marotte (Fra) BH-Suntour 77 Matous Ulman (Cze) Scott & Hagget MTB Team 78 Andrea Tiberi (Ita) TX Active Bianchi 79 Carlos Coloma Nicolas (Spa) MSC Bikes 80 Frank Schotman (Ned) Dutch National Team 81 Karl Platt (Ger) Team Bulls 82 Marc Colom (Fra) 83 Andrew Blair (Aus) 84 Hector Leonardo Paez Leon (Col) TX Active Bianchi 85 Nicola Rohrbach (Swi) Central Ghost Pro Team 86 Kristian Hynek (Cze) Scott & Hagget MTB Team 87 Stefan Sahm (Ger) Team Bulls 88 Pierre Geoffroy Plantet (Fra) Lapierre International 89 Bjorn Brems (Bel) Team Saeco 90 Juan Pedro Trujillo Hernandez (Spa) Cemelorca-Trek-Lorca Taller Del Tiempo 91 Umberto Corti (Ita) Team CBE Tecnoimpianti A.S.D. 92 Josef Kamler* (Cze) Ceska Sporitelna MTB 93 Brandon Stewart (RSA) 94 Ryan Sherlock (Irl) 95 Silvio Bundi (Swi) Giant Mountain Bike Team 96 Felix Euteneuer* (Ger) 97 Mannie Heymans (Nam) Namibian National Team 98 Cristian Cominelli* (Ita) TX Active Bianchi 99 Rene Tann (Ger) 100 Lukas Kaufmann* (Swi) 101 Miguel Martinez (Fra) Felt International MTB Team 102 Roan Exelby (RSA) 103 François Bailly Maitre (Fra) Team Scott Valloire Galibier 104 Erik Kleinhans (RSA) 105 Max Knox* (RSA) 106 Ludovic Dubau (Fra) 107 Fabien Canal* (Fra) Lapierre International 108 Guillaume Vinit* (Fra) Team Scott Valloire Galibier 109 Robert Mennen (Ger) 110 Matthys Beukes* (RSA) 111 Philip Buys* (RSA) 112 David George (RSA) 113 Kevin Evans (RSA) 114 Renay Groustra (RSA) 115 Heiko Gutmann* (Ger) 116 Craig Paul (RSA) 117 Vivien Legastelois* (Fra) BH-Suntour 118 Severin Disch* (Swi) Giant Mountain Bike Team 119 Marc Bassingthwaighte (Nam) Namibian National Team 120 Nicolas Jeantet* (Ita) Team CBE Tecnoimpianti A.S.D. 121 Johnny Kritzinger (RSA) South African National Team 122 Joel Graf (Swi) Felt International MTB Team 123 Jupiter Namembo (Zam) Zambian National Team 124 Trust Munangandu (Zam) Zambian National Team 125 Jiri Hudecek (Cze) Scott & Hagget MTB Team 126 Balz Weber (Swi) DS-Rennsport 127 Thomas Dietsch (Fra) Team Bulls 128 Poloko Makara (Les) 129 Thomas Nicke (Ger) German National Team 130 Adrien Niyonshuti* (Rwa) Rwandan National Team 131 Alexander Gehbauer* (Aut) Austrian National Team 132 Nathan Byukusenge (Rwa) Rwandan National Team 133 Hugo Caetane* (Mri) Mauritius National Team 134 Orbert Chembe* (Zam) Zambian National Team Elite women 3 Margarita Fullana Riera (Spa) Massi 4 Irina Kalentieva (Rus) Topeak Ergon Racing Team 6 Lene Byberg (Nor) Specialized Factory Racing 9 Mary Mcconneloug (USA) 10 Sabine Spitz (Ger) Central Ghost Pro Team 11 Blaza Klemencic (Slo) Felt International MTB Team 13 Petra Henzi (Swi) Fischer-BMC 14 Elisabeth Osl (Aut) Central Ghost Pro Team 15 Katrin Leumann (Swi) 18 Cécile Rode Ravanel (Fra) Lapierre International 19 Nathalie Schneitter (Swi) Colnago Cap Arreghini 20 Sabrina Enaux (Fra) BH-Suntour 21 Willow Koerber (USA) Subaru-Gary Fisher 25 Adelheid Morath (Ger) 27 Laura Turpijn (Ned) Dutch National Team 28 Maja Wloszczowska (Pol) CCC Polkowice 31 Eva Lechner (Ita) Colnago Cap Arreghini 32 Heather Irmiger (USA) Subaru-Gary Fisher 34 Maria Osl (Aut) Fischer-BMC 41 Maaike Polspoel* (Bel) Belgian National Team 42 Aleksandra Dawidowicz* (Pol) CCC Polkowice 43 Julie Bresset* (Fra) Breiz Mountain 44 Gracie Elvin* (Aus) Discovertasmania.com 45 Caroline Mani* (Fra) Team Bikepark.ch 46 Kathrin Stirnemann* (Swi) 47 Janneke Leask* (RSA) 48 Heletje Van Staden* (Nam) Namibian National Team 51 Marielle Saner-Guinchard (Swi) Team Bikepark.ch 52 Anna Villar Argente (Spa) Massi 53 Ivonne Kraft (Ger) 54 Janka Stevkova (Svk) 55 Githa Michiels (Bel) Team Saeco 56 Helene Marcouyre (Fra) BH-Suntour 57 Rowena Fry (Aus) Discovertasmania.com 58 Esther Süss (Swi) 59 Magdalena Sadlecka (Pol) CCC Polkowice 60 Katherine O'shea (Aus) Torq Performance Nutrition 61 Yolande Speedy (RSA) 62 Inbar Ronen (Isr) Israeli National Team 63 Fiona Macdermid (GBr) 64 Melanie Spath (Ger) 65 Sara Muhl (RSA) 66 Kate Potter (Aus) 67 Shawna Thunder (RSA) 68 Hilana Marais (RSA) 69 Rosemary Barnes (Aus) 70 Tania Raats (RSA) 71 Carla Freysen (RSA) 72 Carmen Bassingthwaighte (Nam) Namibian National Team Downhill Elite men 1 Greg Minnaar (RSA) Santa Cruz Syndicate 2 Samuel Hill (Aus) Monster Energy / Specialized / Mad Catz 3 Gee Atherton (GBr) Animal Commencal 4 Steve Peat (GBr) Santa Cruz Syndicate 5 Samuel Blenkinsop (NZl) Yeti Fox Shox Factory Race Team 7 Nathan Rennie (Aus) Kenda Morewood 8 Justin Leov (NZl) Trek World Racing 9 Chris Kovarik (Aus) Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense 10 Julien Camellini (Fra) Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense 11 Andrew Neethling (RSA) Trek World Racing 12 Brendan Fairclough (GBr) Monster Energy / Specialized / Mad Catz 13 Marc Beaumont (GBr) GT Bicycles 14 Dan Atherton (GBr) Animal Commencal 15 Mitchell Delfs (Aus) Kenda Morewood 16 Pasqual Canals Flix (Spa) XMS-Devinci World Cup Team 18 Florent Payet (Fra) Subaru Mountain Bike Pro Team 19 Mickael Pascal (Fra) MSC Bikes 20 Matti Lehikoinen (Fin) MS Evil Racing 21 Jared Rando (Aus) Giant Mountain Bike Team 24 Damien Spagnolo (Fra) Subaru Mountain Bike Pro Team 25 Filip Polc (Svk) MS Evil Racing 26 Aaron Holmes Gwin (USA) Yeti Fox Shox Factory Race Team 28 Neil Donoghue (GBr) 29 Steve Smith (Can) MS Evil Racing 30 Cédric Gracia (Fra) 31 Thibaut Ruffin (Fra) 32 Josh Bryceland (GBr) Santa Cruz Syndicate 34 Bernat Guardia Pascual (Spa) Massi 35 Cameron Cole (NZl) Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Bicycles 37 Luke Strobel (USA) Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Bicycles 38 Rémi Thirion (Fra) Team Sunn 39 Ruaridh Cunningham (GBr) Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense 40 Nick Beer (Swi) Scott 11 42 Matthew Simmonds (GBr) Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense 43 Joseph Smith (GBr) Kona 44 Dan Stanbridge (GBr) 46 Sam Dale (GBr) 47 Danny Hart* (GBr) Lapierre Powered By Saab Salomon 49 David Vazquez Lopez (Spa) Lapierre Powered By Saab Salomon 53 Antonio Ferreiro Pajuelo (Spa) XMS-Devinci World Cup Team 54 Kieran Bennett (NZl) X-Fusion-Intense 55 Adam Brayton (GBr) Just Reid Race Team 56 Duncan Riffle (USA) Duncan Riffle Racing 57 Marcus Klausmann (Ger) Ghost A.T.G. Pro Team 61 Wyn Masters (NZl) Ancillotti Doganaccia Racing Team 62 Dominik Gspan (Swi) 63 Ivan Oulego Moreno (Spa) Massi 64 Pierre Charles Georges (Fra) Solid Aclass Factory Team 65 Joshua Button (Aus) 67 Will Rischbieth (Aus) 71 Robin Wallner (Swe) 73 Joris Bigoni (Fra) 78 Thomas Braithwaite (GBr) 79 Daniel Critchlow (GBr) Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense 81 Jared Graves (Aus) Yeti Fox Shox Factory Race Team 82 Marco Milivinti (Ita) Dytech DH 83 Lorenzo Suding (Ita) Dytech DH 84 Lars Peyer (Swi) Suspension Center 85 Jonty Neethling (RSA) 86 Johann Potgieter (RSA) 87 Marco Bugnone (Ita) Argentina Bike Gravity Team 88 Michael Hannah (Aus) GT Bicycles 89 Hong Chun Tan (Sin) Singapore National Team 90 Gary Barnard (RSA) 91 Ryan Condrashoff (USA) X-Fusion-Intense 92 Shaun O'connor* (Aus) Iron Horse-Kenda-Playbiker 93 Fabien Cousinie (Fra) 95 Tom Deacon (GBr) 2Stagefactory 96 Bradley Benedict (USA) Duncan Riffle Racing 97 Louis-Bresler Knipe (RSA) 98 Kelvin Purchase (RSA) 99 Jarryd Haley (RSA) 100 James Hughes (GBr) 102 Laurie Dinham* (Aus) 103 Rowan Sorrell (GBr) 104 Darryn Stow (RSA) 105 Aurélien Giordanengo (Fra) 106 Dirk Van Schalkwyk (RSA) 107 Nicolas Ortiz (Fra) 108 Stuart Jenkinson (GBr) 109 Hayden Brown (RSA) 111 Aari Barrett* (NZl) Scott 11 112 Myles Kelsey (RSA) 113 Dennis Dertell (Swe) 114 Scott Mears (GBr) 115 Emyr Davies (GBr) British National Team 116 Pierre Van Der Merwe* (RSA) South African National Team 117 Nicolas Gspan (Swi) 118 Scott Laughland (Irl) Irish National Team 119 Marco Fernandez Garcia* (Spa) Motril-Sierra Nevada 120 Bernard Kerr (GBr) British National Team 121 Timothy Bentley (RSA) South African National Team 122 Claudio Cozzi (Ita) Dytech DH 123 Andréa Gamenara* (Ita) Argentina Bike Gravity Team 124 Erik Kimmel* (Cze) Czech National Team 125 Kevin Aiello* (USA) GT Bicycles 126 Fredrik Hansson (Swe) Swedish National Team 127 Andries Van Schalkwyk* (RSA) South African National Team 128 Alex Powell* (GBr) 2Stagefactory 129 Joseph Horton (GBr) British National Team 130 Simon Dinkelman* (RSA) South African National Team 131 Dan Doron (Isr) Israeli National Team 132 Christo Venter* (RSA) South African National Team 133 Gerald Walsh* (RSA) South African National Team Elite women 2 Sabrina Jonnier (Fra) Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain Bicycles 3 Tracy Moseley (GBr) Trek World Racing 4 Emmeline Ragot (Fra) Suspension Center 5 Floriane Pugin (Fra) Iron Horse-Kenda-Playbiker 6 Fionn Griffiths (GBr) Norco World Team 8 Claire Buchar (Can) Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense 10 Myriam Nicole (Fra) 12 Helen Gaskell (GBr) 15 Emilie Siegenthaler (Swi) Scott 11 18 Helene Valerie Fruhwirth (Aut) 20 Melissa Buhl (USA) 21 Elisa Canepa (Ita) Iron Horse-Kenda-Playbiker 22 Joanna Petterson (RSA) 23 Anka Martin (RSA) 24 Victoria Phillips (RSA) 25 Sarah Newman (GBr) 26 Silja Stadler (Swi) Argentina Bike Gravity Team 27 Maria Michalogiannaki (Gre) 28 Risa Suseanty (Ina) Indonesian National Team Four cross Elite men 65 Rafael Alvarez De Lara Lucas (Spa) Specialized Factory Racing 66 Guido Tschugg (Ger) Ghost A.T.G. Pro Team 67 Jared Graves (Aus) Yeti Fox Shox Factory Race Team 68 Dan Atherton (GBr) Animal Commencal 69 Cédric Gracia (Fra) 70 Johannes Fischbach (Ger) Ghost A.T.G. Pro Team 71 Joost Wichman (Ned) 72 Romain Saladini (Fra) Team Sunn 73 Kamil Tatarkovic (Cze) 74 Filip Polc (Svk) MS Evil Racing 75 Scott Beaumont (GBr) Rocky Mountain UK 76 Jurg Meijer (Ned) 77 Sascha Meyenborg (Ger) 78 Lewis Lacey (GBr) Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense 79 Luke Madill (Aus) 80 Joey Van Veghel (Ned) 81 Dominik Gspan (Swi) 82 Adrian Weiss (Swi) Scott 11 83 William Evans (GBr) 84 Michal Prokop (Cze) 85 Lukas Mechura (Cze) Chain Reaction Cycles/Intense 86 Fabien Cousinie (Fra) 87 Premek Tejchman (Cze) 88 Aurélien Giordanengo (Fra) 89 Bernard Kerr (GBr) British National Team 90 Adrian Hanko (Ger) 91 Nicolas Gspan (Swi) 92 Stefan Scherz (Ger) 93 Darryn Stow (RSA) 95 Oliver Jones (RSA) 96 Christopher Von Allemann (RSA) 97 Stefan Garlicki (RSA) 98 Petrik Brückner (Ger) 99 Roger Rinderknecht (Swi) 100 Jordan O'keefe (RSA) Elite women 65 Anneke Beerten (Ned) Suspension Center 66 Melissa Buhl (USA) 67 Fionn Griffiths (GBr) Norco World Team 68 Jana Horakova (Cze) 69 Romana Labounkova (Cze) 70 Helene Valerie Fruhwirth (Aut) 71 Joanna Petterson (RSA) 72 Emmeline Ragot (Fra) Suspension Center 73 Jill Kintner (USA)