Pietermaritzburg – The world’s best endurance mountain bikers will converge on the Cascades MTB Park for the 2014 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships which take place this Sunday, 29 June, entrenching the cities status as Africa’s “Bike City”.
The most prestigious MTB marathon event on the international calendar visits African shores for the first time in its 11-year history and will add to the already impressive list of international cycling events the City of Choice has played host to previously.
Switzerland’s Christoph Sauser aims to clinch his fourth rainbow striped world champion’s jersey – having already claimed victory in 2007, 2011 and 2013 – and in so doing, successfully defend a world title for the first time in his career.
The Specialized Racing sensation is joined by no fewer than four other former men’s world champions – fellow Swiss cross-country ace Ralph Naef (2006), Belgium’s Roel Paulissen (2008 & 2009), Alban Lakata of Austria (2010) and Greece’s Periklis Ilias (2012) – and is one of more than half a dozen title contenders.
Lakata is one such hopeful eager to make the top step of the podium his own once more while Germany’s Karl Platt, Urs Huber and Steffen Thum, together with Colombia’s Hector Paez Leon, will have similar intensions.
Cross-country specialists Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic), Moritz Milatz (Germany) and Ralph Naef (Switzerland) have also made the journey out to South African shores and will no doubt consider themselves a part of the potent contenders mix.
James Reid (Trek SA) and Kevin Evans (FedGroup ITEC) look to represent the host nation’s strongest challenge whilst Rourke Croeser (Kargo Pro MTB) may well feature in the top 20 as well.
The women’s race is another mouth-watering affair as former winners and podium finishers aplenty litter the world class field.
Although five-time and defending women’s world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle (Norway) hasn’t made the trip, former World Champs Sabine Spitz (2009) of Germany, Switzerland’s Esther Suss (2010) and Denmark’s Annika Langvad (2011 & 2012) are in set to be in Sunday’s line-up.
2013 runner-up Sally Bigham of Great Britain, European Champ Tereza Hurikova and current world numbers one, two and four – Eszter Dosa (Hungary), Alice Pirard (Belgium) and Milena Landtwing (Switzerland) – will join the former title holders whilst Stellenbosch-based Swiss star Ariane Kleinhans – married to South Africa’s Erik Kleinhans – will hope local course knowledge will help her better her current world ranking of sixth.
Mild conditions are expected throughout the weekend and spectators can enter the race village and lower sections of the course at Cascades MTB Park for free. The event will also be streamed live via www.mtbworldchamps.co.za for those unable to attend live.
The weekend’s action gets underway with the inaugural edition of the Rainbow Challenge – a masters and amateurs MTB marathon event – however the vast majority of the globe’s cycling fraternity’s eyes will be on Sunday’s action as the best of the best square off.
Saturday’s Rainbow Challenge 70km age groups (men 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59 and women 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49) set off from 08h00 onwards whilst the 50km age groups (men 60-64, 65-69, 70+ and women 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, 70+) get underway from 10h00 onwards.
The Rainbow Challenge will also see some inspirational efforts put in by some of South Africa’s and the globe’s age group para-cyclists as they tackle the tough 50km route.
Sunday’s action sees the men start their 95km battle at 08h00 and are expected to reach the finish line around 12h15 while the women set off at 08h45 and are predicted to complete their 74km effort at a similar time to the leading men.
A welcomed bout of rain descended on the Cascades MTB Park on Friday which settled a lot of the dust that is common in KwaZulu-Natal in winter but the weather forecast for the weekend looks bright and dry.
Spectators eager to catch all the action live can access Cascades MTB Park for free on Sunday 29 June.