Cascades MTB Park is a hive of activity as the final phase of the build up to the 2014 UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg, presented by Shimano, engulfs the plantations, hills and gullies of the area and the excitement ahead of the biggest cross-country and downhill event on the local MTB calendar continues to build.
Saturday 5 April’s opening leg of the Spur KZN Schools MTB Series added yet another piece to the pre-event jigsaw puzzle of hype and buzz at the park as over one hundred eager young riders took to bits and pieces of trails they will see their idols competing on from 11-13 April.
“This race of the series is a very special one as it gives the kids the very unique opportunity to race on a portion of the course that their heroes will be riding in a few days’ time,” said series coordinator Ewan Cochran.
“Essentially we used the exact same start/finish line as will be used for the World Cup, the same straight and even one or two of the easier obstacles, which really does give the little ones a very small taste of what it is like to compete on a World Cup stage.”
With the cream of the sport’s competitors rapidly descending upon KZN’s capital ahead of this weekend’s action, the link between grassroots level and the professionalism of the elite racing world that the World Cup brings could not be clearer and is something that Cochran feels plays a major role in the development of the sport going forward.
“We possibly have the next star in our midst!” said Cochran. “Our aim is to try get as many kids onto bikes as possible so that by the time they grow up and reach the racing age groups later on in life, we have a far bigger pool of talent to choose from!”
“It’s not about racing for the youngsters, it’s about taking part!
“If I can put a smile on a child’s face, that is far more important than winning a race.
Meanwhile, the globe’s finest cross country mountain bikers took to the UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg course on Tuesday to familairise themselves with the revamped track with SCOTT-Odlo’s Florian Vogel and Team Bulls’ under-23 rider Martin Frey giving both themselves and their teammates a unwelcome shock as both suffered crashes during training.
Vogel came unstuck on the newly added Red Lipped Herald section after he took off wider than he’d hoped which sent him crashing to the ground on a nasty section of rocks whilst the reworked Tree House rock garden got the better of Frey as he lost control midway down and went sailing of the handlebars.
Fortunately both remained unhurt and were soon back up and riding after giving themselves and their teammates a cause for concern.
Meanwhile Frey’s Team Bulls team mate Simon Stiebjahn, fresh off his third place finish in the ABSA Cape Epic two weeks ago with Bulls 2 partner Tim Boehme, believes the course changes will make for a tricky test this weekend with the undulating nature of the track likely to play a major role in the final outcome.
“After Epic I decided to stay the extra two weeks and do the World Cup so even though I’ll still be racing it, it means there isn’t any real pressure on me so we’ll just see how it goes,” said the second year elite rider.
“”The course is very different to the old one. Now there is a lot of steep ups and downs whereas before there were quite a few flatter sections, which suited me a bit more. The new course is very hard!” he added.
More riders, both local and international, are expected to take to the cross country course on Wednesday as they seek to get to know Nick Floros’ fresh creation while the downhill action gets underway on Thursday with training in the morning and timed runs in the afternoon.
The UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano, takes place at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from 11-13 April 2014.
More information can be found at www.mtbworldcupsa.co.za
eHowz!t will have an exclusive interview with Under-23 women’s rider Hayley Smith of Uvongo on Friday.