The eyes of some of South Africa’s finest Under-23 cross-country mountain bikers were open a little wider than usual when they first saw the final product upon which they will compete at this weekend’s opening round of the UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano, which takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg.
Former South Coast rider Candice Neethling made her way cautiously around the revamped course at first, but felt a few laps under the belt would soon improve riders’ confidence levels.
“It’s practically a totally different course!” exclaimed the VeloLife BMC-SA star. “Some things from the old course are still here but it’s pretty much brand new because it is just such a different type of track to the old one.
“I’m glad to see the Tree House rock garden is still there but even that has been tweaked and changed a little.
“The new section [Red Lipped Herald] on the first half of the lap is so much fun, I absolutely loved riding it today.
“I think the new course actually suits me a little better than the old one as I enjoy quite a bit of climbing – which the new course has – so hopefully things go well on race day,” she added.
Despite the likes of Trek Racing’s duo James Reid and Brendon Davids, Kargo Pro MTB’s Travis Walker and Team Jeep’s Dylan Rebello having all raced at Cascades countless times before, the quartet were all caught off-guard somewhat by the recent alterations course designer Nick Floros has made to the international spectacle’s stage.
“The course is now definitely harder than it was before!” explained Davids. “It’s probably even a little more technical that it used to be – which was already quite technical – but now it almost has a European feel to it!”
Neethling and Reid recently spent a few weeks in the USA and Neethling’s two Under-23 first place finishes will give her good confidence heading into this weekend’s World Cup series opener.
“It was great to go race in the States for a bit. We were looked after so well by my coach who now lives over there and I was happy with how the racing went.
“Hopefully the confidence on the new course will continue to grow over the next couple of days and that, together with my results from the US, will see me do well here in Maritzburg.
“I’d be happy with a top 10 at the World Cup but I’m definitely hoping for a top five and, if everything clicks on the day, then I definitely believe I can achieve that,” added the final year Under-23 competitor.
While the likes of Phillip Buys (SCOTT Factory Racing), Rourke Croeser (Kargo Pro MTB) and Mariske Strauss (Orange Monkey Pro MTB) look to fly the flag for the host nation in the elite men’s and women’s cross country clashes, the talented Under-23 bunch will be hoping to achieve some top results on home turf this weekend.
eHowz!t will have an exclusive interview with Under-23 women’s rider Hayley Smith of Uvongo later this week.
The UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano, takes place at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from 11-13 April.
More information can be found at www.mtbworldcupsa.co.za