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Uvongo’s Hayley Smith eager to impress at MTB World Cup

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By Quintin van Jaarsveld

Hayley Smith (Bell Equipment) is intent on taking her career to the next level when she returns to the international stage to take on the world’s best Under-23 women’s cross-country riders in the opening round of the UCI MTB World Cup, which takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg this weekend.

The Uvongo rider has consistently gone from strength to strength in recent years, her career trajectory showing a clear upward curve since her dream UCI MTB World Cup debut two years ago.

It was at the 2012 UCI MTB World Cup at the selfsame Pietermaritzburg venue where then 17-year-old Smith won the junior women’s cross-country race.

It was not only a watershed victory in her budding career but also a highly emotional one.

Less than 12 months prior to her World Cup win, Smith had underwent heart surgery to treat an arrhythmia with a cardiac ablation.

Most teenagers would have been consumed by such adversity, but then, Smith was no ordinary teenager.

She got back on the bike only to fall down again – quite literally – as she broke her collarbone in her comeback race.

A plate and five screws later, Smith was back on two wheels, more determined than ever.

She regards her 2012 World Cup triumph as the turning point of her career. It was also hard-earned vindication and reward for her passionate perseverance.

“Unfortunately there were no international riders in the event, but winning the junior event was big for me,” Smith told eHowz!t.

“This year is expected to see a full international line-up, which is going to be another great experience for me. This is very challenging and exciting at the same time,” she added.

Moving up to the Under-23 ranks last year, she won several local races and clinched the KwaZulu-Natal Under-23 women’s cross-country crown, a title she retained this year.

She got her first taste of international Under-23 competition at the UCI MTB and Trials World Championships at Cascades MTB Park last September and finished as the third-best-placed (30th) South African rider behind Mariska Strauss (eighth) and former South Coast rider Candice Neethling (14th).

The 19-year-old believes her international Under-23 baptism of fire was a great learning curve.

“The world champs was an amazing experience for me. It made me realise how much work has to be done to compete against the best in the world,” said Smith.

Having won a bronze medal at the 2014 African Continental Championships in Durbanville, secured second place in the elite women’s race in the opening round of the 2014 Southern African Mountain Bike Cup Series in Pietermaritzburg and successfully defended her provincial title in the lead up this weekend’s blockbuster race, Smith is ready to once again compete on the grand stage.

“I have had a good start to the year and I am really looking forward to racing the World Cup at Cascades on Sunday,” said Smith.

Although she has had great success when competing at Cascades MTB Park and vital know-how of the track, her experience will count for naught this weekend as course designer Nick Floros has made significant alterations to the track, making it more difficult and technical.

Smith is well aware that she faces a fresh and more demanding challenge.

“I believe there have been some changes to the track, so I am keen to go and test out the course. The track will officially open for practice on Friday, so it will be nice to go and test out my technical skills.

“I am physically and mentally ready for the race, but I need to check out the new rock gardens as those are the areas that play on your mind before a race,” she said.

With a career of constant improvement, Smith’s goal for Sunday’s race is not surprising.

“I would really like to improve on my result last year and will give it my best this weekend.

“I have put in the hours of training and hoping that I will be able to achieve a better result and try and be more competitive in the race.”

UCI MTB World Cup programme:

Friday:

08:30 – 10:00

Official Downhill Training >>> Group B

10:15 – 11:45

Official Downhill Training >>> Group A

08:30 – 10:00

World Cup Riders Confirmation >>> XCO riders

10:00 – 11:30

Official XCO Training >>> Reserved for women

11:30 – 13:00

Official XCO Training >>> Reserved for men

13:00 – 15:00

Official XCO Training >>> All riders

12:30

World Cup Downhill – Qualifying Round – Men Juniors

13:30

World Cup Downhill – Qualifying Round – Women

14:00

World Cup Downhill – Qualifying Round – Men Elite

30 Minutes On Foot Downhill Course Inspection – Riders / Teams

Saturday:

08:30 – 10:00

Official Downhill Training >>> Men Juniors and Women qualified for the final

10:15 – 11:45

Official Downhill Training >>> Men Elite qualified for the final

09:00 – 10:00

World Cup Riders Confirmation >>> XCO riders Final Confirmation XCO

10:00 – 11:30

Official XCO Training >>> Reserved for women

11:30 – 13:00

Official XCO Training >>> Reserved for men

13:00 – 15:00

Official XCO Training >>> All riders

12:30

World Cup Downhill – Final – Men Juniors

13:15

World Cup Downhill – Final – Women

14:00

World Cup Downhill – Final – Men Elite

Downhill Awards Ceremony

17:00

Team Managers Meeting >>> Cross-country

Sunday:

09:00

World Cup Olympic Cross-country – Women U23 followed by Awards

11:00

World Cup Olympic Cross-country – Men U23 followed by Awards

13:00

World Cup Olympic Cross-country – Women Elite followed by Awards

15:30

World Cup Olympic Cross-country – Men Elite followed by Awards

Note:

Group A: reserved for Men Elite with race numbers 1 to x (x to be decided by the DHI Technical Delegate)
Group B: other riders

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