A rite of spring for 20 years returns this weekend with the opening round of the 2011 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.
After a one-year absence at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, all three disciplines are represented in the opening round — Olympic cross-country, downhill and four-cross.
The cross-country is entering a critical phase as racers position themselves for Olympic qualifying at next year’s London Games, so the competition is expected to reach new heights in intensity.
The men’s side will see renewed rivalry between France’s Julien Absalon (Orbea) and the 2010 overall World Cup champion from Switzerland, Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower). Spain’s Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida), who won the opening round the last time the race was in Pietermaritzburg, will wear the rainbow stripes of the world champion through the year.
For the women, Canada’s Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team) will start the year with the Number-One plate, however, she faces strong competition from Americans Willow Koerber (Trek World Racing) and Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team), as well as Italy’s Eva Lechner (Colnago Arreghini Sudtirol) and Russia’s Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon).
In an effort to reduce traffic on race courses, the UCI is for the first time introducing separate World Cup cross-country races for the Under-23 categories.
In 2010, the crowd-favorite downhill saw a tremendous battle for the men’s title between Great Britain’s Gee Atherton (Commencal) and South African Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), with the lead seesawing back and forth until Atherton took the title in the final event at Windham, New York. This year expect to see both riders fighting it out again, with world champion Sam Hill (Monster Energy/Specialized/Mad Catz) in the mix also.
The women’s competition was dominated by French star Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) last year, but her countrywoman Emmeline Ragot (Team GR) and World Champion Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) will both be looking to dislodge Jonnier from the top spot.
The four-cross will once again see perennial men’s favourite Jared Graves (Yeti Fox Shox) of Australia go up against the powerful RSP four-cross squad led by Czech rider Tomas Slavik and the Netherland’s Joost Wichman. Graves repeated as the World Cup Champion in 2010, however, Slavik was able to take the world title from him.
On the women’s side, Austria’s Anita Molcik took the 2010 title from multi-time World Cup champion Anneke Beerten (Milka Trek) of the Netherlands, so Beerten is sure to be anxious to regain her number one status.
Contested on three continents, both the cross-country and downhill World Cup series will feature seven events, with the four-cross offering five.
After the shared venue at Pietermaritzburg, the disciplines split, with the cross-country returning to Dalby Forest, Great Britain and Offenburg, Germany in May, while the gravity events resume in June with Fort William, Scotland, and Leogang, Austria.
For July, the World Cup moves to North America, with a triple event at the classic Mont-Sainte Anne venue in Canada, followed by a cross-country/downhill double in Windham, New York. August returns the World Cup to Europe for the final three races —La Bresse, France for a stand-alone downhill, the new Czech venue of Nove Mesto Na Morave for cross-country number six, and the World Cup final bringing all three disciplines back together in Val di Sole, Italy.