With a new Series sponsor, and a new television partner in the form of Red Bull Media House, it is only fitting that the 2012 RockyRoads UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano opens with totally redesigned courses in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, this coming weekend. Both the Olympic cross-country and Downhill disciplines will be represented in Pietermaritzburg, and it will be the first chance this year to see all of the top international stars gathered in one place.
Now in it’s third year on the World Cup circuit, Pietermaritzburg is even more critical than ever this year, because the event is a test run for the World Championships to be held here next year. It is also the startof the final crucial Olympic qualifying period for the London Olympic Games, with riders vying to gain important ranking points that will determine how many starting spots each nation will receive for the men’s and women’s cross-country races at the Games.
Pietermaritzburg has stepped up to the challenge, with courses that riders are saying are more physically demanding than ever. In the women’s cross-country, look for 2011 World Cup champion Julie Bresset (BH-SR Suntour-Peisey Vallandry) and reigning world champion Catharine Pendrel (Luna) to resume the battle that resulted in one of the closest finishes in history for the World Cup title last season. Others to watch include Maja Wloszczowska (CC Polkowice) and Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon). Another name to keep an eye on is Willow Koerber Rockwell (Trek World Racing), a top rider returning to competition ten weeks after giving birth to her daughter.
In the men’s field, the big question is whether Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) can repeat his incredible performance of last year, when he won five World Cups, the World Cup title and became the world champion. After finishing second to Kulhavy multiple times last year, the defending Pietermaritzburg champion, Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) hopes to break that streak, as does Julien Absalon (Orbea).
After the cross-country, attention turns to the Downhill on Sunday. Tracy Moseley, the defending women’s champion in Pietermaritzburg and 2011 World Cup champion, is the biggest name missing from the start list, but the 2011 World Cup runner up, Floriane Pugin (Scott 11), leads a strong field that includes Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Riding Addiction), Sabrina Jonnier (Labyrinth Shimano) and world champion Emmeline Ragot.
For the men, Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) is the defending Pietermaritzburg winner, and the World Cup champion, after dominating last season. However, he will go up against hometown favourite Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), who won here in 2010, and finished second last year. Also sure to be in the mix are Gee Atherton (GT Factory) and world champion Danny Hart (Giant Factory).
The action begins with Downhill qualify
thanks to http://www.bikingdirty.com for the post update