South Africans were once again privileged to witness the world’s best mountain bike racers competing at the first round of the 2014 UCI World Cup, presented by Shimano. Privileged being the key word here.
Those that did make an effort to get to the Cascades Mountain Bike Park in Pietermaritzburg during the second weekend of April will have left with a feeling of immense satisfaction. – Sean Badenhorst
Watching the finest athletes in the sport is an impactful experience. You hear them breathing heavily on the steep climbs, contrasting sound to the clicking of their gears; you see the perspiration dripping off their dusty faces; and you feel their disappointment when they have a mishap right in front of you. You’re so close to the action, you could reach out and touch the riders.
You can walk up to and talk to the riders when they’re not wearing their race faces because they’re not aloof and protected by a veil of security like the stars of many other global sports.
Except for the 2010 ‘gap year’, we have, since 2009, been able to experience the best of the planet’s best racing in Pietermaritzburg. The legacy this has left includes a world-class racing facility and a generation of youngsters that have been inspired in the best way possible to pursue their passion and commit to making their own mountain bike racing dreams come true.
Here’s a collection of images and quotes from the 2014 World Cup in Maritzburg. Cherish the memories folks. Appreciate the privilege. It may not come around again…
“I’m really happy. It’s great to win the first World Cup, especially with it being here in South Africa where I crashed twice and broke ribs at last year’s World Champs. I wasn’t the fastest downhill and I arrived a little bit stressed after my two crashes last year. I wasn’t really feeling comfortable in the Tree House rock garden but I did find a safe line, maybe not the fastest but a safe one, and the feeling and shape was good so I was happy.” – Julien Absalon (FRA), two-time Olympic Champion, four-time World Champion and Elite men’s XCO winner.
“I had a crash on the second lap after I had a lead of over a minute. And when I crashed I lost a lot of time and hurt myself; and my saddle was out of place so I had to get off again and fix it. It is not the best thing that can happen but I was happy that I could find the rhythm again in the next lap and keep the lead until the finish line. I like the course here. The new sections are really fun to ride and I have started to really love racing here.” – Jolanda Neff (SUI), current Under-23 World Champion and winner of the Elite women’s XCO.
“I had a lot of fun out there. It is extremely hard but we have worked a lot on my technical skills. The sport has changed a lot in the last five or six years and I think I proved to everyone else and especially myself that I can still be up there fighting. The courses are not going to stop changing and I am just really happy with what I did out there today.” – Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa (NOR), former Olympic Champion and four-time World Champion, runner-up in the Elite women’s XCO.
“I’m just happy, really stoked. It is definitely a team win! Everyone at Specialized has been working so hard for us, trying to get us the best equipment, best support, best staff and best everything and they have been really killing it for us. The race was great this year! The track was good, the fans – as always – down here are great! I love racing here!” – Aaron Gwin (USA), men’s DH winner
“I was really nervous up top. I wasn’t super comfortable riding all the technical stuff. I haven’t had a lot of time on my bike since my surgery so I just tried to suss things out beforehand and then just relax as much as I could before my run. I had a really good run up top and I survived but, given the condition I’m in and a lack of time on the bike, I’m still really happy with my third place! I’m just really thankful for all the people coming out and supporting me again, it’s incredible to see all the support.” – Greg Minnaar, three-time World Champion, third in the Men’s DH, despite recent knee ligament surgery.
“Unfortunately I flatted and in quite a bad place too, so I had to ride quite a far way with the flat, but that’s racing. When you see guys flying past you, it’s always a bad feeling but it’s happened to everyone and you have to accept it. Hopefully next time I will have better luck and be back for more podiums.” – Nino Schurter (SUI), three-time World Champion after puncturing while leading the Elite men’s XCO. He finished sixth.
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*Originally published in TREAD Issue 29, 2014 – All rights reserved