The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup got off to an exhilarating start as Pietermaritzburg, South Africa hosted the first round with a fast and challenging course that pushed the athletes to their limits, forcing some incredibly close racing in each category.
In the women’s race Maja Wloszczowska (CCC Polkowice) held off the determined Canadian duo of Emily Batty (Subaru-Trek) and Catharine Pendrel (Luna) to don the leader’s jersey for the women.
Next, in the men’s race, while all eyes were on defending champion Jaraslov Kulhavy, the Swiss rider Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) battled with local favourite Burry Stander (Specialized) and Manuel Fumic (Cannondale Factory) for much of the race, prevailing to clinch a repeat of his first round win in 2011.
Race day dawned hot and sunny, despite worries of a muddy course after rain overnight, giving the riders a fast track to race on.
British champion Annie Last (Milka Brentjens) took the early lead in the women’s race before Pendrel, the reigning world champion chased her down and took the lead on the second lap of five. Wloszczowska and Batty were part of a chase group that bridged up to Pendrel, and by the third lap the three were clear of all chasers.
In the final lap, the leaders began to play a tactical game, with Batty attacking before the final rock garden, only to have Wloszczowska counter and take the front into the final straightaway to win by four seconds. “I really happy,” said Wloszczowska. “I definitely didn’t expect to get a win this early in the season. But I changed my coach last year, and this showed that it is working. When Emily attacked, I knew I had to get by her, so I took a chance.”
The men’s six lap race saw Schurter and Stander make their move almost immediately, with Schurter setting the pace and Stander hanging on. World champion and 2011 World Cup champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) joined the duo for the first lap, but the pace was too high for him, and he had to back off, eventually finishing fifth, just ahead of Olympic champion Julien Absalon (Orbea).
Fumic bridged up to the two leaders on the second lap, and the first three places on the podium were decided, with only the order to be determined. Fumic was dropped on the fourth lap, and then Schurter made his move in the final lap, to win by 11 seconds.
“It was an awesome race,” commented Schurter. “I really like Pietermaritzburg, it is really a course for me, really technical. It was awesome in front of the crowd, I really like South Africa. It was a nice fight with Burry, he did a great job, and he was very good to ride with.”
The two leaders will defend their jerseys next month at round two of the World Cup in Houffalize, Belgium.
1 Nino Schurter (Swi) 1:30:38
2 Burry Stander (RSA) 0:00:11
3 Manuel Fumic (Ger) 0:00:59
4 Julien Absalon (Fra) 0:01:41
5 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Cze) 0:02:21
6 Lukas Flückiger (Swi) 0:02:28
7 Jose Antonio Hermida (Spa) 0:02:51
8 Stéphane Tempier (Fra) 0:03:01
9 Marco Fontana (Ita) 0:03:22
10 Ralph Naef (Swi) 0:03:44
1.Maja Wloszczowska (POL) 1:34:01
2.Emily Batty (CAN) +4
3.Catharine Pendrel (CAN) +23
4.Esther Suss (SUI) +1:03
5.Julie Bresset (FRA) +1:17
6.Katerina Nash (CZE) +1:24
7.Sabine Spitz (GER) +2:02
8.Karen Hanlen (NZL) +2:17
9.Annie Last (GBR) +2:35
10.Irina Kalentieva (RUS) +2:42 U23