The opening leg of the 2018 UCI World Cup takes place in the picturesque town of Stellenbosch. With a gnarly XCO circuit and some big names pitching up, this should be a world class event.
WORDS: FRANS LE ROUX IMAGES: MICHAL CERVENY_UCI
Up until now, all of South Africa’s international MTB action took place in Pietermaritzburg at the splendid Cascades MTB Park. Although Capetonians have almost no water left, we do have the exhilarating UCI World Cup taking place in Stellenbosch. The prestigious event takes place on the 10th of March and should not be missed.
WHAT IS IT?
The XCO UCI MTB World Cup is a global series of Olympic cross country races which takes place on closed courses. Elite Men and Women and Under23 men and women are the categories in which riders can compete. The 2018 series kicks off at a new venue in Stellenbosch which is arguably the mountain bike hub of South Africa. The event will take place on Saturday 10th of March. If you are planning on attending, entrance is free, and you are bound to experience an adrenalin filled and action-packed day. The action gets underway at 08:30 with the U23 Woman’s race. With the final race of the day, the Elite Men, scheduled to rip off the start line at 14:50.
At 4.4km in length and 180m of ascent, don’t think this course is going to be a ride in the park. Competitors start their lap by pinning it toward the Puff Adder. This is a short but steep switch-back climb which will surely test the rider’s ability to maintain traction. This section of the track will only be used from the second lap onwards because the first lap is designed with a loop to give riders ample overtaking opportunity. Next up is the Varsity Dropout which is a one meter drop shortly followed by a right-hand berm. Approach is key here for the riders, get it wrong and your race could end in a spectacular crash. Naturally a Rock Garden was thrown into the mix. These rocks will see the more technically skilled rider grab significant advantage while riders should focus on keeping momentum. Being in Stellenbosch, there is of course a section called the Nederburg Wine Barrel. The barrel should be a spectator hotspot if you are keen on seeing some serious skills being showcased. The following section is called Howzit and it features a small drop on the apex of a descending corner. Riders now have to tackle the Khoi Spirit. A tricky short descent will give riders enough time to catch a necessary breath before they head toward Pickup Sticks. Here riders would need to focus on their rhythm and flow to safely cross multiple tree stumps.
WHO TO WATCH
South Africans to watch: In the women’s elite category Mariske Strauss should be one to look out for. She will be riding on a Silverback for Team OMX Pro. Her best World Cup result in 2017 was a 29th place in the Czech Republic. In the men’s elite category Alan Hatherly will be gunning it for the podium once again. Hatherly had a stellar 2017 season with a couple of Top 20 World Cup finishes and even a silver medal at the World Champs in Australia. Read more about the Team Spur athlete on page 11. In the Elite Men’s category all eyes will be on Nino Schurter. He managed to achieve a perfect 2017 by winning all the UCI World Cup’s and the World Championship. He didn’t just prove to be the best in the short format of racing but also went on to claim the Absa Cape Epic crown too. Other notable mentions are Cannondale’s Henrique Avancini, Specialized Czech powerhouse Jaroslav Kulhavy and France’s Jordan Sarrou on his BH. The Women’s Elite category should prove very competitive with the likes of Ukraine’s Yana Belomoina who claimed the overall top spot in 2017. Notable mentions for a possible podium include Jolanda Neff, Linda Indergand and Annie Last. (Disclaimer: At the time of print the final list of elite athletes was not confirmed yet.)
If you can’t make your way to Stellenbosch, you can always watch the action live on YouTube at RedbullTV. The elite ladies and men’s races will be aired live on DSTV’s Supersport channels. (At the time of print the exact channels could not be confirmed.) For more info: www.worldcupstellenbosch.com
The course and venue is situated at Coetzenburg in the heart of Stellenbosch. Fans can enjoy the racing by watching it on the actual course, from the grandstands or even in the chill zone. The Chill Zone has some televisions screen and cold beverages to complete your visit to the event.