It’s that time of year again – after a lengthy off season, the UCI Downhill Mountain Biking World Cup is rolling round once again. Pietermaritzburg in South Africa is the site of the opening race, which kicks off with training runs today.
This awesome graphic guide from our sister site Dirt tells you everything you need to know about what to expect from the track.
The course in Pietermaritzburg has come in for criticism in the past because of a lengthy near-flat section in the middle.
But while it definitely plays into the hands of riders who enjoy pedalling, the steep, technical top section and the big obstacles on the final stretch do help even out the balance a bit.
Saffer Greg Minnaar is widely expected to do well on his home turf and to judge by his Instagram feed, he’s looking forward to getting back on his bike.
But don’t discount the likes of the UK’s Gee Atherton or Aaron Gwinn, both of whom will be looking to steal a march on last year’s champion Stevie Smith. Stevie will be missing the first few races of the 2014 season following surgery on a broken foot.
In the women’s race, last year’s winner Rachel Atherton will be looking to repeat her victory.
After an off-season apparently spent swanning around Italy on a scooter, we’re sure she’ll be gagging to race again. But it won’t be plain sailing at all, with the likes of Tracey Hannah trying to unseat the reigning World Champion.
You can expect to see an interesting mix of different bike types in the pits with riders opting for different strategies on how best to tackle those different portions of the track.
As Red Bull’s bike editor Ric McLaughlin points out: “Everything from 29ers to short-travel enduro bikes will be seen around the pits. The long middle section is pedally, very pedally. And there’s no replacement for horsepower.”
But while the change in gradients and features may mean some riders will find things tricky, one thing is guaranteed – the race will be pretty spectacular. Temperatures are set to be hot and dry over the weekend, so we can expect to see fast times.
And with a 15-metre stepdown hip known as “The Moneymaker” among the obstacles in that final stretch, the race will not be short on crowd-pleasing moments.
Here’s the fill race schedule – qualifiers are on Friday and the finals kick off at 1.15pm UK time. Red Bull will be streaming the whole thing live, and you can follow coverage on our sister site Dirt and right here on Mpora.