Preview: UCI DH World Cup, Pietermaritzburg
Our predictions for the opening downhill race of the 2014 season.
After a long off-season, the UCI World Cup finally roars back into life this weekend with the opening round in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. But what can we expect? It's a track that over the years has attracted a bit of a stigma and often thrown up a few scenarios and red herrings, here's our guide.
01. The Minnaar Show
This is Greg's track, make no mistake. His world champs win here last year was one of, if not the, biggest result of his career. Last year he lacked the trademark podium consistency that we'd come to expect from him, but the aforementioned win more than made up for it. This is a physical track for tough riders; never mind those racing in their home towns...
02. The Specials
Minnaar's world champs win came on skinny XC compound tyres, but that's really just the tip of the iceberg. Everything from 29ers to short-travel enduro bikes will be seen around the pits. The long middle section is pedally, very pedally. There's no replacement for horsepower...
03. Gwin bounces back
Aaron Gwin had, by his own admission, an 'off' year last year. But in a recentinterview with Dirt Magazine the double World Cup champ comes across more relaxed than ever. After becoming the perenial over-achiever for two seasons, a year out of the spotlight seems to have, oddly enough, done him good. Expect more podiums in 2014.
A year out of the spotlight seems to have, oddly enough, done him good.
04. Stealing a march on Stevie
Last year Stevie Smith beat Gee Atherton during one of the most physical struggles yet seen on the World Cup stage. Surgery on a broken foot one month before the season gets under way means that the Canadian will miss the opening two rounds of the 2014 campaign. He demolished the second half of last season and his absence will be a green light for his rivals to steal a march on him before he even breaks the beam this year.
05. Lucky Loic
We predict that, if he stays healthy, 2014 will be the year that Loic Bruni emerges as a World Cup winner. It's a big claim, especially for such a young rider but we reckon he has the minerals. Names like 'Vouilloz' and 'Barel' have been involved, he's riding for a French team and seemingly feels no pressure – he just goes fast.
Don't forget you can watch live coverage of the downhill finals from Pietermaritzburg from 14:15 CET on Saturday, April 12.
We'll also be showing highlights of the downhill practice and qualifying sessions from Pietermaritzburg, courtesy of Orpheus Productions, from Friday onwards so make sure you check back on Red Bull Bike for those edits.