Pearl iZumi FirstsFebruary 7, 2018
UCI MTB World Cup 2018
South Africa plays host to the opening event of the season – the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.
A Gripping Start to the Year’s Cycling Races
World Cup action comes back to South Africa for the first time since Pietermaritzburg, 2014. This time Stellenbosch – one of the most popular mountain biking spots in the country – will provide the setting for what is sure to be a top-class opener to the cycling event calendar. The XCO-only round will take place on 10 March, on the slopes of the Coetzenberg Mountain. A little over a week before the Absa Cape Epic, and just a day before the Cape Town Cycle Tour, the MTB World Cup is perfectly poised to attract the who’s who in cycling, along with thousands of spectators.
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup at a GlancerThe multi-round racing series is made up of off-road disciplines with a men’s and women’s category for each, and was first held in 1989, with the single discipline of cross-country. Today riders are awarded points in the disciplines of cross-country, eliminator, downhill, and four-cross. The first three to finish receive gold, silver, and bronze medals, while the winners are also given a rainbow jersey. Riders are allowed to wear this jersey in events of the same category for the year that follows, until the next MTB World Cup. France is ranked first in most of the men’s categories, with the most gold medals won over the course of the series so far.
South African RidersOf the seven rounds in the Downhill stage of 2017’s World Cup, Greg Minaar took a podium spot in four of them – earning 2 gold, 1 silver, and 1 bronze medal. Minaar’s first gold in Downhill came in 2008, and he went on to take a podium spot every year after that up to 2013 – giving him four years to prepare for the sweep of 2017. Alan Hatherly gave a historical performance in the Under 23 category that same year, taking silver and becoming the first South African to win a spot on the cross-country podium since Burry Stander in 2012. On the international stage, South Africa is currently ranked 10th (tied with Norway) in the cross-country discipline, and 5th in Downhill. The 2017 season proved to be a successful one for South Africans, who competed on a world stage and came out among the best the sport has seen. That winning year has set the stage for what is sure to be the dawn of a new cycling era for the country, where Stellenbosch will be the focal point of the MTB world come 10 March, with the first leg of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.
The CourseThe Coetzenburg Mountain in Stellenbosch is where this year’s World Cup action will take place. A well-known mountain biking destination, Stellenbosch offers sophisticated trails set against a backdrop of breathtaking beauty. Alan Winde, the minister of Economic Opportunities, was happy about the news, sharing his hope that hosting the opening to the MTB World Cup would catapult the Western Cape into the global stage, and make it the continent’s leading cycling destination. He went on to say that an event of this nature will undoubtedly garner international interest, which could lead to cycle tourism becoming a significant source of revenue for the province. Gesie van Deventer, Mayor of Stellenbosch, is just as excited about the event, and is looking forward to the inevitable boost it will bring to Stellenbosch but also the community.
The nature of cross-country races involves several laps on different circuits. The course itself is as physically demanding as could be expected at this level of competing, with technical descents, rocky trails, and forest tracks. Racing times vary from about one to two hours on each circuit, which ranges from four to ten kilometers each. The Coetzenburg Mountain previously hosted a national championship, but the existing course has been upgraded for the World Cup event, adding a few elements worthy of the sophisticated riding level. The course itself begins at Stellenbosch University, where the mountain trails start, and keeps near the center of the town for maximum spectator visibility – an element that riders love to feed off. There is about 180 meters of climbing in each lap, with technical sections made up of the steep climb at Puff Adder, the tricky drop at Varsity Dropout, the deep gully at Wine Barrel, and the Khoi Spirit descent that will call on intricate skill from the best of riders.
Where to WatchFor spectators who prefer to be part of the action, they will be able to follow signage that points them directly to the most technical spots on the course. This gives them the opportunity to follow riders through the most thrilling sections of the race. Rock Garden and Khoi Spirit are two spots along the course that will have a big screen and chill zone for those looking to keep up close to the action but still kick back and relax. The next option is to hit the grandstands at the finish line. This is the prime location to view the start and end of the World Cup. A big screen will keep spectators of the action as it unfolds on the course, and they will get a good view of riders passing under the start arch at the end of each lap. The designated chill zone in the race village is ideal for those who don’t feel up to following riders through the course. It’s a front row seat to the action on live TV broadcast, and close to the finish line so spectators can go out to see the final result in person. Several vendors will be in the area giving spectators access to food and drinks for the duration of the race, so they can keep hydrated and energized. The main areas will be at the Chill Zone in the race village, with refreshment stations at the exit to Khoi Spirit and at the Rock Garden.
The build-up to the race to end all MTB cycling races begins on Wednesday, 7 March at 2pm, with the official XCO training for women. This will end at 3pm, when XCO training will be held for all riders. Men’s XCO training will start at 4pm.
The one-hour training will be extended by 30 minutes on Thursday, 8 March, when XCO training kicks off bright and early at 9:30am following the same three stages of the previous day – first the women from 9:30 to 11am, then all riders from 11am to 1pm, then the men’s XCO training, from 1 to 2:30pm.
On Friday, 9 March, the XCO training schedule is the same as Thursday’s, ending with the men’s session from 1 to 2:30pm.
The big race day – Saturday, 10 March – will begin at 8:30am, with the women’s U23 race. Prize giving for this category will take place between 10:15 and 10:30am
At 10:45am the men’s U23 race will begin, and the prize giving will be held from 12:30 to 12:45pm.
The Elite Women’s race will kick off at 1pm. The prize giving will take place from 2:45 to 3pm.
Finally, the Elite Men’s race takes place at 3:30pm, and the prize giving will be held at 5:15pm, to end at 5:30pm.
General Tips for Spectators
Sun ProtectionSince March is considered part of summer in South Africa, it’s important that spectators stay protected from the sun that’s particularly harsh this time of year. The time right before and after noon is usually the hottest part of the day, and proper precaution must be taken during these hours. A good quality sunblock and hat are essential.
HydrationExtremely high temperatures require adequate hydration. There will be designated areas, like refreshment spots along the course and the Chill Zone at the race venue, where food and drinks will be made available by several food vendors. Spectators must be sure to keep hydration levels up to prevent dehydration during the day.
SafetyOrganizers of the UCI MTB World Cup 2018 – South Africa have made it a priority to ensure the safety of all who come out to enjoy the cycling showcase. Support services, including security and medical services, will be on call at Coetzenburg for the duration of the race and available to all spectators as needed.
Fauna & FloraThe Western Cape, and Stellenbosch in particular, has many protected forests and fynbos areas. Although the course is in an area where the danger of large animals isn’t an immediate one, there is a chance that spectators may cross paths with other animals, like spiders, snakes, and scorpions. It is advised that you don’t engage these creatures, but rather back away slowly and warn people in the vicinity. You can then alert one of the officials on call, who will make sure everyone is safe and remove the animal if necessary. There are “No Entry” areas demarcated along the course, showing protected areas of fynbos in the process of regeneration. Please be sure to stick to designated paths and avoid damage to the demarcated zones, as damaged fynbos takes generations to repair.