UCI World Cup: Round 1- Pietermaritzburg, RSA

March 19th, 2012

By Nathan Carvell in Features

So the downhill World Cup has well and truly kicked off in style and as Pietermaritzburg starts to recover from a week end of racing and a Sunday evening of partying, the mountain bike media once again fixates onto the spectacle that is world cup downhill racing. So, we know the results: Minnaar taking the mens race in front of a home crowd just ahead of Gwin and Tracey ‘the pin up’ Hannah taking the women’s with Manon Carpenter just behind her. So here are FJ’s observations from the action, Red Bull’s coverage and Rob Warner commentating from a ‘dry’ booth…

So stoked on this guy being in the sport. Second here, but he means business and the 2012 season won’t be over until there’s been some ‘gwinning” that’s for sure!

Women’s results
1. Tracey Hannah 4:33.806
2. Manon Carpenter 4:34.755
3. Emmeline Ragot 4:36.616
4. Jill Kintner 4:42.298
5. Miriam Ruchti 4:44.702

Men’s results
1.Greg Minnaar 3:57.980
2.Aaron Gwin +0.632
3.Michael Hannah +0.994
4.Gee Atherton +1.303
5.Steve Smith +4.384

The Coverage.

Big, big promises from Red Bull as the successor to Freecaster – talks of 16 HD cameras to cover the hill from top to bottom and the infamous Rob Warner and friends to keep us entertained, but no. Pretty average was the coverage at best. Now, we don’t want to start a hating game here as some of it was good and it was free – would you pay? Aside from not seeing the whole course and the action (where the hell were those big tables?), Red Bull’s approach seemed to make it more of a ‘program’ with a bit of venue background, rider info and some nice pre-recorded sections and it did indeed feel more pro than it’s predecessor. As for the race coverage things were not as hot.

We had the usual technical issues as we had with Freecaster from time to time, no biggy right? Some things are to be expected streaming live action on the net, but the actual rider/camera time was a little debatable and Warner seemed a little reigned in. But give everyone their dues, it was a good effort and we can only hope that it was first round nerves and things will improve.

To make up for the live coverage you can expect HUGE things from Clay Porter and the Parkin brothers who were both sporting RED cameras; if you have no idea what these are check this link. Just think higher than high definition and slow motion that will show the alcohol in Cedric Gracia’s sweat! Personally I can’t wait for the footage to emerge. Definite progression.

Bike Tweaks.

Races these days races are won and lost on thousandths of a second so as you would expect all the necessary measure were taken to ensure maximum performance: it was dropper posts, cut tyres and clips ahoy! Given the uphill slog after the big tables,  riders were pulling out all the stops to scrape every millisecond from the track and reserve those precious kilojoules of energy for an explosive finish. The track at PMB takes no prisoners and every action has a reaction. Take for example the length the Santa Cruz Syndicate when to. Considering they are running some of lightest bikes on the circuit you’d think they would have been well prepped, but no, they added tiny lead weights to their rims! Giving the perfect wheel balance on those space-age wheels was obviously key – did this assist Greg Minnaar to his hometown glory? So the action had a reaction. It certainly did for product manufacturers; Fox had dished out some prototype dropper posts to rival the ever-popular and reliable RockShox Reverb – one to keep an eye on as the game changes. Another action/reaction might be the introduction of fast rolling downhill tires. Here we saw the majority of the field modifying their standard dry tires to get a better rolling resistance; snipping here, filing there.

Rider Tweaks.

The first round of the series is where the riders weigh each other up for the season ahead, a place to see who has put the time in over the winter and looking at the field, there are some hungry, hungry riders out there who have indeed spent the winter sweating over freeweights, turbo trainers and California sunshine. The training and the bike fettling is standard but some riders were willing to risk a season on the opening race. Justin Leov ‘risked it for a biscuit’ and didn’t run any knee pads. One can only assume it was to help with the pedal, or he just forgot them. A risky move that didn’t pay off, finishing well outside the top ten.

We saw flat pedal riders in clips, again maybe not to their advantage when things got technical but clips would have no doubt helped on the motorway. The biggest tweaks were seen with the ‘lost 4x riders’ of last year hanging up their hardtails for a bit of bounce. The prime example was Jared Graves who has shed all of his 4x muscle for a leaner, more efficient approach to bike riding. The boy has the skills no doubt, his focus is undeniable, and he rocked up and put in an astonishing run to finish just off the podium in sixth. It did appear that a lot of the riders had trimmed down possibly as a result of knowing that the bar has been raised considerably on previous seasons and if you want a top ten you have to put the work in – it’s not last man at the bar these days!

The track
Yes it was all about the pedal, or was it? Those that had the legs definitely made up time on the slog but many a rider made lots of time up on the lower section of the track. Keeping it smooth through the rock gardens was key along with being able to carry your speed and pump your bike if you had any lungs left; Minnaar being the perfect example. It was evident that this maybe the toughest track on the circuit physically, judging by the way everyone dropped to the floor in the finish arena a great way to weigh up your competition for the coming season.

‘Warnerisms’
As ever we had some Warner gold albeit nothing too vulgar, if a little restrained, but the best one to go to our mate and FJ Blogger Harry Heath – “He’s going down faster than a French implant…”

Olly’s Summary.

All in all I enjoyed the race and the coverage and just like some of the riders are doing now, Red Bull can take this breather between rounds to figure out how to step things up come round two. I don’t want to dwell too much on the Red Bull thing, but here’s my negative observations:

>Cameras need to be by the Jumps! It’s not hard – if you build giant booters, we wanna see our heroes fuckin send ’em!

>Rob’s commentary while under the influence is priceless – so let him drink for gods sake, he is English!

>Sack the interview guy! Who the hell and where the hell did they find this guy? “Hey, Jared, how was the transition from XC racing… Are you kidding?

>Music? What the… Piano… Sorry, but the music was shit and it just helped build Red Bull’s cheese fortress!

Aside from the above, it was actually pretty good and it definitely offers some real promise for both the fans and the sport as we go forward. It’s also free, so maybe we shouldn’t grumble! Then again, how many Red Bull’s have I consumed in the last 15 years and marketing is marketing – if it was anyone other than the second largest soft drink company in the world, putting their name to it, would it matter? Warner and Pagey were brilliant as ever and having some ‘new to riding’ mates tuning in, they certainly enjoyed the coverage and will definitely be tuning in next time; result!

There was racing too and good racing at that. Super stoked for Manon and the Saracen team – first podium of many for this one. Tracey Hannah, well, what can you say? Rocks up from a mine in Australia and destroys the competition after how many years off international racing? Girl’s just a machine and definitely looking forward to seeing how her season develops.

The boys didn’t disappoint either with all eyes on the American, but in the end, local boy and racing legend Greg Minnaar took the race and kicked the 2012 season off to a flying start. Other cool stuff: Gravesy taking sixth, Sik Mik back and showing them who’s who and Gwin for being just a top guy. Watch the Dirt vid above – true sportsman.

Other stuff that went down: Gutted to see Harry Heath go down, he was on a good run, but shit happens. Next round lad! Neko taking 14th on the day and the sign of what’s coming. Troy bloody Brosnan – kids on fire!!! Sam Hill and Brendan Fairclough putting some awesome runs in on a track that it’s fair to say doesn’t suite them. Danny slipping off his bike, but pulling it back with a big whip – shame the cameras pretty much missed it! Stevie Smith showing what a machine he is and Bryeland just looking effortlessly pinned at the top – excited to see Josh on the gnarlier tracks later in the year, that’s for sure!

I could go on, but I won’t. Roll on round two!

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