World Cup 1, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

We were excited to head down to South Africa to open our 2014 World Cup campaign and to be racing on the technical track at the Casscades Bike Park in Pietermaritzburg. Straight off the plane we were greeted by blue skies and sunshine that luckily held for the entire week.

The race organisers had made some changes to the course from the previous years by increasing the number of climbs, making them shorter, and running the course back into (touching) the arena four times making it more spectator and TV friendly. However the general feel of the course was the same and the downhills are some of the most technical (and fun) on the circuit – rock gardens, jumps, loose off-camber corners, duel lines, drops and bridges.

With the XCO racing scheduled for the Sundays on World Cup weekend this season we were able to get in a good training session on the track on Wednesday. Once we were out on the course we could see that the amount of singletrack would make passing difficult, even with the addition of several dual lines on some of the climbs and descents. Despite the changes we both liked the course and were feeling in good shape. We have worked hard on the technical aspects of mountain biking skills over the winter and felt confident about the course.

We also had time to meet up and touch base with Mark and the rest of the Fox Racing Shox crew, our suspension sponsor. Fox have always been at the forefront of fork and shock product development so it was really interesting and informative talking tech with the guys, plus hearing what exciting stuff they have in the pipeline.

Fortunately for us Brits the Senior Men’s race was scheduled for a 3.30pm start so we avoided the highest temperatures of the day, commiserations to the women and U23 men who had to race earlier! Our goal for the race was simple – top 60 and thus in the ranking points. This would secure gridding from the World Cup ranking at subsequent rounds this year and allow us to work our way up the grid as the series goes on.

For me it was ‘mission accomplished’ finishing 59th ensuring a reasonable start position at the Czech World Cup (we skip Round 2 in Australia). On balance it was a satisfactory outcome as the niggling back problem that has plagued me since the beginning of the year restricts the power transfer down the right hand side of my body. I now plan to alter my race program to allow more time for treatment and rehab so that I am back to top form in Czech.

It was a different story for Seb. Dropping into the first rock garden on the second lap he was cut up by another rider forcing him to swerve off line to avoid a collision. He hooked up and ploughed over the bars sliding head first over the rocks. Sensibly the medics on the course were unwilling to let him continue racing until he had been thoroughly checked over by the race doctor. He is incredibly frustrated about not being able to complete the race on a course that was ideally laid out for him. Fortunately his injuries are relatively minor. He is back training and gunning for the next races.

We are both looking forward to the first European World Cups.