Photos and Words: Colin Meagher
It all starts here, in Maribor: the view out the start house and onto the piste of the Pohorje Ski hill.
It's been eight months since the last World Cup gravity-fed battle. Eight months since the World Cup Finals wrapped up in Schladming, Austria. Since then, riders have switched teams, new bikes have been designed, old ones tweaked, and components crafted, all to get ready for this: the 2010 World Cup race season's first ride.
Wet, off camber roots are a mainstay on this track; Sam Hill and company looking for the line to shed a few hundred seconds off a run.
The Cross Country World Cup series has already gone two rows deep this season, with Dalby Forest and Houffalize in the bag. The first Four Cross event piggybacked with the Houffalize XC, so that cat's out of the bag, too. Leaving this, the coming out dance of the downhill racing season; getting underway here at the Pohorje Ski Hill on the edge of Maribor, Slovenia.
The forecast is for rain, mixed with some sun, to again besiege this classic. This will make racing a bit of a Slip 'n Slide, as there is a fair amount of clay mixed into the soil here in Slovenia. Otherwise it will mostly be business as usual here on the Pohorje Massif portion of the Alps: a high speed roller coaster of a track littered with off camber root lines, and punctuated with a dreaded rock garden midway down the track. There have been a few tweaks here and there to the track—most notably a shift to the rider's right in the rock garden, but it is essentially the same track as last year.
This stump amidst a sea of rock says it all: Maribor in day glo orange spray paint.
Sure, the rock garden's in the rear-view mirror at this point, but that doesn't mean the track's any easier. From this point on it's a semi controlled toboggan run through the lower woods before bursting out into the finishing straight.
The Four Cross track, on the other hand, is brand new. It's not a cheap venture to build a four cross track. Not by a long shot. Too bad someone forgot to go the extra mile to mix in some rock and make it an all weather track. With the soaking it got on Thursday and the forecast of continued rain, it promises to be a mud spike 4X final. Most of the 4X racers put a lap or two on the soggy mess of a track, but other than a few token runs, it was mostly just showing the colors vs. actual training.
Not likely to be an uncommon sight during the four cross finals: mud spikes. Modeled here on Jared Graves' Yeti.
Look for training to begin in earnest on both the DH and 4X tracks today (Friday).
Evidently there is also a bike related event at the Klub Dolly in downtown Maribor.
Day one in the pits, and racing enthusiasts are already drooling over the latest toys available to the top dogs of the mountain bike world.
Along with a handfull of skilled technicians, the SRAM truck comes with its own drill press. Mostly it's used for shock mount modifications, but back in the day, more than one spur-of-the-moment solution was created on this machine and then raced to victory on some legendary track here in Europe.
Ah, yes. The rock garden. The boys at Mavic are already hard at work, lacing up replacements for the inevitable carnage that will ensue over the next few days.
New race season, new kits on the racers. And a brand new awning for the MS Evil bus with circus freak show style of graphics that fairly sizzled the rain drops before they could settle on the awning.
Mark Fitzsimmons of Fox Racing Shox putting the touches on a set of forks. "We offer support to anyone on Fox product at a World Cup, from the top racers to the privateer."
Black box athlete means custom touches to the bike; not only a laser etched name goes on each black box athlete's shifter, but custom shapes go into each shifter, as well. Cross-hatching on the thumb shifters was done by SRAM.
Whereas Brendan Fairclough's shifter gets no cross hatching and a radically different shape as well. Black box custom for sure.
If you thought XC racers were the weight weenies of the mountain bike racing world, guess again. World Cup four cross racers typically rip it up on 19-20 lb hard tails, And the gravity sleds are pared down as much as can be. In this case, it's the addition of ti bolts wherever possible to Steve Peat's brand new Carbon V-10 helping achieve the svelte 35.3 lbs.
A Belgian mechanic simply will not wrench on a bike without some quality beer on hand. Especially on the eve of the first World Cup practice of the 2010 season.