As far back as 2000, Maribor has been home to some of the most intense World Cup crowds on the circuit. Even then, spectators displayed a passion for racing not seen in many other places. The World Cup skipped Maribor for a few years, but returned in 2007, and the fans are every bit as rowdy now as they were then.
The downhill course favors the super-fast, but also the brave and those who can let it all hang out at incredible speeds. The average speed of 33.38 mph last year was one of the highest on the circuit. But one man has dominated here the past two years: Sam Hill. He owns this track the same way he owns Schladming.
Even though this course is nowhere near as steep as Schladming, it is filled with roots and, more importantly, a multitude of tight, twisty cambered corners from top to bottom. And then there is the rock garden—renowned as a breaker of spirit and body. It is the go-to spot for spectators baying for blood on race day.
With no wins to his name this year, Hill will be looking to dominate on this course again. But don't overlook the resurgent Mick Hannah of GT, or the Santa Cruz Syndicate pair of Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar—who are separated by only 4 points in the overall standings. Gee Atherton of Animal Commencal is also hungry for his first World Cup victory this season, and having just taken first at the Wheels of Speed in Willingen, he's riding high.
In the women's race, nobody is riding as strong as Sabrina Jonnier of Maxxis Rocky Mountain. Dominant in the last three rounds, Jonnier is on fire and will be looking for a win here to solidify her overall lead in the standings over Tracy Moseley of Trek World Racing before the long break leading to Mont-Sainte-Anne in four weeks.
Moseley also wants to get back on the top box after winning in the opener in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. She has been close, but has yet to deliver a performance that matches her opening-round victory. And don't forget the contingent of French riders who dominated at Fort William—Emmeline Ragot, Celine Gros, Floriane Pugin and Myriam Nicole. All of them have done well here in the past.
Maribor's 4X track is similar to last year's. The initial wide-open turns are followed by jumps into the woods, some more sweeping turns and a new jump section that is still too wet to ride. Organizers have installed a temporary grass section—and rain is predicted for this weekend, so it is likely the grass will be used during the race Saturday evening.
In the men's 4X competition, Jared Graves has won three of the four events this season, and will be looking to extend his overall lead heading into the races at MSA and Bromont. In the women's race, both Jill Kintner and Anneke Beerten are riding well, and either could take it. And there's always the chance that Fionn Griffiths or Jana Horakova could make some epic moves and take the victory.