Thursday Apr 10, 2014

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014 - Downhill Preview

The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is back! Here’s what to expect from the downhill event’s top athletes when the action kicks off in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on Friday 11th April.


Men's 2013 World Cup Highlights     Women's 2013 World Cup Highlights

Men’s Downhill

Stevie Smith - The defending champion

The Canadian rider will begin the defence of his World Cup downhill title this week hoping to try and replicate the consistency that won him the championship last season. Gee Atherton dominated the first half of the tour but Smith was a regular on the podium and the 24-year-old pounced in the final weeks to steal victory from under his rival’s nose. At the final race of the year in Leogang, Austria just 17 points separated them and, with one of his best ever rides, the man from British Columbia topped the podium and climbed to the top of the overall standings. The question for Smith now is can he handle the pressure of being the one to beat in 2014?

Stevie Smith celebrates his World Cup series title in 2013. Can he do it again?

Gee Atherton - The number one contender

The 2010 World Cup downhill series champion had gone three years without a World Cup victory ahead of the 2013 season. However, he won the opening two races in devastating fashion and claimed second in the third. At the half-way point Atherton had what many thought was an unassailable lead in the race for the championship but things changed in Mont Sainte-Anne – at a race the Brit has never won. Atherton was in the hot seat for most of the race but despite heavy rain before his run Smith smashed his rival’s time to win on home soil. Things went from bad to worse for the race leader and a shocking mistake at the penultimate stop in Norway led to a 12th place finish and ultimately allowed Smith to take advantage at the finals in Austria. There is no doubting Atherton’s number one world ranking, but can the 26-year-old rider go the distance in 2014 with last year’s heartbreak spurring him on to World Cup downhill glory?

Gee Atherton will be going all out to win the series title in 2014.

Loïc Bruni - The young pretender

The 19-year-old Frenchman impressed in his rookie World Cup season in 2013. He went into the competition as the reigning Junior World Cup champion and finished fourth in the overall standings. He had a particularly brilliant ride in the final race of the season, in which only Stevie Smith went faster, and he will be targeting at least a place in the top three in 2014.

The others....

In what is expected to be one of the most competitive seasons ever there are plenty of riders who will be aiming for World Cup downhill wins this year. After dominating the circuit in 2011 and 2012 American Aaron Gwin suffered a disappointing campaign last season and will be hoping to rediscover his former greatness. Britain’s Danny Hart, the 2011 World Champion, and Australian Sam Hill are also both looking to get back to their best after injury trouble.

Women's Downhill

Rachel Atherton – The defending champion

The Welsh rider was almost untouchable last year as she claimed her second-straight World Cup title, the third of her career. She won four of the six races and came second in a fifth. The only black mark on her record was a 12th place finish on the tricky Mont Sainte-Anne course which she will be looking to make amends for this season. 2014 for Atherton is all about handling the pressure. She is the clear favourite to win again and as world number one she is the girl everyone will be trying to beat.

Rachel Atherton will be defending both the World Championship and the World Cup series title in 2014

Emmeline Ragot - The number one contender

Until Emmeline Ragot took victory at Mont Sainte-Anne in the fifth race of the 2013 season Rachel Atherton had topped the podium in a remarkable eight out of the pervious nine races. However, Ragot went on to finish 2013 in emphatic fashion with another win in the final race – to prove defending champion Atherton is not invincible. The French rider is by far the biggest threat to the world number one and has every chance of causing an upset in 2014.

Manon Carpenter – The young pretender

21-year-old Carpenter is currently ranked third in the world after earning a bronze medal at last year’s World Cup. She was a regular on the podium and the 2011 Junior World Cup Champion will be hoping to displace Emmeline Ragot in second as her and Atherton go for a British one-two.

The others...

It is shaping up to be a battle between the British and the French in the 2014 World Cup Downhill. With Atherton, Ragot and Carpenter making up the top three in the standings the rest of the top six hail from France. Myriam Nicole, Morgane Charre and Floriane Pugin will all be looking to force their way onto podiums this year and it seems the 2014 title is destined to end up in either Great Britain or France.

Myriam Nicole is one of a few French riders looking to upset Rachel Atherton

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