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Graves, Beerten star

Australian four-cross star Jarryd Graves started his UCI World Cup season in perfect style as he romped to victory in the main final of the men’s four-cross in Pietermaritzburg on Friday, while the women’s title fell to Dutch speedster Anneke Beerten.

Graves, who is the current world champ, defended the four-cross title he won at the same course in 2009, despite a slow start after clipping the start gate.

He scorched to the front, thriving on the hard fast course, blitzing the other three riders in the final. “I love it when the course is fast so it really suited me.”

The men’s final was without German star Roger Rinderknecht, who was relegated to the small final after a crash, only to have a crash in that race with David Graf who went on to win the consolation final while a disconsolate Rinderknecht limped home last.

Beerten’s win was just as emphatic, and the Dutch wiz bubbled about the flawless start to her season. “I am stoked. This is the perfect way to get into the World Cup season,” she said as she took delivery of the UCI World Cup series leaders jersey.

“It’s just amazing. There was so much pressure beforehand but the track was hard and fast and to have won the first round is just the best!” she added.

Austrian World number two Anita Molcik was sensationally eliminated in the women’s semi-finals. She was leading and looking typically in control when she crashed on a berm, taking down British champ and world number three Katy Kurd in the process.

Earlier in the day local hero Greg Minnaar was impressive in the qualifications for the downhill competition, posting a blistering fast time that second fastest of the men entered, and just a shade off the pace of Australian Michael Hannah.

British world number one Gee Atherton was also in great form, qualifying fifth fastest, while South African rider Andrew Neethling was all smiles after posting the 10th fastest time in qualifying, and with it a very handy seeding at the end of the startlist for the final on Sunday.

The downhill qualification trimmed the field to 80 from the original entry of 116 riders.

The women’s downhill qualifying was utterly dominated by the British superstar Tracey Moseley, who was a full five seconds faster than any other woman on the hill. Five of the next six places in qualifying were taken up by member of the potent French women’s team.

The course that was converted into a mud bath at the nationals last weekend, had baked hard in the sunshine, resulting in a rock hard layout that was providing for fast times and some anxious moments at the extreme options set up to entice the podium hopefuls.

On Saturday all eyes will be on the 6.1km cross country course that winds up and down the forest at the Cascades Mountain Bike Park, climbing 316 metres on each lap.

The racing starts with the junior men and women, together with the men’s Under-23 competition, followed the elite women and Under-23 women. The much anticipated elite men’s showdown is the last item on the programme where the huge crowd that is expected to pack around the course through the forest will be squarely behind KZN icon Burry Stander.

The 23-year-old Umtentweni based cross country ace has been bubbling with energy in training, and shows no signs of fatigue from his impressive victory in the gruelling ABSA Cape Epic earlier in the month. He is also passionate about delivering for the hundreds of passionate fans that will be on course and baying for an South African medal.

Downhiller Greg Minnaar was confident that Stander would not disappoint his followers. “He is in great form at the moment,” said Minnaar. “Hopefully he can go well on the day and we will certainly be out there to support him!”


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