Words: Stuart Pickering ǀ Photos: Cycling Direct
The 2013 World Mountain Bike and Trials Championships were held over the weekend of 30, 31 August and 1 September 2013 at the Cascades Mountain Bike Park in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Here, the best of the world’s men and women mountain bike, downhill and trials riders competed for the rainbow-striped jerseys awarded to each of the winners, which they will wear for the next 12 months when competing. It is the biggest accolade in each of these sporting disciplines.
The Cascades Park had been prepared to an exemplary level and thoroughly tested in the previous week by the Masters World Championships; the first time the two events have been run back-to-back.
The practice runs on the courses started earlier in the week, but the atmosphere was reduced from cheers to tears on Thursday afternoon when a sombre and moving ceremony was held to commemorate the Burry Stander Memorial Garden, which has been built at the park.
On Friday, the events started in earnest under the darkening skies of an incoming cold front, which drastically reduced the temperature and provided some rain to settle the dust and make the course as near perfect as possible for Saturday's Elite Cross-country events.
Another unusual instance was the running of the cross-country eliminator races on the Sunday morning, the day after the main cross-country events. This meant that all the best competitors were willing to ride and provided the packed Cascades crowd with thrilling opening races that led up to the afternoon’s main events of the downhill races.
Swiss rider Nino Schurter and Julie Bresset of France held off strong opposition to claim back-to-back world titles in the Elite Cross-country events. Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff also joined in the back-to-back title brigade by defending her U23 cross-country stripes.
Sunday afternoon saw Briton Rachel Atherton coming down the course last, to destroy the competition in the Women’s Downhill and win by over eight seconds! But the crowd was only really waiting for one race and that was to see if local hero Greg Minnaar could take the gold medal in the Men's Downhill. The vibe and atmosphere down the track and in the crucible finish area was emotionally charged as Minnaar started his run, the third last rider, and it erupted when he took the leader's hot seat by less than half a second, with only two riders to go. If the crowd was noisy after Greg's run, it became delirious when the last two riders failed to edge him out of the hot seat and Minnaar became only the third rider to win the World Championship on home soil.
That was the cue to get the party started and the crowds in the Cascades Park took over to show how a true South African celebration should be run!
In the final medal tallies for the mountain bike disciplines of cross-country and downhill, Switzerland led the way, with a total of six medals, including three gold, one silver and two bronze. Australia was second, also with six medals, but only one of which was gold, plus two silver and three bronze - all won on the final day of competition. Third in the rankings was France with five medals; one gold and four silver. Germany also had a total of five medals; one gold, two silver and two bronze.
In the trials competition, France claimed the most medals, with a total of six, however only one was gold, with three silver and two bronze. Powerhouse Spain finished second in the total medal count at five, but three were gold, plus one silver and one bronze. Germany was the only other nation to win more than one medal, with one each in silver and bronze.