By Luke Webber in Maribor, Slovenia
As predicted, with team changes and some star riders missing at the opening round of the UCI World Cup 4X in Maribor, Slovenia last weekend, the world got a chance to learn some new names in the men's race with Spaniard Rafael Alvarez (Lu Rafael) taking the win. And with absence of Jill Kintner, who is focusing on a BMX Olympic bid this season, Dutchwoman Anneke Beerten (Ms-Intense Factory-Racing Factory-Racing) emerged atop the women's podium.
A dry, dusty and rock track produced a difficult surface for racing. With a lot of braking points, the track became cut up and looser as the race went on and for many, bad luck dictated an early exit from the competition. From the gate, the track went into a series of jumps, a left turn and then a right. It was this last opening turn that ended the hopes for many riders as everyone accelerated frantically to have any chance of making the triple that followed.
In practice, top qualifier Dan Atherton (Animal Commencal) looked fast as he dialled the outside line on one bend with immense speed. However, in heat one he had to come from dead last to squeak through into round two. Unfortunately, there would be no rerun in this heat and a bad first third of the race made any comeback impossible.
Brian Lopes got caught up in the gate on his first round, and then his skewer came loose and he was eliminated. Nathan Rennie (Santa Cruz Syndicate) who qualified 20th, commented on the trouble racers had out on the course. "These guys don't even know how to corner a bike," said Rennie, who was eliminated in his second heat. "It was just carnage everywhere. Two guys crashed in front of me and I had no choice but to hit them. One guy was hurt for sure and the other guy's bike was mangled."
It was left to Cedric Gracia (Commencal - Furious), Romain Saladini and Guido Tschugg in the two semi finals to hold the old guard strong, but only Tschugg could advance to the final leaving Gracia to claim the small event. Just as in every heat that came before, Rafael Alvarez dominated the finals to take a convincing win ahead of Tschugg. Johannes Fischback (Team Ghost International) was third and Tomas Slavik fourth.
In the women's races, three of the top four qualifiers made it to the final. Anneke Beerten became the woman to beat as she marched her way to a win. Second place was something of a surprise – Anita Molcik put in three solid rides and in the process confirmed second step on the box ahead of the far more experienced Fionn Griffiths (Norco World Team World Team) and Melissa Buhl (KHS).
See the full 4X World Cup race coverage.