On Saturday the biggest field of mountain bikers ever assembled in Tasmania will line up at Cradle Mountain for the start of Pure Tasmania Wildside MTB stage race in Australia. The race runs January 19 through January 22.
The 450 strong field will be led by some Australia's best riders as they make their way to Strahan over four days tackling seven testing competition stages along the way. Tasmanian Sid Taberlay, Olympian and four-time winner of Wildside MTB, has a strong chance at another win, but is unlikely to enjoy the dominance he has had in previous years and will have to be at his best to take out a 5th title.
22 year-old Daniel McConnell 22 will be his main challenger. McConnell has had good form in recent months capped by an impressive 10th place in the U23 world championships in Fort William, Scotland, and he will be keen to bag a Wildside title for his resume. Other riders to watch are Launceston's Ben Mather and Adrian Jackson of Queensland. Mather and Jackson are both returning top ten results nationally and could surprise given the stage format of Wildside MTB.
Rumours also suggest that Chris Jongewaard of South Australia may yet be a starter. In 2006 he appeared on the start line, entry form in hand, and went on to end Taberlay's four event winning streak. If Jongewaard does appear, the racing at the front will be even tighter.
Launceston's Rowena Fry is the clear favourite for the women's event. Fry has stamped her mark on the national scene in the last six months with a string of podium finishes and the Wildside course will suit her riding style.
Racers are signed up from as far away as Germany, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for race coverage.