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One downhill world champ in, one out for opening World Cup

World Downhill Champion Gee Atherton

World Downhill Champion Gee Atherton (Image credit: Tour of Japan)

British downhill Gee Atherton (Animal Commencal), the current men's downhill world champion, will compete in the opening round of the 2009 UCI World Cup in Pietermaritzburg next week. His sister and teammate Rachel, also a downhill world champion, will have to sit out the racing due to injury.

Gee won the first round of the Maxxis Cup in Gouviea, Portugal, for the second year in succession earlier this month and declared himself motivated and ready to begin his assault on the World Cup. He is currently ranked number one on the UCI's latest world rankings, just a few points ahead of South Africa's World Cup champion, Greg Minnaar, who hasn't raced yet this year, preferring to make his competitive debut at the opening round of the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, which is his hometown.

Despite more than a month of rest and rehabilitation, Rachel will have to sit out the opening round. "We are sorry to say there has been no major improvement with the nerve damage in Rach's shoulder," read a team press release. Atherton injured her shoulder in a collision with a pick-up truck while training in California in January.

She visited a number of specialists over the last few weeks. All have been unable to give a clear indication on her recovery time. She will wait a further four weeks to see if her nerve condition improves. In the meantime, she continues to train with the aim of returning to racing as soon as possible.

Gee's brother Dan Atherton is also confirmed for the World Cup opener. Dan is currently ranked 21st in the world for downhill racing, but is ranked fourth in 4X, his preferred discipline, which he will contest in Pietermaritzburg.

The Pietermartizburg round of the World Cup will take place on April 10-12.