With a fresh season comes fresh opportunities. The previous season is swiftly forgotten and everyone starts from zero. Qualifying day in Maribor gave riders their first opportunity to get points on the board in a long season where consistency will reap rewards come World Cup finals in September. There’s always a buzz of nervous excitement at the first round of the year, the great unknown of who’s hot and who’s not… Today we were given our first clues. Although that said, our first indication of the pecking order may still remain somewhat blurry.
The word “rain” has been muttered up and down the pits all week, it wasn’t a case of if, it was a case of when. Having practiced on a dry track all weekend, in true World Cup fashion mother nature threw a curveball minutes before the start of elite qualifying as the heavens opened and soaked the track, changing the dynamic of the qualifying session in doing so. Those outside the protected places would have a nervous wait in the start hut as they contemplated rain-soaked roots and hardpack sections more akin to an ice rink than a mountain bike track. Plenty of big hitters would be caught out, atop the list was the man who won last time Maribor hosted a World Cup. Greg Minnaar will not take to the start ramp tomorrow. It’s days like these that protected riders sigh in relief.
The two riders to master and adapt to the changing conditions the quickest were Tracey Hannah and Mark Wallace who’ll both have the honour of wearing the leader's jersey as they drop in last tomorrow. In behind Wallace is Gwin who’ll be hungry to return to the top step given it’s been over a year since he stood on the 1st place step, but he’s not the only one knocking on the door. Names like Iles, Greenland, Vergier, Brosnan, and Harrison follow in quick succession. Tracey Hannah seized the initiative today in the worsening conditions and looks comfortable wet or dry, and whilst it’s no surprise to see Atherton and Seagrave hot on her heels, it’s the rider down in 15th position who had eyebrows raising the furthest. Marine Cabirou was going green and up at all the splits until she hit the dirt in the final sector. She looks to be relishing her move to SCOTT and will be one to watch all season. In the junior categories, it was the two that dominated 2018 who got out the blocks the quickest, Holl and Daprela starting this season where they left off at the end of ‘18.
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