After a 9 year break, the World Cup has returned to Maribor, Slovenia to kick off the 2019 season. It's one of those venues that has always been a classic despite only appearing on the calendar sporadically over the years. Always a rider favorite from its debut in the late 1990's to its redesign and shorter length from 2007-2010, it is a track that has just about everything on it. High-speed corners, fresh dirt, rock gardens, steep roots, and of course, all at very high speeds with little to no need for pedaling. For many riders, it's a return to an old favorite, but for the current crop of young guns, it's their first time on a track they've only heard stories about.
Fresh for 2019 are a whole bunch of new(ish) sections in the lower woods, many of which are off camber and covered in loose dirt. What's underneath is yet to be discovered, but surely a fair number of roots will be making their way the surface through the weekend. And with the forecast calling for either a bit of rain or a lot of rain, you can be sure these fresh bits are going to be slippery. With many racers showing up a week early to train and race last weekend's IXS European Cup here, it's good to see the organizers kept some changes in their back pocket. The notorious rock garden has been rerouted to add a few turns and some bigger rocks to the mix. Anyone who thought they had all the lines dialed a week ago are going to have to start all over again in more than a few spots.
Outside the race tape, the first round is equally as exciting as it's the first time we see riders on fresh kit, with new teams, or with drastically different setups. Who is on a 29er, who is running both wheel sizes, and is anyone still keeping it with the old school 27.5 front and rear? What frame size will Aaron Gwin settle on? Can Rachel Atherton win on her signature frame? Who's fit and who still has work to do? These are the burning questions that will be answered over the next few days, so be sure to keep checking back here as the action unfolds.