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Beijing’s best for Pmb

The three medal winners from the 2008 Beijing Olympics women’s mountain bike event will line-up for a rematch on Saturday; only this time it’s on African soil at the first round of the 2009 UCI MTB World Cup in Pietermaritzburg.

Germany’s Sabine Spitz (Central Ghost Team), Poland’s Maja Wloszczowska (CCC Polkowice) and Russia’s Irina Kalentieva were the first three riders across the finish respectively in Beijing last August and, with a course that’s been described as very similar to the one used for the 2008 Olympics, are likely to lead the podium charge in Saturday’s race.

┬áWith only a couple of exceptions, the start list is a veritable who’s who of the sport’s top names and includes Spain’s wearer of the world champion’s rainbow jersey, Margarita Fullana. The three-time world champion, who races for Team Massi, celebrated her 37th birthday on Thursday and will be eager to make an early-season statement against her younger rivals on the relatively short 4.7km circuit.

┬áAccording to Kalentieva, who finished second behind Wloszczowska in last Saturday’s test event, the course includes a high percentage of steep climbs, which suits power-climbers like Spitz.

ÔÇ£The climbs are steep or short or both, which suits riders with more power. I don’t have so much power because I am light but I will do my best. There are also some steep descents, which require concentration. One slip and you can lose many seconds.ÔÇØ

The start field of 50 riders from 18 countries also contains American champion and world No7 Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven), Norway’s world No. 11, Lene Byberg (Specialized), Austria’s world No. 8 Elizabeth Osl (Central Ghost Team), and Switzerland’s world No10 Nathalie Schneitter (Colnago Cap Arreghini).

South African champion, Yolande Speedy IMC Momentum’s is enjoying a return to form and was encouraged by her seventh place, less than five minutes behind winner Wloszczowska at last weekend’s test event.

Wloszczowska’s test event victory in the midday heat showed she is in superb form, especially having ridden away from Kalentieva, the 2007 world champion in the final stages. It puts pressure on the Pole for Saturday, but judging by her feisty nature, that’s likely to be to her benefit.