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BMX goes 4X in Pietermaritzburg

It’s the newest discipline of international mountain bike racing, but it’s widely regarded as the most exciting and South Africans will get to see live 4X (four-cross) racing for the first time on Friday and Saturday at Round 4 of the MTN National Series in Pietermaritzburg.

4X was added to the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) World Cup Series in 2002 as an evolved version of Dual Slalom, which was introduced in 1998. There have never been any international-level 4X courses in South Africa until early this year, when the Pietermaritzburg course was completed in order to host next week’s UCI World Cup.

Unlike cross-country, where riders start in a bunch and race around a lapped course, or downhill, which is a gravity-assisted individual time trial, 4X pits four riders against each other through various elimination rounds until only four riders remain to contest the final.

The course resembles a long BMX track on a steep downhill slope, but is far from smooth and includes a variety of obstacles including jumps, banked corners (berms), rocks and roots.

The UCI’s official 4X course builder, Phil Saxena, flew in from England last November and spent two weeks designing and overseeing the construction of the Pietermaritzburg course. At 820m long and dropping 120 metres, it’s the most extreme World Cup 4X course, which should prove a spectator favourite.

Until now, the longest World Cup 4X course has been 650m long and the biggest drop has been 105 metres. The Pietermaritzburg course has 13 corners and 26 obstacles, which make it one of the most challenging courses in the world.

Among the early entrants in the men are World No. 16 Sascha Meyenborg of Germany, World No. 12 Jurg Meijer and World No. 7 Joost Wichman both of The Netherlands. In the women’s event, World No. 15 Lene Fruhwirth of Austria and World No. 5 Fionn Griffiths of Great Britain are among the pre-entries.

4X practice will be run from 15h00-16h00 on Friday, with qualifying rounds starting at 16h30. On Saturday, the racing will begin at 17h00. The course is situated adjacent to Cascades Shopping Centre on the northwest perimeter of the city.