Preview: Downhill/4 Cross World Cup 1

Top gravity riders in action in Maribor

Maribor opens the downhill and four cross events this weekend following on from the initial three cross country rounds in Belgium, Germany and Spain.

After Sea Otter the biggest test of the year so far was the World Championship recce event in Val de Sol, Italy seven days ago. That race confirmed the devastating news of 2007 - when it comes to downhill Sam Hill is the man to beat. He destroyed the field by nearly five seconds there and already has qualified first here in Maribor. The course is a rider's favourite and remains largely the same as last year.

Out of the start the descent heads into a wooded section over roots, before turning back to the open giving great views across Pohorje. These give way to the most brutal section of the track, however, with a large rock garden littered with drops and gaps. Line choice here is critical and could win or lose the race. Conditions are currently perfect with warm temperatures and a cooling breeze. Under tyre it is dusty, but hard packed with some loamy sections in the woods emerging.

Unlike the downhill which is set to be dominated by one rider, the four cross races are the most open in years. This is due in part to BMX making its Olympic debut and the absence of multiple champion Michael Prokop, Jared Graves and most notably of all perhaps, reigning World Champion Jill Kintner.

This, accompanied by a switch of teams by Brian Lopes from factory crew GT to small independents Ibis, has added a real unpredictability to the racing. So far in qualifying it is Dan Atherton leading the way, with Kamil Tartarkovic the nearest chaser over a second down. Romain Salidini is third and in his first full World Cup season Ross Milan takes the final top spot. Lopes could only manage sixth but when the gate drops with three other riders in the mix, anything can happen.

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