Auckland, New Zealand, provides the stage for the UCI BMX World Championships, which return to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time since 2009: four years ago they were held in Adelaide, Australia.
An indoor track has been built in the cityâ€™s Vector Arena by the same team that was behind the 2012 London Olympic Games Supercross track. And the two athletes who starred on that Olympic track will also be present in Auckland.
Maris Strombergs will be lining up in Auckland fresh from winning the European BMX title: â€śI am looking forward to racing in New Zealand,â€ť he declared after claiming the European title earlier this month. World Champion in 2008 and 2010 and double Olympic Champion (2008 and 2012) the Latvian rider will be one of the hot favourites in the menâ€™s competition.
Mariana Pajon looking for third Elite World title
Crowd favourite and womenâ€™s Olympic Champion Mariana Pajon will be flying the Colombian flag high as she aims forÂ another rainbow jersey to add to the oneÂ she won in Copenhagen in 2011.
However both the Olympic Champions will have their work cut out for them: three of the four reigning Elite World Champions are on the start list for Auckland.
Australiaâ€™s Sam Willoughby won the overall title in Birmingham (Great Britain) last year while the American Connor Fields earned the rainbow jersey in the Super Time Trial. California-based Willoughby realises that he will be seen as the one to beat: â€śIt always puts a bit of a target on your back coming in as the defending champion and people want to take the crown,â€ť he said. â€śI just want to keep that rainbow jersey.â€ť
A good start particularly important
Meanwhile Connors commented that the start would be particularly important in the Vector Arenaâ€™s tight track: â€śThe holeshot is huge. It is the most important thing by far. It is a lot easier to win from the front than it is to pass people, especially on a smaller and tighter track.â€ť
Other strong contenders in the Elite Menâ€™s competition include Olympic bronze medallist Carlos Oquendo Zabala (Colombia), Great Britainâ€™s Liam Phillips, who won silver in the 2012 World Championships Super Time Trial, and New Zealandâ€™s Marc Willers, third in the 2011 UCI BMX World Championships.
Elite women: Pottier will not defend her jersey
Self-confessed adrenaline junkie Caroline Buchanan was fastest in the time trial at the London Olympics and is reigning Time Trial World Champion. And while the Australian athlete has confirmed that she will be in Auckland to defend her title, 2012 BMX World Champion Magalie Pottier (France) will not be in the running for a second consecutive rainbow jersey.
Injured in a crash at the Manchester round of the 2013 UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in April, Pottier decided to step back from BMX and concentrate on her studies.
â€śI needed to take a break and regenerate,â€ť she explains. â€śIt was a very difficult decision because I would have really liked to defend my title but my body wasnâ€™t ready.â€ť
She added that she would begin training again in September and would be ready to attack the next season.
In the absence of Pottier and another of the favourites, Great Britainâ€™s Shanaze Reade (injured), the door is wide open for other top contenders who include local favourite and Olympic silver medallist Sarah Walker, Olympic bronze medallist Laura Smulders (the Netherlands), and Alise Post (USA).
The 2013 UCI BMX World Championships got under way on July 24th with the age group classes. Competition in the Elite and Junior categories will take place on Saturday July 27th and Sunday July 28th. Watch the action on Sunday live on the UCI YouTube channelÂ from 5am CET (3pm New Zealand time).
Photo: Sam Willoughby (Australia)Â will defend his title atÂ the World Championships