ccs-41808-0-80884800-1401892103.jpg The 2014 UCI MTB Marathon World Championships women's race has been flung wide open with the news that 2013 champion and mountain biking legend Gunn-Rita Dahla of the Multivan Merida Biking Team will not be on the start line on 28 June as she has decided to focus on her cross country riding with the World Champs in her home country of Norway later this year. // Image credit: Darren Goddard/Gameplan Media
The reigning marathon world champion rode to an impressive second place at the cross country World Cup held in ‘Africa’s Bike City’ in April and following the confirmation of her absence at the upcoming marathon worlds it means that the rainbow jersey is back up for grabs.

The Multivan Merida Biking Team star had made up her mind in February that she was not going to take part in the Marathon World Championships this year and with her home country hosting the cross country world championships later in the year that has been her primary focus throughout the year.

It has been a good season so far for the 41 year-old who has claimed a number of favourable results throughout the season with a second at Albstadt and a third at Nové Mesto but she missed out on the second leg of the World Cup in Australia.

Dahle would have been competing for her sixth World Marathon title, but one of the most decorated riders in women’s mountain biking history will not be on the start line on the 29 June which has left the women’s race wide open.

With the withdrawal of the defending champion it is a question of who can step up into the shoes of the Norwegian veteran and there are a number of names that come to mind when discussing a potential winner.

The second placed finisher at the World Championships in 2013, Sally Bigham must be a contender for the title and she believes that she is on track to claim her maiden title to go with her British Marathon champs title that she currently holds.

The final place on the 2013 podium was occupied by Ester Süss who is another rider that has confirmed that she will be taking part in the marathon spectacle that will be starting at the same place that the World Cup started at earlier this year.

Having two of the top three riders in the world lining up on the start line will make for some interesting riding along the 74km route that the women will be slugging it out on.

The fourth spot at the World Champs last year was occupied by Annika Langvad of Denmark and she has also been pitted as one of the favourites to take home the 2014 crown.

The South African contingent will be headed up by 19th place finisher at the 2013 World Champs Robyn de Groot who will be racing on home soil at the 2014 event and will have a chance to test the track and conditions at the South African National Marathon Championships this weekend.

The UCI MTB Marathon World Championships takes place at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg on 29 June 2014. More information can be found at