With the first action of the 2013 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg now less than two months away, interest in the courses on which the year's Worlds will be staged is building rapidly, with the cross country tracks receiving subtle tweaks from course designer Nick Floros.
The track for the elite cross country element of the champs is not dissimilar from the one utilized for the Pietermaritzburg leg of the 2012 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, with last year's event having served as the ideal trial run ahead of this year's premier showcase, however some new changes to the already popular course have added even more value and intrigue.
"Apparently our cross country course was ranked the third best out of all the UCI MTB World Cup cross country courses in 2012 with guys giving us some really good feedback about how they enjoyed it and that the track allowed for a great showcase of cross country mountain biking as well as being hugely spectator friendly," said course designer Nick Floros.
"This is obviously great and gave us a really good foundation to work from coming into this year's World Champs.
"We've changed a couple of things for this year's event but by in large the course is very similar to the one used for last year's World Cup," he said.
With, for practicality, the two feed zones being in very close proximity to one another, each lap consists of two separate halves, or loops, with both feed zones forming the epicenter of all the action.
Most of the changes that have been made for 2013 are found in the first loop with Floros hoping they will help ease congestion and create good strategic opportunities, particularly on the closely fought opening lap, with riders set to experience the first of these comes just seconds after having crossed the start line.
"We've changed the final stretch of the start straight, just before the climb up Red Face Hill, slightly," said Floros. "Just before the climb begins we've shifted the road six or seven meters to the right of the previous track, before then turning back left slightly and aiming for Red Face Hill."
"We're hoping that by introducing the slight bend, we will give the guys a better ride in to Red Face Hill and this should hopefully reduce the bottlenecking that always occurs on the first lap at the top of the climb because now riders should be able to go into this first trail two or even three abreast.
After jostling for position at the top of Red Face Hill, riders then faced with Noogie's Knoll, Kim's Corner and Pick-Up-Stix before reaching the second, Rapid Rocks rock garden, and third, Buck Jump Alley, changes to the first loop.
"In the first half of the first lap, things are always so bunched and everyone is jam packed. With everyone being wheel to wheel early on we've tried to create as many overtaking opportunities as possible and by widening Rapid Rocks rock garden to double its original width we've given the guys who have the technical edge over the others a far better chance of overtaking her as they now have multiple lines to choose from," said Floros.
"Buck Jump Alley is new feature of the course which we have included along the river section of the route. It features a series of four consecutive rock jumps which should really see things spice up primarily in the eliminator, but will also play quite a large role in riders' tactics during the cross country race as well.
"If guys get to this point close together there could be some really exciting, interesting action that unfolds here because Buck Jump Alley offers multiple lines, meaning it will be quite a strategic point for the riders and a spectator friendly spot for the crowd as well."
With the majority of the second loop of the lap remaining relatively unaltered, the only change to this portion of the lap comes at the very end of the loop when riders make their way out of Corkscrew and into the start/finish straight.
"With us have raised the level of the area near the front of the park the start/finish straight has received a bit of a makeover as well which should make for a far smother, faster entry from the end of the second loop of the route into the straight.
"Previously riders went around a bit of a hairpin bend before dropping down whereas now they will almost be thrown into the straight," said Floros.
With lap upon lap of world class battles set to unfold throughout the widely anticipated cross country events, Floros pinpoints the build up to the legendary Tree House rock garden, known as Shale Climb, as a potentially significantly influential point along the route in the closing stages of any closely fought races.
Whilst the three terraced climb may not be all that daunting in itself, fatigue at the end of the encounter, and the resultant poor concentration, could easily result in riders missing their final, golden passing opportunity, which may well cost them dearly on the finish line.
"There is a lot of singletrack and forest road leading up to the Amphitheatre but once you're in the Amphitheatre, which then leads into Sharka's Playground and Amphitheatre Extension, passing will be very difficult," said Floros.
"Therefore, particularly towards the back end of races, Shale Climb is always an important strategic point as, after this, riders take a 90-degree right hand turn into Tree House rock garden and from there onwards it will again be very difficult to get past someone until the finish straight."
The UCI Mountain Bike World Championships will take place at The Cascades MTB park in Pietermaritzburg from August 26 to September 1, 2013, and will be preceded by the UCI MTB Masters World Championships August 21 to 25.
Cross country course description
The cross country course's start straight is 350m long, with a short, sharp climb called Red Face Hill at the end. On the first lap there's a bottleneck on this left hand turn.
After Red Face Hill, riders meander on forest track to Noogies Knoll, which starts with a hairpin right into the first big climb of the first loop. The bottom section is short, but it's one of the steepest sections of the track, with five switchbacks taking riders to the top.
This leads into Kim's Corner - a short, technical descending section with a number of step-like drops.
A forest road and two short sections of singletrack take riders into the top section of Pick Up Stix. This consists of a left berm into a right berm into a short off-camber section, which has two-step downs that are positioned on a steep slope.
After Pick-Up-Stix, some flowing, descending singletrack leads into the top of Rapid Rocks, a hand-made rock garden and the most technical section on the first loop.
Riders then cross a stream down to a new section called Buckjump Alley, four rocky mounds of soil with multiple lines. After Buckjump Alley, riders will enter Feed/Tech Zone 1 before starting the second half of the course.
Riders face the largest climb of the course up to Switch Back singletrack. The first portion of Switch Back is contoured, with the second half made up of short and tight switchbacks.
The track continues to climb into the top of The Amphitheatre, the highest point and one of the signature features of the track. This is made up of switchbacks, berms, bridges rocks and drop-offs.
The course then goes up a short, sharp climb to the top of Sharka's Playground, where riders have three options of either a bull run, or one of two chicken runs. The bull run consists of a partial-spiral log staircase, and the first chicken run goes past the bull run on the right, off a small step-down, over small gap jump, into a sharp left, and drops down into the main track. The second chicken run is the same as the first, but instead of the gap jump it goes left, over some log rollers.
The track descends down the Amphitheatre Extension to the bottom of Shale's Climb, which goes into Tree House Rock Garden. This has three main lines through (or over) the rocks. Riders uncomfortable with this obstacle can choose a B-line, taking them around the section.
There is a short portion of singletrack between Tree House Rock Garden and the Corkscrew, which itself is a steep, bermed descent into a short, rocky section.
From the bottom of the Corkscrew it's 150m to Feed/Tech Zone 2, and a completed lap. On the last lap, riders continue past the feed/tech zone to the finish.