The cross country course for the 2012 UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg hosted its first competition this past weekend, the Momentum Health XCO Internationals, and afterwards the general consensus was that it's a step up on the 2011 course.
"The guys have found it to be a better course than last year, with more overtaking, shorter climbs, and more technical challenges," said course designer Nick Floros.
The competition at the front of the field was fierce, with Specialized Racing's Burry Stander having to deal with the twin challenge of Scott-Swisspower's Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel, ranked second and fourth in the world respectively.
It was tight, but the Swiss stars worked well together to prevent the South African star from taking victory. Schurter, the winner of the UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg in 2011, claimed victory, with Stander in second and Vogel in third.
"The racing was brilliant," says Floros. "I don't think everyone showed their cards. It was a bit of a chess game, so we'll see what happens this coming weekend."
For those that have failed to heed warning boards or who might have lacked sufficient skill, the course has already shown its teeth. "We had a couple of internationals come and not adhere to our danger boards and we had a dislocated hip and one or two broken wrists," Floros said.
The character of the course is far more technical, with five new features of various sizes set to challenge the all-round rider.
"Last year, Schurter had the better line (in the rock garden) and that was where the race was won. A lot of the obstacles that have been made are trying to separate the top 10 riders in the world, and hopefully that is what I have achieved with the new drop-off, a new log section, and one or two new, small rock gardens. It just takes one fumble..."
The new design is more spectator-friendly and along with the creation of more obstacles, there has been further development of the amphitheatre to encourage spectator viewing at this panoramic section.
"Traditionally, downhill has been a spectator sport," said Floros. "There are tumbles, stylish 'big air', challenging obstacles, and now cross country is going that way. We're certainly testing the bikes and challenging the guys' skills on those bikes and the spectators have grown to enjoy it."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the Pietermaritzburg MTB World Cup on March 17-18.