The cross country course for the 2012 UCI MTB World Cup in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa is undergoing a major facelift ahead of the international season-opener from March 15-18, slashing the circuit in half to make life easier for the teams, and offering double the opportunity for the spectators.
Course designer Nick Floros' layout proved popular at the 2011 event, but left the team support crews struggling to shuttle between the two feed zones that were some distance apart. "The main reason for the change is, with South Africa being quite some way away from where a lot of the teams are based in either Europe or America, they usually aren't able to bring as big a support team with them as usual and hence we needed to rework the practicality of the feed zones," said Floros.
"Because of this, instead of the previous 5.6-kilometre single loop, we're now going to have a two-loop course with each loop being 2.3 kilometres and the two feed zones on the course now much closer together, which obviously helps the riders' support teams a lot."
With the changes to the popular Pietermaritzburg track nearing completion, the refreshed appearance of the course is starting to take shape and riders are chomping at the bit to get a glimpse of what they might be in for in less than three weeks' time.
"The guys will find racing a little bit harder with this new layout, and the track probably suits the climbers in the field a little more than before. They used to have to climb quite a bit in the first half and then could recover on the downhill in the second half," continued Floros.
"Now they will have to do a bit of a climb initially, then descend a bit, then there's a big climb before the last descent to the finish."
Spectators heading to Cascades to view the live action will also benefit from the track amendments, as they will now be able to witness far more action first hand. "The changes also mean that there will be a lot more action taking place right in front of the majority of the crowd, which is obviously great from a spectator's point of view," said Floros.
"The resurfacing of the track with granite overburden will also be a huge improvement because it was just a nightmare in the wet for both the riders and the spectators. We've also added two more rock gardens, which should challenge the guys a bit more and we will throw something new in there," he said.
Despite the course taking on a dramatically altered look in 2012 and the climbers possibly having the slight edge, Floros believes every rider will have an equal opportunity of claiming the title at this year's event and is cautious not to change too much given the remarkable response last year's course received.
"I don't think anyone in the top 15 will be advantaged or disadvantaged more than anyone else. These guys are all phenomenal riders and it will be much of a muchness at the top end of the field. I do think the guys will find it even more enjoyable than they did last time though," said Floros.
"The feedback we got last year was incredible so we are clearly doing something right and hence we don't want to go and change too much. The course was loads of fun for the riders - it's quite a spectator orientated track where guys can access quite a lot of the course relatively easily, it was incredibly scenic for the spectators who watched it at home and it was very camera friendly as well," he said.
The revamp brings with it a breath of fresh air into the Cascades MTB Park and has numerous local mountain bike enthusiasts eager to give it a go for the first time, something Floros himself is keen to do and which he encourages as many of the local cycling fraternity to do as well.
The most exciting part for Floros is to exercise the "designer's privilege" and be the first to ride the new course. Having said this, there is a Category 2 UCI cross country race to be held at the track the week before the World Cup, and this presents a wonderful opportunity for competitors as well as the general public, to test the track and get a first-hand feel for what lies ahead for the Pros.
"We need as many wheels going over it as possible before the event, plus I'd love to hear what the guys think about the changes we've made. Feedback is hugely important to us," he said.
The UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg will take place at the Cascades MTB Park from 16 to 18 March 2012.
For more information on the UCI World Cup round in Pietermaritzburg, visit www.mtbworldcupsa.co.za.