Under 23 cross country mountain biking ace Luke Roberts (BMC-SA) is hoping to continue his recent good form and gain invaluable experience with every international appearance he makes in the next couple of months as he seeks to put in a strong challenge in the green and gold at this year's UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa from August 26 to September 1.
The young Winston Park resident has shown steady form in the early part of the 2013 UCI MTB World Cup season as he tackles his second year in the competitive under 23 men's category.
Having taken part in countless cross country events at Cascades MTB Park, the host venue for this year's event, and ridden the course endless times in training, Roberts is looking forward to giving it his all against the cream of the sport's under 23 on his home turf.
"I've been to the last three world champs and now to have the event right here on our doorstep is unbelievable!" said the BMC-SA rider. "The home advantage our guys get is something we'll definitely all be looking to make the most of and make it work for us as best we possibly can."
"I'm sure the guys will be riding the course a lot so that by the time the event comes in August we'll be so familiar with everything along route, it will almost be a case of letting muscle memory just take over.
"We will also have the added benefit of being able to practise on the route in all the different conditions which we may be faced with come race day. We'll know what the course is like both in the mud and the rain or when it's hot and dry and that will be a massive advantage," he said.
With more and more youngsters both in South Africa and around the world being exposed to mountain biking as a sport the under 23 age group, a feeder system from junior into the elite category, has become highly competitive in recent years and it will take some going for Roberts and his fellow countrymen James Reid, Rourke Croeser (Kargo Pro MTB) and Brendan Davids (Team Jeep) to make their mark in 'Maritzburg come the end of August.
"The under 23 category is probably the most crucial category in the career of any young rider whose aspiring to become a pro," said Roberts.
"It's during your time as an under 23 that one needs to decide whether you're going to keep trying to do this as a career or whether you need to pack it in and go study or do something else.
"This importance of the age group together with the sport just constantly growing each year, means that the standard of the under 23 category just keeps going up and up and up every year so it really is tough up there at the moment.
Roberts showed some positive signs recently though after finishing 60th in the first World Cup in Albstadt, Germany before improving to a solid 31st in the second event in Nove Mesto in Czech Republic however, realizing the importance of a solid platform as well as a strong mental approach, feels there is still room for improvement.
"Personally I think things could be going a little better. I'm just struggling a little with knowing exactly how to manage the load I put on my body.
"You don't want to overdo it now and then be flat by the time world champs come around, but you also need to get some good results in at the World Cups to help boost your confidence. There's just such a fine line in finding the right balance between the two!
"At the moment I can't say I'm completely happy with where I am physically, but I'm working really hard on it and I feel like I'm getting closer to where I need to be all the time."
As Roberts gears up for the Val di Sole, Italy leg of the World Cup tomorrow, again he'll be looking to absorb as much as he possibly can as any piece of information he can acquire and every lesson learnt from the international circuit will do wonders for his ability to put in a top performance back home later this year.
"Every time you go overseas you gain so much invaluable experience," said Roberts. "You could stay in South Africa and ride locally for a whole year and you still wouldn't gain the same experience as you would from competing in just one World Cup overseas. That's how important taking part in these international events is!"
"The guys abroad just race so differently to what we're used to back home. It's a real dog eat dog kind of approach they have and in order to be competitive you have to race like them and that all takes a lot of learning and practice.
With the 2013 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships set to expose the cream of cross country and downhill mountain biking as well as trials not only to the South African cycling fraternity but the general public of the host nation as well, Roberts hopes the largest mountain biking event ever to be staged in the country will help those who attend understand the importance of his discipline of choice and grow the cross country mountain biking culture locally.
"Hopefully this year's world champs in South Africa will help open the eyes of local mountain biking and cycling fans alike and help them see exactly what cross country is all about," said Roberts.
"Cross country is the sharp end of the sport of mountain biking and is an Olympic discipline. Hopefully the world champs help guys appreciate this and helps grow the sport throughout South Africa," he said.
The UCI Mountain Bike World Championships takes place at The Cascades MTB park in Pietermaritzburg from August 26 to 1 September 2013, and will be preceded by the UCI MTB Masters World Championships from August 21 to 25.
More information can be found at www.mtbworldchamps.co.za