It has been a stellar season for current men's cross country mountain biking world number one and defending world champion Nino Schurter (Scott Swisspower), and as he returns to one of his happiest hunting grounds, it would be brave to not bet on him to take the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships title at the Cascades MTB Park starting August 26 to September 1.
Schurter has been in unbeatable form for the majority of the year, registering three wins out of five World Cup events in the process with only a flat tyre having prevented him from challenging for a fourth at the Mont-Sainte-Anne leg in Canada this past weekend.
The Scott-Swisspower MTB Racing team rider did not start the season as well as expected when he could only manage a disappointing 18th place in the opening World Cup event in Albstadt, but he turned his season around dramatically to claim victory at the next three rounds before settling for a third just days ago.
"I have been more than happy with my results so far this year," the 27-year-old Swiss rider said. "Having won three of the five World Cup events this year, I have been able to remain in first place in the rankings which is great."
The defending world champion's record in Pietermaritzburg is outstanding with a hat-trick of victories on the track he thoroughly enjoys riding. In his current form and with his favourable record in "Bike City" he will be confident he can retain his world championship title in a couple of weeks' time.
"I have raced there three times in the past three years, and I have won all of those races so you could definitely say it is my favourite course on the circuit!
"I know the track pretty well, but I do some specific training for it which at this point and time I will keep as a secret," he said, chuckling.
Over this current season, there has been a fairly healthy rivalry between Schurter and Julien Absalon (BMC), who beat Schurter to the line in Mount-Sainte-Anne, so writing the Frenchman off is something Schurter will not be guilty of.
Along with Absalon (BMC MTB Racing) there are also a number of other riders that the Swiss star is keeping a keen eye on, including the current Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing).
"Julien Absalon is back at full strength and is riding really well, and Jaroslav Kulhavy is always good and can spring a surprise at any time, like he did at the Olympics last year.
"These guys are going to be the major threats, but then there are another handful of riders who will also definitely be a threat," said Schurter.
The world championships happens once a year and it is the event that Schurter looks forward to the most during the season and having avoided injury this season he feels he is in great physical condition heading into the Worlds.
"I haven't had any injuries this year and all the bones are still in one piece, so I am feeling really healthy for the event.
"The Worlds is the highlight of my season and my goal for this year's event is to defend my title," the Swiss national champion said.
Having a world championships away from the major mountain biking centres of the world means that a lot of supporters will not make the trip out to South Africa, but Schurter knows that he has a solid fan base in South Africa that will be cheering him on.
"It's pretty far for my friends and family to travel to South Africa, but I have a strong fan group in South Africa that will hopefully support me throughout," he said.