Former women's cross country mountain bike world champion and 2012 Pietermaritzburg World Cup winner Maja Wloszczowska is hoping to get her 2014 campaign off to a positive start when she returns to a place where she has had success in the past. She is aiming to relive her victorious memories from two years ago, when the 2014 UCI Mountain World Cup opener takes place at Cascades MTB Park on April 11-13.
The former Polish national champion has been working hard in the off season with teammate Jolande Neff and the rest of her Liv Pro XC team as she prepares for what promises to be another tough season of racing. Wloszczowska has had a tough time in the European winter and will be glad to be racing again when the season starts.
"It is always hard to train in the winter but I have been trying to work as hard as I can," she said. "I have been a little sick in the off-season but nothing too serious, nothing that stopped me from training for longer than two weeks. For me it wasn't the best off-season but it wasn't the worst I have had either."
Having notched up a memorable win in 2012 and then missing out on the top spot on the podium at the UCI 2013 Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, Wloszczowska's results at the venue tend to suggest that she enjoys the track in Africa's "Bike City".
"I have had some amazing results in Pietermaritzburg in the past, and I really want to repeat my win from 2012 when I passed Emily Batty on the last downhill on the course.
"That was probably the most emotional race of my whole career," the 30-year-old reminisced fondly.
The Pietermaritzburg cross country track is like nothing that the riders experience in the other parts of the world and for the Polish star, the uniqueness of its layout is something that she enjoys.
"I really love the course," she said enthusiastically. "The track has some great up hills that are long enough to make competitors tired but not that long to make big differences so the fight on the hills is always important in the general outcome because you can make up time there.
"The downhills are perfect, I think. They are nice and smooth, well profiled and the rock gardens always add a touch of adrenalin," Wloszczowska said.
The travel for the European competitors is a lot longer than they are used to during the rest of the season and so being able to be as comfortable as possible in transit is an important element in being in top form when they arrive at the southernmost tip of Africa.
"The travelling is always the toughest part of competing in Pietermaritzburg, but the time zones are the same for us Europeans so there is no issue with jet lag but the most important thing is getting a good connecting flight so you spend as little time travelling as possible," she said.
A fast start to the 2014 season is what Wloszczowska is hoping for and what better place to do that then at one of her favourite cross country venues.
"If you get a good start to the season then it makes the rest of the season so much easier so I think that it is the most important leg of the World Cup series.
"The first leg being in Pietermaritzburg is going to be interesting and racing in South Africa is always really exciting and is an adventure in itself. The course is tough but it is also really good fun to race and I look forward to getting there," she said eagerly.