With the dust barely settling on the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, which wrapped up on Sunday in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, most cross country riders raved about both the cross country and the eliminator race courses.
Fresh off his eliminator world championship win, Paul van der Ploeg (Australia) said of the eliminator track, "That course is a pure mountain bike course, but it still had passing opportunities. It made for exciting racing as everyone saw."
Van der Ploeg noted the difference from last year's Worlds course in Austria, the first year the eliminator was a world championship event. He also appreciated the full spectrum of eliminator courses.
"It's a good thing that eliminator course vary. Last year's Worlds were completely on the road and had stairs. This one was all dirt and had rock gardens. You have to be able to adapt to different courses. It keeps everyone guessing."
The cross country course was a high speed track that featured super-smooth, hard-packed sections broken up by steep downhill or technical rocky sections.
Finding a balance between a course that works for elite riders and one that works well for junior riders can be tricky.
"We're trying to challenge the best guys and also have safe options for the categories that aren't as technically skilled as them," said UCI Technical Delegate Simon Burney, who oversaw the eliminator and cross country courses.
"From my point of view, we always give riders a choice. We don't force them to take risks they don't feel comfortable doing," Burney told Cyclingnews. "We've always got B lines and on anything severe, we've got C lines as well. I'm conscious - as the guy checking the course - that I don't want to see riders breaking bones. I want to see them challenged. If you're giving them options, then it's their choice."
A few days into the world championship, Sabine Spitz (Germany) had expressed concerns about whether cross country courses were becoming too dangerous in general. She had crashed during training and had to sit out this year's Worlds - only a few months after crashing during training on the course for the World Cup season opener
"Sabine has had a rough year. She crashed in her home World Cup. She crashed there in a section that wasn't super technical, and she crashed here," said Burney. "It is difficult to come out of a season like that with a positive attitude about the way courses are going. I think it's a difficult situation for her."
Other elite women seemed to enjoy the course. Silver medallist Maja Wloszczowska said, "I love this course. The climbs are perfect for me. They are long, but not too steep, you can keep your rhythm. The technical sections are nice to ride."
Top 10 finisher Lea Davison (United States) said, "This is a fantastic course - there is a lot of climbing. There is a lot of power climbing. It's technical and challenging."
Riders in other categories also gave the course a thumbs up.
Bronze elite men's medallist Jose Hermida (Spain) said, "I like this course. It's technical - it's like Disneyland for kids. It's up and down and corners. There are risks. You survive and the crowd goes wild. It's a super fast course, I like this kind of course -the climbs aren't too long."
U23 men's rider Howard Grotts (United States) said, "The course was fun. It was good to have all these sections that really challenged you so you had to focus on each lap around. It wasn't just hard on the uphills, but also on the downhills."
For the junior women's cross country race, several of the A lines were closed by the UCI in the interest of rider safety. The changes cut some of the very steep, technical sections out.
"I liked the course at is was," said junior women's winner Keller. "I could do all the A lines, but it was good like this because not every athlete is technically so good, and there can be accidents. It was good for the others."
Burney noted that he had initially closed all four of the A lines to the junior women. "I got a massive reaction from the junior women. They wanted those lines open. They'd come here to ride them this year after riding them other years. We left two open and closed two. The new generation of riders coming through are capable of riding very technical sections."