The Cascades MTB Park has in the past proven to be a place where current men's cross country world ranked number two Julien Absalon (BMC) has never quite been able to step onto the top spot of the podium; however, he sees the upcoming UCI Mountain Bike World Championships as the perfect opportunity to claim that elusive number one spot when he takes to the popular course in KwaZulu-Natal's "Bike City".
Absalon boasts an impressive record in Pietermaritzburg, nonetheless, with two second place finishes in the two World Cup events that he has competed in at the venue, and the French national champion received a timely morale boost in the build up to the world championships when he won the most recent instalment of the World Cup in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, Canada.
His form in the other events this season has been impressive with a French national championship, a European championship and two second place finishes out of the four UCI MTB World Cup races suggesting that the Frenchman is hitting his stride at the perfect time.
"I just won in Canada at the last World Cup which was great," the BMC Racing rider said. "It was just the confidence boost that I needed three weeks before the world champs and after one more race I will be ready for Pietermaritzburg."
Racing on the Pietermaritzburg track is something the Frenchman enjoys and he feels that there are areas on the track that give him an advantage over his nearest rivals but there are also a few more challenging sections on the course that keep him honest.
"There is a fairly long climb on the track in Pietermaritzburg which is pretty good for me because I enjoy that part of my race but in the past it has been the rock gardens that have been difficult for me. With my new 29" bike I think I should manage my way through there better than in the past though.
"The course does suit my strengths quite well because there are possibilities to open up gaps on the climbs but in the end the difficulties will come from the other riders and not from the course," the four-time world champion said.
As with all the other riders, the 33-year-old is well into his final phase of his preparations and is looking to one more race to make sure that he is fully prepared for his assault on the Cascades course.
"I have taken a little time off after the last World Cup to move up to Northern France." Absalon raced the Swiss BMC Cup Saturday, just before getting on a plane to Worlds.
"I will be arriving in South Africa a day after that race to start training that week in the lead up to Saturday's cross country final," said Absalon.
With the biggest mountain biking prize on the line, the competition is going to be stiff and there are a number of riders that are in good form with Spaniard Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida) claiming a second place in the last leg of the World Cup in Canada and world number one Nino Schurter (Scott Swisspower) always posing a threat.
"The man to watch will be Nino Schurter because he is the number one rider in the world at the moment but Jose (Hermida) is also in pretty good shape at the moment, and so is my teammate Lukas Fluckiger."
"There isn't one particular rider that I am going to worry about because there are a lot of talented riders out there, so I am going to have to watch out for all of them," Absalon said.