With less than a month to go before all the action of the 2012 RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup season opener in Pietermaritzburg gets underway, cyclists throughout South Africa and around the world are starting to catch what is fast being termed ‘MTB World Cup fever’.

With the best riders from around the world set to converge on Cascades MTB park in Pietermaritzburg on 16th to 18th March 2012, newly revised courses, improved spectator facilities and viewing opportunities plus heaps of world class action, this year’s event has added status as the dress rehearsal for next year’s World Championships.

For those who are not familiar with the cycling world though, what does the 2012 RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg mean?

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South Africa's Burry Stander is keen to improve on his last year's performance when he takes part in the elite men's cross country race of the 2012 RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg © Kyle Gilham/Gameplan Media

Mountain bike, a facet of cycling as is road, track and BMX, has various sub-disciplines with cross-country (XCO), downhill (DHI) and marathon (XCM) being the most popular however at the elite level riders are specialist competitors and very rarely participate in more than one discipline.

Cross-country, one of two disciplines to be staged at the 2012 World Cup, is a lap-orientated event, which sees riders start together and race around an off-road circuit of between five and nine kilometres in length.

Downhill, the other World Cup discipline, involves riders starting individually at the top of a steep and highly technical track racing down the mountain as quickly as they can with the winner being the rider whose completes the descent in the shortest time.

The major events on the UCI MTB calendar are the World Championships and the World Cups, whilst cross-country is also part of the Olympic Games. The World Champs are a once-off event staged annually whereas the World Cup is a series of seven events held around the globe throughout the year.

The 2012 RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg is the opening event of this year’s series and is the third time the KZN city has hosted the event after its inclusion in the 2009 and 2011 calendars.

There is added interest in this year’s World Cup though after the recent announcement that Cascades MTB Park will proudly play host to the 2013 World Champs and so riders are eager to try familiarise themselves with the revised tracks in PMB ahead of next year’s spectacle.

Riders have to qualify to compete on this international stage and there are two branches to the stringent qualification process: The first way a rider can qualify is if they earn twenty or more UCI points by competing in UCI accredited events and should they do so they will then be able to compete for their sponsored team. However, if they don’t earn at least twenty UCI points then it is up to the rider’s national federation to decide whether they feel the rider is within their best six riders in their particular age group and if so they will then have option of sending the rider to participate at the World Cup as a national federation rider.

When it comes to the Olympics though, there are only 50 male and 30 female places available to all riders throughout the world. A country qualifies to fill one, two or three of these places based on their global ranking, which is determined by the performances by their riders in international events throughout the year.

The top six ranked countries qualify to send three riders to the Olympics, countries seven to thirteen qualify two and beyond thirteen countries qualify a single rider. As far as which of a country’s riders then get to compete at the Olympics goes it is up to each country’s national federation to decide who they select to send. It is not necessarily the rider with the most UCI points in a particular country who is sent to the Olympics.

South Africa will enjoy an extensive display of homegrown talent at this year’s World Cup with Burry Stander (XCO) and Greg Minnaar (DHI) leading the local assault.

Minnaar put in a phenomenal effort in 2009 to claim a fairy tale victory on his home turf whilst another solid performance in 2011 saw him finish a narrow second.

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Hometown boy Greg Minnaar will be hoping to go one better on his last year's second place when he competes in this year's downhill race at the 2012 RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg © Craig Dutton/Gameplan Media

Stander claimed a memorable third place finish in 2009 however the standout performer suffered unfortunate mechanical issues in 2011, which saw him limp home in eleventh.

Both these riders along with the rest of the South African charge will be eager to impress in front of what is always a hugely vocal and supportive home crowd. A variety of ticket options are available including single day entry, family and VIP packages and multi-day entry combos. Discounted pre-event tickets can be purchased online (http://csams.cyclingsa.com/enter-an-event.aspx) or full price tickets can be purchased at the gate throughout the event.

The RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup Pietermaritzburg takes place at the Cascades MTB Park from 16 to 18 March 2012. More information can be found at www.mtbworldcupsa.co.za.