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Myriam Nicole

Nick Floros’ revamped cross country course has been the talk of the event thus far amongst the vast majority of the discipline’s riders with numerous backing the reworked track wholeheartedly

“Wow, am totally blown away with the new (MTB World Cup) track! Such a great job guys. Can't wait to race!” enthused South African competitor Renay Goustra.

“Impressed with the changes made to the (MTB World Cup) course here in Pietermaritzburg. Rocks, roots and jumps, a great modern day track!” added Cannondale Factory Racing’s under-23 star, Anton Cooper.

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Greg Minnaar

After the completion of Thursday’s official course walk, the competitors weren’t the only ones singing the new creation’s praises.

“Great (Cross Country) course for the first World Cup; hard as hell, super-fun, & technically challenging at race speed,” tweeted Simon Burney, UCI cross country technical delegate. “One of the best ever!”

There was, however, some unfortunate news for the local MTB community as the host nation’s top elite men’s cross country hope, SCOTT Factory Racing’s Phillip Buys who finished fifth with SCOTT-Odlo MTB Racing’s Nino Schurter at the recent ABSA Cape Epic, was forced to withdraw from the 2014 World Cup series opener.

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Julie Bresset

“On our way to (MTB World Cup). Won't be racing. Been fighting a cold the last few days, (but still) going for the vibe! (Everyone should) be in PMB this weekend!!” tweeted Buys late on Thursday afternoon.

On the downhill front, the first indicator of competitors’ form – albeit one that few would read much into – came from the timed training session and, using the opportunity to put his troublesome knee to the test, it was hometown hero and current World Champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) who posted the fastest time of the session.

Minnaar’s second run of 4:10.899 proved to be nearly four seconds quicker than his nearest rival, Troy Brosnan (Specialized Racing DH) and Samuel Blenkinsop (Lapierre Gravity Republic).

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Nino Schurter

The downhill course, while more subtle than its cross country counterpart, has also undergone tweaks and changes and the sport’s ‘man with the golden voice’, international commentator Rob Warner, is excited by the alterations.

“The changes are small but significant! The new rock sections are really good and will also rule out anyone competing on a trail bike,” chuckled the larger than life character.

Warner also shared his views on who will be in the mix at the 2014 PMB men’s downhill clash come Saturday 12 April.

“A couple of guys are injured, Steve (Smith) for one isn’t here but I think Mick (Hannah) will definitely be one to watch. Gee (Atherton) too but you also can’t ever write off a guy like Aaron (Gwin) and some people are saying that Greg (Minnaar) is actually pretty fit even after his knee injury last year, so it would be great if he was also a factor!”

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Tanja Zakelj

The women's timed training saw Lapierre Gravity Republic's Emmeline Ragot go fastest however it was GT Factory Racing's Rachel Atherton's absence which grabbed the attention of most.

Atherton, in South Africa but nowhere to be seen at Cascades, has been tucked up in bed for much of the past two days, leaving most wondering whether she will in fact take to the course at all this weekend, let alone put in enough runs ahead of Friday afternoon's qualifying to be allowed to compete.

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Mick Hannah

Despite struggling with swollen glands and fevers, Atherton did manage to post a photo of herself with a drip in her arm on social media platform Instagram with the caption, "First World Cup of the season is going to be a tough race for me! Not how I wanted to start the season, but all challenges set will be fought...minor setbacks."

Friday gets underway with downhill training first thing in the morning before qualifying takes place from 12h30 onwards while cross country training takes place for much of the day.

The UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano, takes place at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from 11-13 April 2014. More information can be found at www.mtbworldcupsa.co.za.

Image credits: Darren Goddard/Gameplan Media