The fastest track on the World Cup circuit but who can tame it in 2014?

Photo: Laurence Crossman-Emms

We have been waiting a long time for the World Cup season to kick off but with the racing only days away we thought this would be a good time to take a look at the racing here over the last few years.

There have been track changes and all sorts but it still remains a tough physical track that tests riders. Contentious as it is we sparked a discussion earlier this week with our 'Is This DH' post and if you want to know some facts about the course laid out by Dirt's designer then check out our infographic too.

Right now let's get into the Geek Stats and see who has done what in PMB and who might climb the podium steps come Saturday afternoon.

Words: Mark Shilton

It's been a long winter but the seven month wait is nearly over and I for one cannot wait to get the webcast on, watch the best in the world lay it down and then geek out over the splits the day after! I just couldn't wait until the weekend to get my stats on so to pass the time until then, let's take a look at the history and the form book at Pietermaritzburg....

The gaps

Let's take a look at the time gaps that covered the top 10 in the four races run at PMB so far. The really interesting thing to note is how the time gaps have got progressively tighter every year. Since 2009 it's fair to say that more riders are taking their training and preparation seriously, and on the course that rewards fitness and conditioning the most, this shines through. Although the winning times have remained pretty similar, around the 4 minute mark, the gap across the podium places has narrowed from over 8.5 seconds in 2009 to less than 4 seconds at the World Championships last year. It's not just the podium places either. To make the top 10 in 2009 you needed to be within 11.5 seconds of Greg Minnaar; last year that was down to about 6.5 seconds.

Last year

The World Championships last year will be remembered for a few things. Not least Greg Minnaar's famous win by only a third of a second with all of the pressure of being overwhelming favourite at his hometown race upon him. It was also the place where Jared Graves piloted a 6 inch travel ednuro bike to the podium and Mitch Ropelato went second fastest in timed practice on a 29er.

For all of the chatter over wheel size though, it was an 8 inch travel, 26 inch bike that took the prize last year as the 29er and 650b wheels of Smith and Ropelato crashed in the first turn and for all of his pace on the smoother parts of the course, Jared Graves lost the race in the more technical top section, only 24th at the first split.

The form book

A single race is one thing but to really understand who owns this PMB track we need to look at the full history. No matter how you look at it though, Greg Minnaar is the king of Pietermaritzburg, winning three and never lower than second place.

Of the rest of the field, Gee Atherton has never been out of the top 10, Mick Hannah has been on the podium three times out of four, and Aaron Gwin will be looking to put 2013 in the past and return to his 2011/12 form as the only man to unseat Minaar from the top step. It's a shame it doesn't look like Steve Smith is going to make it to the first race of the season, barring his first corner mishap last year, he has also been consistent here with 5th and 6th in 2011/12.

So finally a new World Cup season starts at the weekend. New bikes, new team kits, new wheel sizes and riders full of optimism for the season ahead. As you've seen, times are tighter than ever these days and every little tiny margin, and tiny mistake, counts more than ever. Minnaar is the king of PMB but there's a finer line between success and failure these days than ever before. No matter what the form book says, the beauty of downhill is the unpredictability, and I'm sure there will still be a few of surprises come 4.30pm on Saturday!