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MTB News & Racing Round-up, Thursday, February 21, 2013

Date published:
February 21, 2013, 16:00

Edited by Sue George, Mountain Bike Editor

Welcome to our regular roundup of what's happening in mountain biking. Feel free to send feedback, news, & releases to mtb@cyclingnews.com and results, reports & photos to cyclingnews@cyclingnews.com.

  • North American Enduro Tour releases 2013 calendar

    A racer at the Oregon Enduro, which will be part of the North American Enduro Tour for 2013
    Article published:
    February 18, 2013, 20:18
    By:
    Cycling News

    Seven rounds happening from May to September

    The North American Enduro Tour is back for 2013 and will include dates from the Oregon Enduro Series, the Big Mountain Enduro Tour and stops at Crankworx Whistler and the Colorado Freeride Festival. It features seven rounds in the USA and Canada running from May to September.

    "The North American Enduro Tour is proud to provide world class mountain bike enduro events again for 2013," said Devon Lyons, General Manager of the Oregon Enduro Series.

    "Athletes have come to expect competitive, well organized, high level events from us over the past couple of years and we want to work to share the sport of enduro racing via the best venues on the continent."

    The North American Enduro Tour is in its third year of operation. Its simple format involves timed (descending) stages linked by transfer (climbing) stages that are not factored into the overall structure of results.

    2013 North American Enduro Tour
    May 25-26: Oregon Enduro - Hood River, Oregon
    July 6-7: Big Mountain Enduro - Keystone, Colorado
    July 21-22: Wasatch Enduro - Canyons Resort, Utah
    July 25-28: Colorado Freeride Festival - Winter Park, Colorado
    August 9-10: Crankworx Whistler - Whistler, British Columbia
    September 8-9: Oregon Enduro - Mt. Hood, Oregon
    September 28-29: Big Mountain Enduro - Moab, Utah

  • Buchanan eyes Australian national downhill title

    Four cross world champion Caroline Buchanan
    Article published:
    February 18, 2013, 21:57
    By:
    Cycling News

    Former four cross star will battle Hannah in Canberra

    Caroline Buchanan will be aiming to continue her unbeaten form in 2013 when she competes in the Australian women's downhill championships in Canberra this weekend. Buchanan is currently undefeated in the 2013 Australian Gravity Cup National Series after claiming victories at Mount Buller and Thredbo, with the 22-year-old looking to add a downhill national title to her glittering resume.

    "Buller was really rocky and quite a short and technical course," Buchanan said. "Thredbo was really long and physically demanding and Stromlo is short course with jumps. "They are all completely different tracks and if I can do well and win all three, then I know I have most of the whole package of riding before world championships selection."

    Buchanan made her return to mountain biking after a stellar 2012 BMX season in which she won the BMX time trial world championships, finished in fifth place on her Olympics Games debut in London and was crowned the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup champion.

    Next week, the Canberra native, who claimed the 2007 and 2008 under 19 downhill national titles, returns to her home track and the site of her 2009 four cross world championship victory.

    "I haven't raced at Stromlo since I raced at worlds in 2009 so it's been a while, it will be nice to be back in my hometown and hopefully have everyone out cheering," said Buchanan. "I have done a little bit of practice on the track in Canberra. They've changed it, they have some really cool new sections they've put in which has made it fresh and exciting."

    Buchanan's run to the top of the sport may be halted by the return of four-time national champion and former under 19 world champion Tracey Hannah.

    Hannah, who suffered a broken femur after a serious crash during a training run at a World Cup event in France in July 2012, makes her return in Canberra.

    "I'm looking forward to riding with Tracey again," Buchanan said. "In my eyes, she's one of the best in the world, so It 100 percent motivates me. I look up to Tracey so it will be good to see her back from injury. To have a good battle with her at national champs will be awesome."

    The 2013 Australian Mountain Bike Championships will be held in Canberra at Stromlo Forrest Park from February 20 - 24. The women's downhill event will happen starting at 3:30 pm on Sunday, February 24.

  • Vos to open mountain bike race season in Cyprus

    Marianne Vos (NED) riding in second position
    Article published:
    February 19, 2013, 17:59
    By:
    Cycling News

    Top notch women's field expected at Sunshine Cup

    Olympic, road and 'cross world champion Marianne Vos will race round 2 of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup, the SHC-categorized Afxentia mountain bike stage race, on March 1 to 3. The Dutch woman will participate in the race while doing a training camp on the island of Cyprus.

    "This is a really big honor to have Marianne Vos at the Cyprus Sunshine Cup," said Mike Hadjioannou head of the race organizing group Bikin' Cyprus.

    Vos used to race her mountain bike before switching her focus for much of her elite-level racing career to road, track and cyclo-cross. She won the 2012 London Olympic road race and the road world championships in 2006 and 2012. She is the reigning 'cross world champion as of earlier this month and also has previous world titles on the track.

    The only cycling discipline where she lacks a world championship medal is mountain biking. She finished fourth at the Worlds in Livigno while racing there as a junior in the cross country race in 2005.

    Vos will compete on the Giant Pro Cross Country team off-road this season while also racing for the Liv/Giant Team on the road.

    She will come to race in Cyprus with her young teammate, Jolanda Neff. The 20-year-old is the current U23 cross country world champion.

    The Afxentia stage race spans three days and is drawing a top notch field, including three-time Olympic medal winner Sabine Spitz (Haibike) and 2011 world championship bronze medallist Eva Lechner (Colnago-Südtirol).

    It will be Lechner's first time at the Sunshine Cup, and like many riders, she is using the first two rounds to prepare for the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race in South Africa. Lechner will be joined by her teammate and 2012 junior world champion Andrea Waldis.

    Other fast women on the start lists in Cyprus include Alexandra Engen, Katrin Leumann, Linda Indergand, Blaza Klemencic (Calcit Bike), Adelheid Morath (Haibike) and Elisabeth Brandau (EBE Racing).

    Round 1 of the Cyprus Sunshine Cup gets under way this weekend in Voroklini on February 23. Some women are racing all three rounds while others are doing just one or two.

    2013 Cyprus Sunshine Cup
    February 23: Voroklini (C1)
    March 1 to 3: Afxentia Macheras Mountains (SHC)
    March 10: Amathous-Agios-Tychon (C1)

  • Two-time Crocodile Trophy winner Huber ready for Cape Epic

    Urs Huber of Stokli Pro during stage 1 of the 2012 Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race
    Article published:
    February 19, 2013, 21:25
    By:
    Cycling News

    Swiss rider to partner with four-time Cape Epic winner Platt

    Crocodile Trophy winner Urs Huber will pair up with Karl Platt as the Bulls team for the first time at this year's Cape Epic. The mountain bike stage race, now in its 10th year, will kick off with a prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate on Sunday, March 17 and end eight days later on Sunday, March 24 at its long-established Lourensford Wine Estate finish. It will be Huber's fourth time competing in the Cape Epic.

    Huber, 27, enjoys participating in the Cape Epic "because it's one of the biggest races for a mountain biker to win. Karl is a four-time winner of the Epic, so he knows everything about the race and how to win it. I'm sure that I can profit a lot by riding with him."

    "Of course our goal is to win some stages and an overall podium finish, but it won't be easy. There’s never an easy stage in the Epic. We'll give our best and see what happens."

    Huber started mountain biking in 2001 and turned pro in 2007. He and Platt have been training together quite a bit since the beginning of this year.

    "It's important as this will be our first Epic as a team. I really hope that we have no bad days during the race and race well as a team. We'll give it our all every day."

    Huber's favorite Cape Epic memory is finishing in second place in stage 1 in 2011. "But I couldn't complete the race as I broke my arm. My hardest Cape Epic was my first one in 2009. I didn't know before just how tough a race can be. Once you reach the finish line, you feel tired, happy and relieved. The race can be summed up in one word - indescribable!"

    Huber won the bronze medal in the marathon world championships in Italy (2008), the European Championships in Germany (2008) and the Swiss Championships (2009). He is also a three-time winner of the iXS Swiss Bike Classic (2007-2009) and a two-time winner of the Crocodile Trophy in Australia (2009 & 2010). More recently, Huber finished third in the marathon Worlds as well as the European Championships in 2011, and was the Swiss marathon champion and TransAlp winner that same year.

  • McConnell and King rally ahead of Australian mountain bike nationals

    The start of the elite men's race with Lachlan Norris, Paul van der Ploeg, Dan McConnell and Josh Carlson
    Article published:
    February 20, 2013, 04:15
    By:
    Cycling News

    Both riders aim to defend cross country titles in Canberra

    Reigning Australian cross country national champions Daniel McConnell and Jenni King have predicted tough battles ahead at the 2013 Subaru Australian Mountain Bike Championships in Canberra. The trails of Stromlo Forest Park will host Australia's best mountain bikers from February 20 - 24 as they vie for the coveted green and gold national champions jersey in the cross country, eliminator, trials and downhill disciplines.

    McConnell, a two-time Olympian and Australia's sole male mountain bike representative in London, will go head to head with fellow Victorians Chris Jongewaard Paul van der Ploeg.

    "Last year I had the green and gold jersey, and it was the first time I was able to step it up and get some pretty good results," McConnell said of his international season during which he improved his UCI world ranking from 80th to 22nd.

    "It was pretty cool, and I got a fair bit of recognition out of it. It would be awesome to get that chance again," he said.

    Jongewaard, a five-time cross country national champion, remains undefeated in the 2013 All Mountain Cup National Series after claiming victories in the first two rounds at Mount Buller and Thredbo.

    A four-time former junior national champion, van der Ploeg will be looking to make his mark in Canberra after recently returning to competition from shoulder surgery just two weeks ago, where he enjoyed immediate success by clinching two of three stage wins in Thredbo.

    "Chris (Jongewaard) is a fair level in front of everyone, and I think he's the guy to beat. Paul van der Ploeg is there as well so there will be a few guys to watch out for," McConnell said.

    "It's a fairly technical course, so there are always a few surprises that pop up," McConnell said of the famous 2009 world championships course which includes the notorious 'hammerhead' section.

    Following McConnell's stellar 2012 season, the Victorian has had to deal with his own injury setbacks after a snapping ligament in his hand during the Cape to Cape in Perth late last year which forced him off the bike for three months.

    "It was a simple crash but at higher speed over a jump," McConnell said. "I had just got back from my break after the Olympics, and it was one of my first rides back so it was a little disappointing to have an accident like that but in hindsight, it was probably not such a bad time," he said.

    After a lengthy rehabilitation, which included sporting a cast for on his thumb, McConnell made his return to the road in January and claimed a podium finish in stage three of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

    The 27-year-old returned to his preferred discipline at Thredbo's round two of the All Mountain Cup, although the time away from the sport has him staying clear of any predictions of his results in Canberra.

    "My form on the mountain bike I think is getting better, but it isn't perfect. It's a little too early in my recovery," he said. "I'll give it a go to try and retain my title, but it will be a tough ask."

    McConnell will race the Olympic cross country on Saturday, February 23 at 12:00 pm and the eliminator on Sunday February 24 at 10:30 am.

    King hopes to build on breakthrough year

    Similarly, 2012 was a breakthrough year for Target Trek rider Jenni King, with the Victorian taking out the season's All Mountain Cup National Series in addition to a convincing win in th Australian cross country national championships in South Australia.

    King was undefeated in the 2012 series, winning all four rounds, with the 33-year-old carrying her winning form into the Australian championships where she claimed the national title in convincing manner over Rowena Fry and Jodie Willett.

    In Canberra, King will battle Target Trek teammate and All Mountain Cup series leader Peta Mullens, with Fry and Willett to make their entrance to the 2013 cross country national racing season at the championships.

    "[Fry and Willett] are always strong cross country riders," King said. "Particularly given the Canberra course is quite a bit more technical than what we have seen at the last two rounds of the national series, and I think those girls will have some good technical skills.

    "My teammate Peta Mullens is also always riding strong is a bit of an unknown on a technical course, but I think she can put in a good day."

    King describes her 2013 season to date as 'unlucky', after suffering a race-ending mechanical in round one of the All Mountain Cup in Mount Buller and a snake bite just days before competing in Thredbo.

    "I think I have had a little bit of bad luck leading into the first couple of rounds," King lamented. "I'm hoping to have a clean race in Canberra - if I have a little bit of good luck then I feel like I can have a good race."

    "I'm feeling good, nervous but I am pretty confident in my preparation. You're always a little bit more nervous having to defend the title but I am nervous every race."

    Despite her result come Saturday, February 23, King revealed the highlight of the championships will come from watching the scores of athletes she coaches who are themselves trying to achieve their dreams.

    "I almost have an athlete in every category - that's what I am looking forward to most, watching all the people I help out compete," she said.

    King will race the Olympic cross country on Saturday, February 23 at 9:00 am and the eliminator on Sunday, February 24 at 9:30 am.

  • Devastated Kevin Evans forced out of Cape Epic

    Kevin Evans (Team FedGroup Itec)
    Article published:
    February 20, 2013, 15:41
    By:
    Cycling News

    Stewart to partner with MacDonald instead

    For the first time since the inception 10 years ago of the Absa Cape Epic, an eight-day international mountain bike tour, Kevin Evans (FedGroup Itec) will not be competing. After consulting with the team of doctors treating him, it was decided that it would be unwise for him to ride in the Epic. The body cavity where his appendix was removed has still not drained properly.

    Since October last year, Evans has been in hospital on three occasions to be treated for the same problem.

    However, Evans remains optimistic. "I think the doctors are now, for the first time, treating the cause of my problem instead of just the problem itself. It feels as if the body cavity is, at long last, beginning to close."

    Evans has competed in every Cape Epic up to now and he admits that not being able to compete this year is a great pity. He managed to win four stages in the Cape Epic, and he always finished seventh overall or better.

    Last year he was second overall. "But remember that I am, first and foremost, a husband and a father. Therefore my health will always be my main priority."

    Evans was discharged from hospital last week. He will know by Thursday, after another MRI scan, when he will be able to start training again.

    "I might be able to do the Joburg2C and Sani2C but, if not, it won't be the end of the world. It is important for me to be patient. My biggest goal for the next 18 months will be to try and win a medal at next year's UCI World Marathon Championship in Pietermaritzburg."

    Brandon Stewart, FedGroup Itec rider and team owner, said Evans' withdrawal from the Epic is a great loss.

    "We are all disappointed about it. But we will continue to support Kev 100% until he is back to full strength and on the top step of the podium. I will now do the Cape Epic with Neil MacDonald. He has been in awesome form during the past few weeks."

    Despite not being able to ride the Cape Epic, Evans will not miss out. "I am going to be there to support Brandon and Neil. If possible, I would love to do some live commentating during the Epic as well. It will also be fun to go out with my dad, Leon, in the lead vehicle during a few of the stages." Evans' dad is the Epic's route designer, which led to him being nicknamed "Dr Evil".

    Stewart will not compete in the UCI World Series race, the MTN Sabie marathon, on Saturday, February 23. "It is important for me to prioritize my season. I am simply not able to race weekend after weekend."

    "Since the end of January, I have competed in the MTN Barberton marathon and in the Addo Challenge outside Port Elizabeth. Then there was the Ride the Rock (a three-day stage event), as well as the Tankwa Challenge (a three-day stage event) the following weekend. Next weekend we will be competing in The Grape Escape, which will be followed by the Argus Mountain Bike Race."

    "To be able to compete in Sabie on Saturday, I would have to do a 16-hour road trip. In the end, this constant travelling and racing just become too much. To ensure that you stay competitive, it is important that you sometimes take a break."

    "Neil (MacDonald) will be at Sabie, because it is not such a long journey from Johannesburg."

  • Carey switches focus to shorter mountain bike and cyclo-cross races

    Amanda Carey (Stan's NoTubes Women's Elite Team)
    Article published:
    February 20, 2013, 22:15
    By:
    Sue George, Mountain Bike Editor

    No more 100-milers for former NUE Series champ

    Amanda Carey spent every stage of the 2012 Breck Epic battling with another rider. The excitement and challenge of that mountain bike stage race got her thinking that it was time for some major changes to her pro racing career. In 2013, she is moving away from 100-milers and toward shorter cross country races and mountain bike stage races. She also is planning a full cyclo-cross season for next fall and winter.

    "Breck Epic was the most fun I had racing my bike all year. Yeah, you're out there suffering and you might have missed a turn, or you might be sick of pushing your bike, but you don't forget to have a good time," Carey said to Cyclingnews.

    "I raced Yolande Du Toit of South Africa every stage last year. She climbs like a mountain goat and is the nicest person on the planet. We were wheel-to-wheel for four hours a day - totally going at each other - it was a turning point of my season when I realized that I liked racing with people."

    Carey spent three years focusing on the 100-mile mountain bike marathons of the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series, and while she proved that she can win the series, she realized that she wasn't having as much fun any more.

    "I love the format and love the community," said Carey of NUEs. "I'm not burnt out, but it's fair to say I was getting a little bored. It was three years in the series with the same races and competitions. For me, it was starting to feel a little stagnant, and there was a real hardship, and that's why I'm ready to step back from the NUE."

    Carey said she was the only rider on her previous Kenda/Felt Team who focussed on the NUE, making it a lonely endeavor. "I was training alone, travelling alone, flying alone and renting cars alone," she said. "I didn't have a mechanic or team there or teammates. I stayed in hotels alone. You know how 100s go - you're out there riding by yourself. I think I got a bit lonely last year."

    "I had great results and had the financial support to do what I needed to do, but I didn't have any company. I missed that social racing atmosphere of any stage race or cross country. After a race, I'd hang out for a bit, but then I'd have to go clean my bike, pack it and do all that stuff alone before travelling home."

    There are no 100-milers on Carey's race calendar for 2013, but she won't say if she's done with that type of racing for good. "I'm taking a break for 100s for a bit," she said. "I'll never say never."

    Simply put, it's time for Carey to make some changes. "On a personal note, I kind of figured the hundreds out, and I found success. I had a ton of fun, and I really enjoyed them. But then it got to the point that I knew exactly what my body would do," she said. "I knew the courses. I knew my competition. I was getting kind of bored of it. It was just becoming clockwork to me. I like challenge and for things to be hard - a puzzle that I have to figure out."

    "I'm a goal-oriented person. I've been that way my whole life - in sports, academics, music. I feel that once I set a personal goal and reach it, it's time to find a new personal challenge. I felt like I wasn't getting the challenge I wanted out of the 100s any more. It's not that they weren't hard. 100 milers are the hardest thing."

    Although Carey is stepping away from 100-milers, she continues to encourage riders looking for a personal challenge to undertake them.

    "The format offers a fantastic opportunity for anyone to find their limit and see how far they can go for how long and to test their mental boundaries. Physical fitness is one thing, but mental fitness is another. I think the future of that discipline is bright - people are interested and passionate about it. There is a lot of good energy in it."

    New season, new team

    Carey signed with the Stan's NoTubes Elite Women's Team for 2013. What's she looking forward to most is having some company, before the races, during the races and afterward.

    "Moving over to the Stan's team is so exciting and appealing for me. It's a socially supportive racing atmosphere that I missed," she said.

    When asked how she ended up on her new team, she said, "It was a long series of events, but it essentially came down to a conversation and email message from [Team Manager] Shannon Gibson at just the right time."

    "I did some deep thinking about what I wanted and what was important to me. I had been exploring a bunch of team options and had been working on a side project with Ride to Reading, but it didn't seem like it would pan out for this year. I started thinking more about what I wanted out of mountain biking. It was the camaraderie and having the social aspect back to my racing again. Shannon had heard that I might want to go back to doing some short stuff, and it was good time."

    "If we had talked sooner or later, I don't know what I would have done, but at the moment we talked, I knew it was exactly what I wanted and needed. It's the perfect fit. It's an easy move and it will be a completely different racing season than I've done the last few years."

    Carey has personal connections to many of the women on the team such as Kathy Sherwin and Sarah Kaufmann. "I felt like it was more of signing into a family than onto a race team."

    Rekindling the fun

    Gibson had heard correctly: Carey was looking to get back to some shorter events. "The long term goal is to be more professional in cyclo-cross. I've never trained for 'cross before, and I've always kind of just jumped into it after a season of mountain biking."

    She will be racing some US Pro XCT races, the Whiskey 50, a few 50-milers, cross country nationals and marathon nationals and while some may argue that mountain bike stage racing is not a "shorter" format than 100-milers, Carey is eagerly looking forward to racing the Trans-Sylvania Epic and the Breck Epic.

    "I want to bring the focus back to the format I like the most - stage racing. When you're doing 100 milers, it's hard to be good at anything but 100 milers. It's such a big training and effort and mindset and different leg speed. Looking at this season, I didn't want to blend the 100-mile format with everything else any more. I didn't want to be a specialist any more."

    "The stage racing discipline lets me use my endurance but also keeps my speed going for 'cross."

    Looking backward and forward to 'cross

    Carey raced more cyclo-cross than she had thought she would in 2012. "I was continually having a better and better time. Even though I was getting tired and it was a lot of travel and intesity, I felt the passion for bike racing I hadn't felt all year long. I had good performances because I was so fired up and was enjoying it so much. I pleasantly surprised myself with the results."

    She didn't train for 'cross. Instead, she took two weeks off after her mountain bike season, and then rode her 'cross bike once before hopping into her first 'cross race of the season. "I didn't do any preparation or running or anything," she said, although it's hard not to wonder if all those 100-milers might not have given her plenty of fitness and mental toughness.

    "To have a good season after no training or preparation proves how much I liked it," she said. "It'll be interesting to see how this year goes."

    Carey plans to stop her mountain bike season after the Breck Epic, then take a month off racing before the 'cross season starts. "I'll prepare a little better - it's not that I'll care more."

    Reflecting on her own career shift, Carey commented that off-road racing is a participatory sport. "People don't watch it on TV. There are so many venues to do and try. Why would you just stay in one format? That's what makes our sport so great. You should get out of your comfort zone and try different things."

    "Look at people like Heather [Irmiger] and Jeremy [Horgan-Kobelski] moving onto enduros. There's no sense in being an discipline that you're not excited about. There's not enough money in the sport for that."

  • 2013 UCI Marathon World Series opens this weekend in Sabie

    Team Bulls racers in action in Sabie in 2012
    Article published:
    February 21, 2013, 15:13
    By:
    Cycling News

    European favorites to battle South Africans at Sabie marathon

    Some of Europe's top endurance mountain bikers will be out for revenge at the 2013 UCI Marathon World Series opener in Sabie, South Africa on Saturday. The race comes less than one month before the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race.

    Last year's race turned out to be an unofficial test between the top riders from South Africa and some of Europe's best riders. The local riders eventually dominated, with Kevin Evans taking the win in 2012. Max Knox finished second and David George was third. Germany's Karl Platt, who finished fourth, nine minutes behind Evans, was the best placed international rider. Frenchman Thomas Dietsch, who finished ninth, and Germany’s Tim Bohme (11th) were the next best of the European riders.

    Quite a few of Europe's best marathoners will be back in action at the MTN Sabie. German Steffen Thum, the overall winner of the 2011- 2012 UCI MTB Marathon World Series, has already entered, as has his compatriot Simon Gegenheimer, who finished fourth overall in the same series.

    Thum, who finished 24th overall last year, is no stranger to Sabie. Thanks to his consistency, he managed to finish in the top 25 last year every time he raced in the World Series.

    "I have to be honest with myself. At this stage I am not yet ready to race to win," said Thum. "I will be happy with a top-10 finish. It is important for me to get some points from the race because it is the first of the UCI's World Series."

    Thum reckons it will be tough for the international riders to beat the South Africans on their home turf. "The South Africans are used to the conditions and there is also the matter of pride at stake."

    However, Thum predicts that Platt and his teammates from Team Bulls will be capable of spoiling the local riders' fun.

    Platt, who has won the Cape Epic a record four times (2004, 2007, 2009 and 2011), has become almost a household name in South African mountain biking and will be back in Sabie. He also won the race in 2011 after perfectly executing a strategy that didn't waste unnecessary energy by covering kamikaze attacks and ended with a perfectly time race-winning attack.

    In a sort of changing of the guard, the top European favorites will race some new faces who have been doing well so far this season including Matthys Beukes (Contego), Lourens Luus (RE:CM) and Erik Kleinhans (RE:CM). They'll also take on established South African pro favorite Max Knox, who was second last year after a flat tire.  Evans will not be racing as he recovers from complications following abdominal surgery.

    Luus hails from Sabie and has high hopes for racing on home turf. "I cannot compete in a race hoping to finish second. That will be a defeatist approach. I am not saying that I am going to win, but I will certainly give it my all to achieve a good result."

    Kleinhans, who is now coached by former marathon world champion Christoph Sauser, said, "It would be great if I could hold my current good form until Sabie, but just keep in mind that Sabie is an UCI-sanctioned race. This means that some of the world's best riders will be competing."

    "But I can promise this. If I have good legs and there is an opportunity, I will definitely do my best to make the most of it. But remember, mountain biking is a very unpredictable sport. Nothing is ever certain until you have reached the finish."

    Women

    Theresa Ralph is one of the favorites for the women's race. The 38-year-old is not daunted by her younger competition although she will have a tough battle against Ariane Kleinhans.

    "I'm like a fine wine. I get better with age. The best is yet to come," said Ralph.  Her performances during last year's MTN Marathon series proved that there is truth in these words.

    In 2012, aged 37, she was involved in a battle royal with Kleinhans (RE:CM). Both riders eventually won three races in the MTN series. Kleinhans began her MTN campaign with a "blitzkrieg" by winning in Barberton, Tulbagh and Sabie. Ralph, on the other hand, dominated during the last races by winning at Clarens, Mabalingwe and the Crater Cruise.

    Both also finished second twice - Kleinhans at Mabalingwe and the Gravel Travel and Ralph at Sabie and Hilton. After the worst results of both riders were also taken into account, Kleinhans was declared the overall winner.

    But Ralph, the mother of two, made it clear that she has no plans of giving up. "I don't believe in racing for second. I fully realize that, in mountain biking, you cannot win all the time because every race is unpredictable. But after any race it is important for me to be able to say that I have given it my all."

    Ralph, who is still looking for a sponsor, is beginning her MTN campaign at Sabie. "I will not miss the Sabie marathon for anything in the world. It is one of my favourite races on the local calendar."

    Asked why, Ralph explained that Sabie's climbs, that seem to go on forever, suit her style of riding. She compares her riding style to that of a diesel engine. "I may not be one of the fastest riders, but when I have found my rhythm I can keep going for hours on end.

    "I just love riding at Sabie. I once even rode the Sabie marathon route as part of my preparation for the Cape Epic."

    Ralph juggles being a mom, working six hours a day and training. Normally she gets up at quarter to five to do a training ride. At seven she is back at home. Then it is a race against the clock to prepare the kids for school and herself for work. If there is time, Ralph will try to fit in another training session during lunch time, but it all depends on what activities her kids have in the afternoon. "I try to do my long training rides over the weekend," she said.

    Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for coverage of the Sabie Marathon.