Commonwealth Games road race silver medallist, David George, will be in search of his first ever marathon mountain bike race victory when he lines up for the 35km Mazda MTN Forest to Falls race in Graskop, South Africa, this weekend.
The 32 year-old Capetonian, who races for the MTN Energade team, finished third at the recent Cape Epic with partner Kevin Evans, winning two stages in the process. That success, combined with his improved skill levels, make George one of the race favourites on a course that's relatively low on technical challenges.
"I'm not worried about technical riding nowadays because I'm riding the full-suspension Raleigh that I raced at the Epic and that's a big help on technical terrain," said George. "I'm at the end of a long racing block in my programme now but I feel pretty sharp and don't see why it's not possible to win if I have a smooth race on Saturday."
But with defending champion Burry Stander (Mr Price / GT) away racing the World Cup in Madrid, George's biggest competition is likely to come from his own team-mates, Evans and Melt Swanepoel. Evans was pipped in the sprint by Stander last year and won the race in 2007. The lowest he's ever finished at Forest to Falls is second.
"It's a short, fast race that's not too technical," said Evans. "My form is good and I know the course well. I'll be out to help Melt [Swanepoel] get a good finish if I can. He missed the first race in the Series due to illness and it's important for our team that he gets some points at Graskop."
With Stander absent, Evans will wear the Mazda MTN Series leader's jersey. It's a jersey he's used to wearing having been overall winner of the prestigious series for the past three years.
Challenges will likely come from a string of in-form riders led by Namibian star Marc Bassingthwaighte, a two-time winner in the 2007 Series. Racing for Team Garmin DCM, Bassingthwaighte will be supported by his compatriot Arno Viljoen. Also in peak form and certain challengers for the title over the scenic 70km race are Brandon Stewart (USN), Max Knox (Adidas William Simpson), and Johan van Zyl (Mr Price / GT). Both Stewart and Van Zyl have shone over shorter cross-country races recently, so the fast, flowing Forest to Falls course is bound to suit them, while Knox, partnered with Stewart, finished an impressive seventh at the Cape Epic a month ago. Favorite Mannie Heymans (MTN Energade) is also absent, racing the World Cup.
With Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing) busy in Madrid, long- time archrival, Yolande de Villiers (Cycle Lab Toyota), clad in the leader's jersey, inherited the pre-race favourite status. But it's more than just another race for De Villiers, who is eager to erase the memories of the 2007 edition which saw her crash out while leading, fracturing her elbow. De Villiers won the first leg of the 2008 series in Barberton in January.
Amy Jane Mundy (Jeep / Rocky Mountain), Carla Rowley (MTN Energade), Tania Raats (Maverick), Yolandi du Toit and Samantha Oosthuizen (both Garmin DCS) will be out to best De Villiers.