History will be made in Langkawi in Malaysia on Saturday when a qualifier to the prestigious UCI MTB Marathon World Championships is held for the first time on Asian soil. The world's top riders will wage battle to book their places for the marathon world championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa next June.
With 20 direct tickets to the world championships available from the Langkawi race, the gloves will be off when the race is flagged off at the Oriental Village this Saturday. The racers can also collect points for the world championships, with the top 50 riders on the overall general classification at the end of the qualifying period earning the right to ride in Pietermaritzburg.
The individual general marathon series ranking is drawn up on the basis of the points won by each rider. The top 40 men score points from 40 to one point while the top 20 women scores from 20 to one.
Among the top names in the world mountain bike racing scene who will be competing in Langkawi are Thomas Dietsch, Maxime Marrote, Stephane Tempier, Steffen Thum and Simon Gegenheimer in the men's section.
The 39-year-old Frenchman Dietsch, riding for Team Bulls, is best known for winning the 2007 UCI World Cup title. His compatriot Marrote comes to Langkawi in good form after his excellent fourth place finish at this year's world championships in South Africa in June.
Another Frenchman who is among the favourites to shine in Langkawi this weekend is Tempier, who came in an impressive ninth during the same world meet in Pitermaritzburg. The French contenders may be the ones to beat in Langkawi, but do not write off the challenge posed by the German duo Thum and Gegenheimer, whose expertise are as different as day and night.
Long-distance specialist Thum enjoys legendary status in the cycling field, especially after coming in sixth during the South African leg of the qualifiers earlier this year despite racing without a saddle for 35km.
Sprinter Gegenheimer, the reigning German national mountain bike champion, finished third in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in the Czech Republic in May and will be seeking another podium finish in Langkawi this week.
Strauss has nine South African national championship titles under her belt while Slovenian Klemencic is a former European champions and has competed in two Olympic Games.
Another double Olympian in the fray is the highly rated German Adelheid Morath, who has shown tremendous tenacity to recover from several health setbacks to finish ninth in last year's World Cup.
The UCI MTB Marathon World Championships is also a prelude to the six-day 4th annual Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge, which will begin on Monday.