New for 2011, the first four rounds of the MTN South African marathon national series will award UCI points. Racers will compete for points at the rounds in Barberton, Attakwas, Clarens and Sabie. There is a good chance that ranking points could be earned in the Clarens and Cederberg races as well.
The advantages of this system are twofold. Most importantly, it will give local riders an opportunity to improve their international rankings. This will benefit the riders who do not have the money to stay and race in Europe, where there are many UCI-categorized races, for extended periods of time.
Furthermore, the participation in the MTN series of some of the top international marathon riders will also introduce an ability check for local riders and up and coming pros.
The spin-off for international riders will be that with the addition of the UCI points, the MTN series will make it possible for them to train and race in South Africa from mid-January until the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race - an HC category stage race. Cold and snowy conditions in Europe and other places in the northern hemisphere during January and February can make it impossible to train on a mountain bike.
During the past two years MTN's ultramarathon series has been dominated by the likes of Kevin Evans, Burry Stander and Max Knox. If the points help attract additional international competition, it could make the series a tighter battle.
The move comes three years after Evans pointed out that there was no reason for pro-elite riders to compete in marathons over distances of 70km in preparation for World Championships over distances that range from 100km to 130km. In response, MTN introduced the new ultra-series for local riders to race farther than 100km on a regular basis. The shorter distances for the pros seemed to pay off afterEvans finished eighth at the marathon world championship. Last year, Stander won a bronze medal at cross country world championship.
The addition of the UCI points comes as South African riders have been steadily working their way up the international ranks.
According to Wessel van der Walt from Advendurance, the person responsible for negotiating the implementation of points with the UCI, the other good news for pro-elite riders is that the prize money will be increased next year.
"To bring the series in line with the UCI standards, the first 15 riders in each of the pro-elite ultra races will receive prize money. The 2010 winner received R12000, this year it will be R18000.
"The total prize money for the series will be over R500,000."
The series kicks off this weekend on January 15 in Attakwas, Oudtshoorn.