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Defending champion Dahle-Flesjaa skips race
Jaroslav Kulhavy leads Christoph Sauser
One hundred and thirty-six men and women from 31 nations and six continents have entered for this weekend's UCI Marathon World Championships which will take place in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday. Two world titles are on the line - one for the elite men's marathon champion and one for the elite women.
Host nation South Africa are unsurprisingly the strongest represented numerically with no fewer than 28 men and 18 women set to fly the Rainbow Nation's flag high at the event while Germany contributes the largest number of foreign riders with their 12 male and five female competitors.
Cycling South Africa's official federation men's team consists of national marathon Champ James Reid (Trek SA), Kevin Evans (FedGroup ITEC), Darren Lill (Cannondale Blend/Powered by RED-E), Nico Bell (Team RECM), Waylon Woolcock (Cannondale Blend) and Sipho Madolo (songo.info) while Robyn de Groot (Biogen Toyota), Candice Neethling (Time Freight VELOlife), Jeannie Dreyer (Hi-TEC/USN), Yolandi du Toit (Garmin SA), Ashleigh Moffatt (Time Freight VELOlife) and Amy McDougall (Valencia).
While many local supporters will be hoping the hometown advantage and local course knowledge will produce a fairytale podium finish for at least one of the South African riders on home soil, most of the world will however have their eyes firmly on plethora of the Europeans stars.
Men's defending world champion Christoph Sauser (Specialized Racing) leads a potent Swiss outfit to the familiar South African shores and, together with the likes of Urs Huber (Team Bulls) and cross country expert Ralph Naef (BMC Racing), will hope to ensure Switzerland are again a force to be reckoned with at this year's Worlds.
The Czech Republic team, the same size as the Swiss, is also a formidable force and former cross country world champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing), Kristian Hynek (Team Bulls) and former road sensation Frantisek Rabon could all find themselves towards the sharp end of the field this Sunday.
German cross country champ Milatz Moritz is another of the shorter format specialists set to tackle this year's marathon challenge and joins Karl Platt (Team Bulls) and current world number one Steffen Thum in the formidable German outfit.
Austria's Alban Lakata, France's Thomas Dietsch and Remi Laffont and Belgium's Roel Paulissen all add to the mix of European-based podium hopefuls while Colombia's Hector Paez Leon may look to get in on the act as well as he flies the flag for South America.
The men's race will also see riders from Namibia, Mauritius and Lesotho join hosts South Africa as the African representatives whilst four Nepalese riders, making their world champs debut, join Japan's Yuki Ikeda as the Asian bearers.
Australia and New Zealand will both shine for the Australasian region while Canada's Cory Wallace and Timothy Carleton are the only North American competitors.
The women's clash is set to be an interesting one as the likes of Belgium's Alice Pirard, Hungary's Eszter Dosa and Switzerland's Milena Landtwing look to put their recent UCI Marathon Series form to good use when they go up against some the biggest names of the sport.
Defending marathon world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway) is skipping this year's marathon Worlds to focus instead on cross country Worlds, which will be held in her home nation in September.
The likes of Annika Langvad (Denmark), Sabine Spitz (Germany), Sally Bigham (Great Britain) and Esther Suss (Switzerland) are all hugely experienced, have been at the front of the field previously and will be tough to beat.
Tereza Hurikova (Czech Republic) will look to build on her recent European Champs success while the Stellenbosch-based Swiss rider Ariane Kleinhans (Team RECM) will hope her knowledge of the terrain will help her overcome the stiff challenge she faces.