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Buys and Theron to battle in Pietermaritzburg

When Philip Buys and Francois Theron of Garmin adidas get on their bikes this weekend in Pietermaritzburg for the next round of the South African MTN National Cross Country Series, the two friends will become fierce opponents.

Both of them have exactly the same goal: to win the race for under 23 riders and, in the absence of World Champion Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price), possibly even be the overall winner.

Stander, who is practically invincible when it comes to cross country racing in South Africa, is leaving for Europe next Friday. The week after that, he will race in his first World Cup event. According to Stander, it is unlikely that he will race again in South Africa this year.

Listening to the retoric of Buys and Theron, it will be a full-blown war between them, because they both know that there is truth in the saying 'nice guys come second'. But there will always be a happy ending to their rivalry. The moment they cross the finishing line, their friendship will resume.

Buys, who must certainly be considered a pre-race favourite after his good performance in Alberton where he won the u.23 race and finished 2nd overall after Stander, made it clear that he will race to win.

"The only thing that worries me, is that I have never managed to put together a good race at the Cascades in Pietermaritzburg. Something always goes wrong. I can only hope that I will be able to break the jinx this time round. However, if I cannot win, there is only one other rider that I would like to win and that is Francois. We have to keep it in the family."

Buys is also not sure what effect the Cape Epic has had on his legs. "At the moment I feel much better than after last year's epic, but the moment of truth will come when I get back on my bike to race seriously."

As part of his preparation, he might do some bow-hunting on their family farm in KwaZulu-Natal. For him, it is a good way to clear his head.

As bow-hunter the challenge that he set for himself this year is to bag a kudu. However, he believes in a fair contest between hunter and prey. That means that he will be stalking a kudu and try to outwit it before going for the killing shot.

Buys maintains that he is not one of those hunters who is prepared to sit somewhere for hours on end to wait for animals to come to him. "I just cannot stay awake."

Wessel van der Walt, who is overseeing the whole MTN series, said that the cross country course will not be the same as last year's World Cup course.

"The riders are not going to ride all the way to the top of the mountain. We have decided to make the course more technical and challenging. If the riders are not racing around sharp corners, they will be doing short power climbs, followed by short but sharp descents.

"The rider who wants to win will have to concentrate for the full duration of the race and be wide awake, because one mistake could lead to a scenario of 'man down'."

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.