One of the most exciting rivalries in South African mountain biking resumes on Saturday when Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Energade) and Eszther Erdelyi-Cluer (Jeep) get on their bicycles to race the MTN Ride Crater Cruise, the final round in the South African marathon series.
Judging by the way Speedy has been dominating the local women's mountain bike races throughout the year, she should be the outright favourite. But Erdelyi-Cluer has been victorious the last three times she raced in South Africa. In two of the three races, she managed to beat Speedy.
Then there is also the fact that Erdelyi-Cluer, just like Max Knox (DCM), is on the verge of completing a very unique hat trick in South African mountain biking.
In the last four weeks, she first won the Hill2Hill and a week later, she outrode Speedy to also win the MTN 50 Miler. Erdelyi-Cluer now just needs a victory in the MTN Ride Crater Cruise to make it three in row.
There is no arguing the fact that Erdelyi-Cluer is in top form at the moment. During the MTN 50 Miler, she had her fair share of bad luck. First she crashed and had to fix her bike's handlebars. Then she remembered that she had forgotten her water bottle at the feeding station which led to her running back about 40 meters to go and fetch it and she had to run back before she could continue racing yet still she won.
Afterwards, Erdelyi-Cluer admitted to having surprised herself. "I can't believe how strong I am at the moment. Even steep climbs do not phase me. I just want to keep on riding because I love it."
Erdelyi-Cluer also managed to beat Speedy at the MTN National cross country event in George.
She comes from a strong track running and multisport background and is the 2007 Xterra European Champion, after winning the 2008 South African Xterra Championships in Grabouw, she picked up a serious knee injury which made it difficult for her to keep on running, and she had to go for an operation on her right knee in September 2008.
After rehabilitation on her knee, she decided to focus her energies on cross country mountain biking with her goal to try and represent Hungary at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Judging by her results so far it is not unrealistic.
At the Hungarian nationals she finished third overall. Then at the World Cup in Britain she was 49th overall and at the World Cup in Belgium 46th overall. Take into account that Erdelyi-Cluer is still a novice and had to start right at the back at each of the World Cup events, her results are impressive. She passed about 50 riders in each race. That takes some doing because on the tough singletrack technical sections of a World Cup course you really do battle to pass the riders in front of you.
The one thing that might count against Erdelyi-Cluer on Saturday is the race distance. The elite women will - like the elite men - be racing 101 kilometres.
Because Erdelyi-Cluer's main focus this year was cross country racing, she might start to get tired towards the end of the race. Her stamina may not be what it should be after battling a bout of flu earlier this week. If that is the case, Speedy will win.
The other riders to watch are defending champion Yolandi du Toit (Bizhub), Karien van Jaarsveld (USN) and Mariske Strauss (MTN-Energade).
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