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Favorites to battle it out at South African cross country round in George

The third elite cross country race in the South African MTN National Series will take place in George on Saturday, May 15. This race might just boil down to a showdown between, on the one side, the two locals , namely Kevin Evans (MTN-Energade) from Plettenberg Bay and Matthys Beukes (Scott) from George and, on the other side, the three musketeers from Garmin-adidas, Philip Buys, Marc Bassingthwaighte and Francois Theron.

Due to the unpredictability of cross country racing, it would be foolhardy to make predictions about possible winners, because history has shown that everything can change in a mere second.

Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price), currently the second best ranked cross country rider in the world, will be absent. He is taking a well deserved break this weekend and will continue his World Cup campaign next week in Offenburg. In Stander's absence, the in-form riders will be Evans, Beukes, Buys, Bassingthwaighte and Theron. Rourke Croeser (DCM) and Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Mr Price/Specialized) will be the two riders who could spoil their fun.

Beukes caused quite a big surprise in Pietermaritzburg when he won the elite race at the Cascades. What also counts in his favor is that he lives in Oudtshoorn and regularly trains on the George track. He considers it his home territory.

According to Beukes, the course suits his riding style. "The course is not too technical, but it is quite bumpy because of the tree roots and rocks along the route. The riders will have to concentrate hard all the time if they do not want to take a tumble. The climbs are power climbs, which I like.

"I am actually looking forward to the race. My sponsor, Scott, provided me with a new Spark RC full suspension mountain bike. Riding the Oudtshoorn course on my new bike was like a dream come true. Now that I have the perfect bike, winning or losing depends solely on myself."

Evans, who lives in Plettenberg Bay, also claims that George is his home territory. The last time he competed there in a cross country race he won.

If any other rider than Evans had been involved, it would have been safe to assume that he would be handicapped by the fact that he had not competed in any cross country event during the past three years. But Evans had never been a person to shy away from a challenge.

It would be safe to predict that Evans will be one of the riders who will dictate the racing on Saturday. Once Evans turns on the power, very few riders will be able to stay with him.

During the past 12 months, Buys and Bassingthwaighte proved themselves to be the two most consistent cross country riders in the MTN series. There had been hardly a race where one or both of them did not manage a podium finish. So far this year Buys finished second twice, while Bassingthwaighte finished third in Alberton.

What counts in Buys' favour is that he is, apart from Stander, definitely the best technical rider at the moment.

Theron is part of the Garmin-adidas back-up plan. It will be only his third cross country race since his comeback after the big heart scare. He was unable to finish the Cascades race, but last weekend he finished second in the Karkloof cross country race.

It will be only Croeser's third cross country race as an elite. As a junior, he was unbeaten in local cross country events. This year in Pietermaritzburg, he finished third overall.

Croeser is fearless when it comes to lap racing. Sometimes his attitude of "fools rush in where angels fear to tread" can be counter-productive because taking unnecessary risks can lead to mechanical problems that can cost valuable seconds.

Swanepoel might not be either the best technical rider or the most powerful rider, but he does not know the meaning of the words "give up". He acts like a slow poison in any race and is an ever present threat. He never tires and just waits for his rivals to make mistakes from which he can benefit. He won the Karkloof cross country race last weekend.

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