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South African national marathon series starting

The 2010 MTN South African National Series will kick off this weekend with the Attakwas Extreme Mountain Bike Challenge on Saturday, January 16. The marathon will take racers from Oudtshoorn to Groot Brak on a point-to-point course over 135km.

It will be the first time that the Attakwas Extreme Challenge is part of the MTN National Series. "For the past two years, the Attakwas has been voted South Africa's best mountain bike event," said Pienaar. "It makes sense to include it in the series. Our aim is to ensure that riders get the ultimate riding experience when they enter the series.

Fritz Pienaar, organiser of the MTN National Series, warned riders that they will not have the option of riding in an 80-kilometre race. "It is the only event in the national series where there are only two races - 135km or 53km. This is a point-to-point race and logistically it will be almost impossible to include an 80km event as we will have to organise three different starts at three different venues.

"As planned, I think the race will work out perfectly. You can have a family member or friend drop you off in Oudtshoorn for the 135 km race. He (or she) can then drive through to Groot Brak and, if they are mountain bikers, they can still be in time to compete in the 53km race as it starts three hours later."

"Personally I don't foresee that riders will be discouraged by the longer distance. By mid-December, we have already received 700 entries in the ultra distance. I won't be surprised if more than 2000 riders enter."

"It makes sense to start the series with a really long race. Most of the serious mountain bikers are busy with base training. This means that their main focus is on improving their stamina. They will only start working on improving their speed later on. I see the 135 kilometre race as the ideal training for the Cape Epic and Sani2Sea mountain bike tours."

"Riders who usually only compete in our 80-kilometre races should take note that the points received in the MTN Attakwas Extreme Challenge will be taken into consideration when the overall standings for the series are being calculated."

The MTN Attakwas Extreme Challenge is one of South Africa's toughest one-day races. The first half of the race uses the 30-kilometre long Attakwas jeep trail to cross the Outeniqua mountain range. The challenging stretch comprises some of the most technically demanding jeep tracks and trails found in South Africa.

The Voortrekker pioneers used the same route in the 1800s to get to the interior. According to Francois Theron (Garmin adidas), who won the race last year in a record time of five hours and 40 minutes, it is definitely one of the hardest races in which he has ever taken part.

"It can be best described as a race for survival. The first 50 to 60 kilometres are gruelling. The track goes over some of the roughest and rockiest terrain that I have ever come across."

"The one tip I can give riders is to make sure that they eat and drink properly during the race," said Theron. "If they don't do it, they will definitely not be able to complete the race."

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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.