After the South African Road Championship in Port Elizabeth, Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price) is the firm favourite to win the UCI African Continental cross country mountain bike championship in Jonkershoek, just outside of Stellenbosch, on Saturday, February 12.
By winning the silver medal in the men's elite road race over 155km, Stander proved that he is in awesome form. It is generally agreed that this year's South African Road Championship was one of the hardest ever. It is also difficult to recall when last any rider from Africa has beaten Stander in a local cross country race.
Stander is currently ranked seventh in the world cross country rankings. The former Under 23 world champion won two bronze medals at last year's Worlds (cross country and marathon).
Therefore, it would seem that even if Stander should have a bad day and the rest of the riders should produce a super-human effort, there would still be no guarantee that they would beat him.
The race is likely to be for second.
A definite highlight could be the battle between Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) who won in George last year, Matthys Beukes, last year's winner in Pietermaritzburg and James Reid (Mr Price/BMC), last year's junior champion.
All three of them are still under-23 and they are considered to be the up-and-coming generation of cross country racers.
Reid will be in his first race as an under-23 rider. As a junior, he managed to set lap times that were faster than those of the senior riders.
Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin-adidas) and Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN/Qhubeka), as well as Brandon Stewart (DCM), are also podium favorites.
As far as the women are concerned, the main battle will be between Yolandé Speedy (MTN/Qhubeka) and Mariske Strauss (Contego/Giant/Sludge). Candice Neethling and Caitlin de Wet (Bizhub) could be the other two medal contenders.
The cross country race consists of 4.2km laps with 111m of climbing per lap. The race starts on a slight uphill section that lasts for the first 250m. Then the riders turn left onto a jeep track and go straight into the first climb.
The feed/technical assist zone will be on the right, just before the climb. There will be only one assist zone per lap.
Just before the riders reach the top of the climb, the track turns to the right and changes into the first singletrack section which is somewhat rocky and slightly uphill.
The next challenge comes with another singletrack section which entails riding through some rocky sections and a steep little climb before reaching the top of the course.
From there, it will be downhill with some more challenging rocky sections, then across the jeep track again and into the bottom half of the course which flows really nicely. But beware, there are some tricky corners that can't be taken too fast.