Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price) is headlining a top-notch field at the MTN Attakwas Extreme Mountain Bike Challenge on Saturday, January 16. Ranked as the third best cross country rider in the world, Stander is set to participate in the opening round of the 2010 MTN South African marathon national series.
Kevin Evans (MTN/Energade), who finished in the top ten in last year's World Marathon Championship, has also confirmed his participation in the event. When both Stander and Evans taking part, the racing is bound to be hard from the gun.
What may count in Evans' favour is that he has won the Attakwas Extreme Challenge once before. Last year he finished second to Francois Theron from Garmin adidas. He is familiar with the route and will know exactly what to expect. In contrast, it will be the first time Stander competes in this race.
"The only thing that I know about the race is that it will be long and hard," said Stander, who is the current Under 23 cross country World Champion. "But I am not concerned. It will be everybody’s first race of the season and from that point of view, the playing field will be level." Stander is expected to make the racing very hard at the first serious climb in an effort to split the field.
Evans described the route, "Racing in the Karoo is always tough because the terrain is so rough. One has to be wide awake all the time, because one little mistake, like riding over the wrong rock, could cost you the race. Ask me, I know." He was the victim of an untimely puncture in last year's race.
According to Evans, the most serious mistake a rider can make is to try to outpace his rivals from the beginning. "The race is just too long and hard to worry about what the other riders are doing or not doing. The serious racing will start during the last few kilometers when there will be only a select few of the riders left."
Brandon Stewart and Max Knox (both DCM), Philip Buys and Marc Bassingthwaighte (both Garmin adidas) and Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Specialized) are the other riders to watch.
Knox is possibly in the best position to prevent Stander and Evans from winning.
David George will also be racing. He returns to competition after having to take time off due to a virus, but now he is back on his bike and eager to race. "I am in good form, but I am not going to make any predictions. My legs will do the talking."
Some suprise entries are those of Neil MacDonald and Nic White, both from Team Medscheme. They are both better known for their riding abilities on pavement. MacDonald is returning to mountain bike racing after a spectacular crash during last year's Walkerville event, in which he broke his ankle so severely that he was airlifted to the hospital afterward.
In the women's race, the main contest is expected to be between Ischen Stopforth, last year's overall female winner of the MTN Series, and Yolandé Speedy, who represented South Africa at the 2008 Olympic Games. Sam Oosthuizen, Yolande de Villiers and Yolandi du Toit are the two other contenders for a podium finish.
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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.