The MTN Tulbagh marathon, the next round of the South African marathon series on Saturday, April 13, may boil down to a battle between the riders who competed in the Cape Epic and those who have not.
According to Tim Fair, route director for race promoter Advendurance, the routes for both these races will be very similar to the route that will be used during the Cape Epic. The Epic's course designer in that area, Pieter van Wyk, is also responsible for planning the routes for the MTN Tulbagh races.
"It is, therefore, to be expected that some overlapping of the routes will occur. Personally I think that the MTN Tulbagh races will be quite a challenge for the riders who do not compete in the Epic, because they will not know what to expect."
But, on the other hand, not racing the Epic will not necessarily be a drawback. It could actually be a blessing in disguise, because those riders will start the race well-rested. Eight days of racing the Epic drains much energy from any rider and it is debatable whether a rider can recover sufficiently within three weeks to be racing fit and fully competitive again.
Fair notes that the MTN Tulbagh is one of the tougher challenges of the series. "Riders can expect to do a lot of climbing. However, knowing Pieter, it will be a true mountain biking experience with lots of exciting singletrack sections.
"Our goal is to take full advantage of the scenic beauty of the Saronsberg valley. Riders will see the route winding its way around cool farm dams, between luscious green vineyards and along rocky mountain tracks that are edged with indigenous fynbos, including proteas." The MTN Tulbagh event will start, as well as finish, at the Saronsberg Wine Estate.
Matthys Beukes (Scott Racing) is among the favorites for the race. After his success in the Cape Epic, he is confident of getting another good result. "During the Epic, we raced on many of the tracks that will form part of the Tulbagh route, so I know what to expect. It will certainly not be a walk in the park." He along with teammate Philip Buys, were the top finishing African team at the Cape Epic.
When asked if he would have enough time to recover from the Epic, Beukes said, "Yes. Philip and I are actually quite surprised about how good we feel after the Epic. I think it is because we raced cleverly. Apart from during the last stage, we never really pushed ourselves to the limit."
Other favorites such as Max Knox (Specialized/EAI Solutions), Kevin Evans (FedGroup-Itec), Brandon Stewart or Neil MacDonald (FedGroup-Itec) will not be racing.
Knox predicts tips Nico Bell (Westvaal/Bell Cycles) as the rider to beat. "People tend to forget about Nico, but he is a much improved rider since last year. Maybe it is because he is somewhat shy and therefore does not talk much before races."
According to Knox, the other rider worth watching will be Charles Keey (Cannondale/Blend Properties).
Buys is undecided about racing the marathon. There is a South African cross country series race scheduled at the same time and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio remains his main priority.