The first round of the 2009 South African mountain bike Cup Series begins in Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch (near Cape Town) on Saturday.
Under-23 World Cup champion Burry Stander, in his debut race for Team Specialized, headlines a men’s cross-country field that comprises mostly top South African riders.
“I’m looking forward to the race because it’s a good way to gauge my form after the holidays, most of which were spent doing base mileage training in preparation for the Absa Cape Epic at the end of March,” said Stander.
Stander’s main opposition will come from African Elite cross-country champion Ben-Melt Swanepoel, South African Elite cross-country champion Brandon Stewart and Max Knox (all DCM Chrome); Francois Theron and Philip Buys (both Garmin); and Mathys Beukes (MTN Energade) and Renay Goustra (Red Mongoose).
In the absence of current South African champion Amy Jane Mundy (Rocky Mountain) and African champion Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing Activeworx), the women’s cross-country event will lack depth, but is still expected to produce a strong contest from the likes of Tania Raats (Fox Maverick), Yolandi du Toit (DCM Chrome), Mariske Strauss (MTN Energade) and Caitlin de Wet (Mr Price Scott).
The event holds a UCI Category 2 status, which offers points for the first ten finishers: 30 points for a win, 20 for second and 15 for third and so on.
Racers with hopes of competing at the Nissan UCI World Cup in Pietermartizburg in April will need to either be ranked in the World Cup top 60 from 2008, or have at least 20 UCI points in 2009 to qualify a starting place.
In Sunday’s downhill event, Andrew Neethling (Trek) will be a marked man by a field of mostly younger riders bristling with ambition and talent. Neethling finished 11th overall in the 2008 World Cup and will be eager to start his new year with a new team on a winning note.
“It’s not a very technical course, but it’s really fast and narrow, which requires quick reaction times, so it’s sure to provide an interesting contest,” said Neethling.
Neethling’s biggest challenge for the top step of the podium is likely to come from his brother Jonty Neethling (Morewood), Johann Potgieter (Cannondale) and sub-veteran Gary Barnard (Morewood).
In addition to the Elite and Under-23 men’s and women’s races, there will be a full range of age-group races in both cross-country and downhill.