Organisers of South Africa's MTN National Mountain Bike Series say their countrymen are so keen on endurance events they have decided to add a new ultra-marathon category to their races.
The country's standard mountain bike marathons are a minimum of 70km long, which takes the leaders about three hours to complete and the majority of the field between four and five hours.
The first ultra-marathon, which will be held during the MTN Barberton Classic in Mpumalanga on 24 January, will combine the 75km marathon route and 45km half-marathon route, giving a total distance of 120km. With almost 4,000 metres of climbing, it’s expected to be tough as well as long.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said David George, a stage race specialist for the MTN Energade team, who finished third overall with Kevin Evans at the 2008 Absa Cape Epic. “We have shown that this country has world class riders, now we’ll have more world-class events to nurture those riders. With the longer distances, riders will have to be conditioned for endurance to succeed. You won’t get cross-country specialists winning so easily anymore.”
“It’s going to make a big impact on local racing,” said Team DCM Chrome rider Max Knox, who along with Brandon Stewart, finished seventh overall at last year's Cape Epic. “It makes it possible to specialise in marathon races and we’ll see some different faces on the race podiums now. I’m looking forward to the bigger challenge.”
The ultra-marathons are open to all riders who believe they can manage the first 75km within the cut-off time of five hours. MTN National Series points will be on offer for Elite men.
“The top men take more than four hours to finish the Marathon World Championships and we want our talented South African riders to be able to prepare for these international tests at home,” said Fritz Pienaar, series director. “Some of the events may even qualify for International Cycling Union grading in future, which will encourage more international riders to compete in South Africa. It’s all very positive and we’re excited about it.”
The MTN National Mountain Bike Series comprises a five-event National Cup Series of cross-country and downhill events, including the national championships, and a seven-event National Marathon Series, including the national championships. With more than 9,000 participants, it is the largest mountain bike series in Africa.
African cellular network giant MTN this week announced it was taking over as the title sponsor of the series for 2009 and 2010. Last year it co-sponsored the event with Mazda, which had supported the series for the six years since its inception.
As well as the ultra-marathon, this year's National Marathon Series will feature marathon and half-marathon races, along with a 10km family fun ride. For more information, visit www.cyclesport.co.za.
2009 MTN National Cup Series Schedule
- 10/11 January: XCO/DHi – Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch, Western Cape
- 7/8 February: XCO/DHi – Mankele, Mombela, Mpumalanga
- 14/15 March: XCO/DHi – NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS, George, Western Cape
- 4/5 April: XCO/DHi – Cascades, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal
- 23/24 May: XCO/Dhi – Fountains, Pretoria, Gauteng
2009 MTN National Marathon Series
- 24 January: XCM – Barberton, Mpumalanga
- 26 April: XCM – Chandelier, Oudtshoorn, Western Cape
- 13 June: XCM – Induna, Hazyview, Mpumalanga
- 8 August: XCM – NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS, N3TC Dirty Harry, Harrismith, Free State
- 30 August: XCM – Blockhouse, Walkerville, Gauteng
- 3 October: XCM – Clarens, Free State
- 7 November: XCM – Fifty Miler, Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal