A strong international field will contest the first round of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series in South Africa, which takes place at Meerendal Wines in the Western Cape on Saturday in what promises to be a world-class display of quality racing. The season opening UCI Category 3 status event has attracted some of the biggest names in local and international mountain biking. Numerous ABSA Cape Epic contenders and world champions, eager to test their form on South African soil, have confirmed their participation, including 2014 Cape Epic champions Kristian Hynek (Czech Republic) and Robert Mennen (Germany).
They will be joined by their Topeak Ergon teammate, Austria’s former marathon world champion, Alban Lakata. Team Bulls, the German professional racing team that’s adopted South Africa as its second home, will also be present on Saturday, represented by Simon Stiebjahn and three-time Cape Epic champion, Stefan Sahm, while Team Cannondale’s Manuel Fumic (Germany) and Wheeler Meerendal’s Konny Looser (Switzerland), complete a powerful international men’s line-up. Competition will be fierce as local stars look to make the most of home-ground and weather-conditioned advantage.
Overall 2014 Series winner, Nico Bell and his RECM teammate Erik Kleinhans, will be joined by Darren Lill (Cannondale Blend), Waylon Woolcock, and the Westvaal team pairing of Gawie Combrinck and Johann Rabie in their quest for a good start to the prestigious series. Also on the start list is South African Olympian Philip Buys (SCOTT LCB), the Contego Swift pair of Lourens Luus and Adriaan Louw, multiple X-Terra World Champion, Conrad Stoltz, and former top South African marathon racer, David George, back after a doping ban.
The elite women’s field is equally impressive with the RECM duo of multiple Cape Epic winner, Ariane Kleinhans (Switzerland) and former South African marathon champion, Cherise Stander, primed to make an impact. Kleinhans is the defending Series champion, while Stander has been intent on making a return to peak form after a relatively quiet 2014 racing season. They’ll square up again Ascendis Health’s pair of current national marathon champions, Robyn de Groot (South Africa) and Jennie Stenerhag (Sweden), who were second and third respectively behind Kleinhans at the Attakwas Marathon a fortnight ago.
Former marathon world champion and multiple Cape Epic winner, Esther Suss (Switzerland), is also in the country preparing for her assault on the 2015 Cape Epic and will undoubtedly be a title contender on Saturday. Also sure to help shape the race are other top South Africans Yolandi du Toit (Garmin), Theresa Ralph (Tribe Multisport), Cherie Vale and Mariske Strauss (both Paarl Media OMX Pro Team). “We are really happy with the international interest and general growth our Cape event has seen,” commented Fritz Pienaar from Advendurance, the company that owns and manages the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series.
“It’s a strong field and a great way to welcome Ashburton Investments on board as our new headline sponsor, but the race and the series isn’t only about the professionals. We cater for all levels of mountain bikers and we expect more than a thousand riders on the day over the various distances.” The distances on offer are: 105km Ultra PRO/Elite (UCI) and Amateur 70km Marathon Elite women (UCI) and Amateur men and women 40km Half Marathon XCM 20km Fun Race 10km Fun Ride Late entries will still be available at Meerendal Wines on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning from 06h00.