South Africa’s top cyclists return to the Barberton Challenge on Saturday, the popular event which doubles as the first leg of the 2008 Mazda MTN Series, the most prestigious mountain bike series in the country.
Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing), the reigning national marathon champion, will line up as favourite to capture the women’s title, but will be wary of Yolande de Villiers (Cycle Lab), who is back from an injury layoff and who showed, with her eighth place overall at the last weekend’s gruelling 135km Attakwas Marathon, that she is back to form too.
With the majority of the 75km race mostly on gravel roads it’s certainly more an endurance test than a skill test. But a monstrous 30km climb followed by a rapid 15km descent will provide the key challenges of the traditional marathon racing season-opener.
Neither Speedy or de Villiers completed Barberton last year, as Speedy was out with a broken shoulder and De Villiers damaged her rear derailleur early on and was forced to retire, leaving an opportunity for Tania Raats (Maverick) to claim the victory.
Raats will be back in the small mining town to defend her title while others likely to be in the hunt for podium places are Amy Jane Mundy (Jeep), Carla Rowley (MTN Energade) and Ellane van Wyk (Fabrinox).
Reigning SA road race champion, Ronel van Wyk (Cycle Lab) could also make an impression, should she decide to compete.
While the marathon race offers the prestige, the half-marathon event, presented by Ferdevco, offers a shorter, more popular 40km event. The half-marathon distance attracts almost double the numbers of the longer events and has proved to be a perfect nursery for the country’s rising young talent, or just a manageable distance for those more interested in excitement than exhaustion.