The top three finishers after the Cape Town Spar Women’s 10km Challenge, (from left to right) Zimbabwe’s Rutendo Nyahora (2nd), Rene Kalmer (winner) and Irvette van Blerk (3rd) on Sunday 15 April 2012. Photo: Reg Caldecott

Two-times Grand Prix winner Rene Kalmer has a handy 12 point lead going into the Nelson Mandela Bay leg of the Spar Women’s 10km Challenge at King’s Beach on Saturday morning.

Kalmer, who won the Grand Prix in the first and third years of its existence, earned 30 points from the Cape Town race last month, after winning in record time, which meant she earned bonus points.

Elite South African runners in the five Spar Challenge races, held in Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay, Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg earn Grand Prix points by finishing in the top 20, with bonus points for clocking a faster time than the previous year. This year, the winner will receive a brand new Nissan Micra, with the runner-up receiving R30 000.

The Spar Grand Prix defending champion, Irvette van Blerk, crowned the 2011 Spar Grand Prix winner after finishing with a total of 126 points. Zintle Xiniwe was second with 89, with Charne Bosman third with 63 points. Picture: Reg CaldecottKalmer’s closest rival is defending Grand Prix champion and Nedbank CGA teammate, Irvette van Blerk, who won the overall title in 2010 and 2011. Van Blerk finished third in Cape Town, and has 18 points, one ahead of Zintle Xiniwe, who came fourth.

“The Nelson Mandela Bay race is one of my favourites,” said Kalmer. “I think I have won there more than at any of the other Spar Challenge venues, and I have run some of my best times in Nelson Mandela Bay. “I really like the course, although if the weather is bad, those last four kilometres along the beach front can be very tough.”

Kalmer, who has qualified to represent South Africa in the marathon at the Olympic Games in London in July, recently ran the London Marathon, where she acted as a pace-maker to help two British runners qualify to represent their country.

“I’m in pretty good shape at the moment,” she said. “I felt I ran very well in the London Marathon, and after the training I’ve been doing for the Olympics, a 10km race feels like a speed trial. I am looking forward to the race on Saturday, and I want to extend my lead on the Grand Prix ladder, because I really have my eyes on that prize.”

Van Blerk, who also took part in the London Marathon, where she qualified for the Olympic Games, was less enthusiastic about the Nelson Mandela Bay race. “I never seem to win in NMB,” she said. “I don’t really like the course either – it is a bit flat for me, and those last four kilometres are very hard, if the wind is blowing.”

However, she was also enthusiastic about running a 10km race after the marathon. “It will feel so much easier,” she said. “Maybe this year I can break my duck in NMB and win.”

Others to look out for on Saturday include Zimbabwean Rutendo Nyahora – although she cannot qualify for the Grand Prix because she is not a South African-, Zintle Xiniwe, Annerien van Schalkwyk, the Phalula twins Lebogang and Diana-Lebo, and Kalmer’s sister Christine.

There are also Grand Prix points up for grabs for the top runners in the various age group categories. After the first leg, Pamela Mtshemla is the top junior, with five points; Ronel Thomas leads the veterans, Olga Howard is the leading master, while evergreen Sonja Laxton is the grandmaster to beat. They all have 10 points, after winning their categories in record times.