The two champions from the 2017 Mandela Day Marathon MTB Dash are not able to defend their titles on Saturday at the Mandela Capture Site, but both races still have the potential for some thrilling action.
Both defending women’s champion Bianca Haw and 2018 men’s winner Julian Jessop are currently in La Bresse, France, for the final leg of the World Cup cross country and their international aspirations open the door for two new winners on Saturday.
In the men’s race Stuart Marais is hoping to complete his progression from third in 2016 to second in 2017 to a victory in 2018, but he will face some serious competition from a strong field. With entries only closing at midnight on Thursday the final field is not finalised, but the likes of the in-form Tyronne White, Andrew Johnson and Henry Liebenberg are expected to be on the starting line and could provide a stiff challenge to Marais.
In the women’s race a fascinating battle of the ages could be in the offing with one of the most exciting prospects in the South African cycling, Tiffany Keep, the favourite to claim the victory, while Jeannie Dreyer one of the quiet stars of mountain biking in South Africa as is sure to pose a threat to her young rival.
Keep is riding the crest of a cycling wave after claiming an incredible full house of South African junior titles this year. At national level she is unbeaten in the SA Championships in 2018 and no matter what race she rides, on the road or off, she will be able to wear the national champions’ jersey with pride after claiming the cross country and marathon double on a mountain bike, and both the time trial and road race titles on tar.
The Thomas More pupil will be using the Mandela Day Marathon MTB Dash as her final preparation event before she boards a plane to compete in the World Cross Country Championships in Switzerland early next month and then returns to prepare for her matric exams.
“The Mandela Day race will be the last race before I go to the World Championships. It was the same last year when I had a good tussle with Bianca Haw for most of the race. It is good for me to race against older riders so I can push myself and that gives me good motivation before I go overseas.
“The course is always nice there. There is quite a lot of fast district road riding and a fair amount of climbing, as well as lots of single track which I really enjoy. And of course the fact the race is named in honour of Nelson Mandela adds to the event. He was a great man and so to race in an event that is in his honour just makes the event even more special.”
Dreyer on the other hand is a mother of two children and coming toward the end of a stellar career as a multisport athlete and cyclist. Dreyer is well-known for her ability to tough it out on ultra-distance events when she regularly takes on and beats the top male competitors.
Two of her more illustrious achievements include setting the women’s record for the 2 300km non-stop Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa in 2013 while riding to an overall race victory alongside her husband Martin, and her second position overall in the brutal 1 000km Munga Challenge in 2016.
Keep and Dreyer may not find things all their own way however, with Christie-Leigh Hearder and Frances Janse van Rensburg also sure to be challenging for at least a podium place.
The 42km, 21km and 10km as well as an eliminator-style development race at the Mandela Day Marathon MTB Dash are part of a weekend of events that also include a road running marathon, trail runs, a fun run and a triathlon, all in honour of former President Nelson Mandela.
With a healthy prize fund that includes R10 000 each for the winning man and woman in the 42km race, the mountain bike event offers what is believed to be one of the bigger prize funds for a one-day classic MTB distance event, and as such normally attracts a strong field of riders.