KZN cross country champion Stuart Marais is looking to finally get a win that has eluded him when he tackles his hometown race, the Mandela Day Marathon MTB Dash on Saturday.
The event which starts and finishes at the Mandela Capture Site in Lions River is just a few kilometres from Marais’ front door in Howick and the event is raced on trails he regularly rides in training.
Since the first event in 2014 Marais has been keen to record a home victory in front of his family and friends, but the win he wants so badly has eluded him, including last year when he was forced into second position in a tight and exciting finishing sprint against Julian Jessop.
“I really want to win this race â€¦ I have wanted to win this event since it first started,” said Marais after finishing a training ride in and around Howick earlier this week. “I have done all four and I have always finished in the top three, except for 2015 when I punctured and ended up ninth.
“I was third and second in the past two years so to win it would be a monkey off my back.
“I definitely want to win the damn thing,” he added with a laugh.
But it looks as if a strong field will be lining up to prevent the Expedient Africa/Moving Parts Tractor Spares-sponsored rider from claiming the elusive victory.
“Tyronne White is always strong and is in good form at the moment after winning the Tour de Krantz last weekend. I am pretty sure Henry Liebenberg will be there and he is riding well, and then Reinhard Zellhuber has just moved to this area he should be strong as well,” said Marais before adding that he also expected to face a challenge from an unlikely quarter.
“And then young Travis Stedman is also in really good form and was third on Saturday at the Tour de Krantz race. It is good to see the ‘lighties’ riding well and I suspect he will be something of an unknown factor.”
Marais, who recently won the biggest one-day event in KZN, the Illovo Eston Marathon, is very aware the race named after global icon Nelson Mandela represents more than just another mountain biking event.
“This race is a special one because we are riding in honour of Nelson Mandela and it is always good to remember the legacy of the great man when we are riding this event.
“I think it is important for us to remember what he stood for and how he unified the country in difficult times.”
In the women’s race, last year’s runner up is also favoured to move up one step on the podium with young schoolgirl Tiffany Keep hoping for a confidence booster before she flies out to take part in the World Championships in Switzerland from September 4-9.
The Thomas More matric pupil, who was second to Bianca Haw in 2017, faces a stiff test from a rider on the other end of the experience spectrum with veteran Jeannie Dreyer likely to lead the challenge, while Christie-Leigh Hearder and Andrea de Boer are also sure to be fighting for a place on the podium.
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.
There is no race registration on Friday but late entries will be taken at the start on Saturday from 6am at the Mandela Capture Site. The 42km race stats at 8am, the 21km at 8.15am and the 10km at 8.30am.