Despite his Downhill background, Odendaal has been in sublime form of late in KZN Enduro circles, winning the Sappi Howick Enduro, the third round of the KZN Provincial Enduro Series in Howick and the Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at Cascades between March and May 2016.

ccs-62657-0-29130400-1464873906.jpgTiaan Odendaal will have the rare opportunity to challenge for three consecutive STIHL Karkloof Enduro titles at this weekend's 2016 Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival at Karkloof Country Club. Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media
The cherry on the top came for the 22 year-old in Lesotho though when he raced to victory at the African Continental Championships at AfriSki Resort against another strong field.
“I used to just ride Enduro as really good training for my Downhill racing but things are going quite well for me in Enduro at the moment and it is such a cool sport that I am considering taking it up full time on top of Downhill,” said Odendaal.

“I haven’t thought too much about the possibly of pushing for my third Karkloof Enduro title in a row ahead of Saturday’s race but last year there was a bit of a timing issue that meant I shared the title and so this year I definitely want to try push and see if I can get a big gap just to be safe,” he added.

While having competed in the Karkloof regularly throughout his career, Odendaal is not a regular visitor to the region, and the change in location of the event’s course has also added a new element of the unknown to Saturday’s mix.

“Surprisingly I don’t actually get to ride in the Karkloof all that often,” the defending champ ironically explained while enjoying a 30km outing through the area.

“From what I can see, Hylton (Turvey) has done a really great job with the track once again though!

“With the drought, it is super dry though and I’m sure it will be pretty loose come Saturday.”

Despite starting as pre-race favourite, Odendaal will have his hands full as many of the province’s regular top performers set to tackle the challenge as well.

ccs-62657-0-47806000-1464873909.jpgDouble defending champ, Kim Westbrook will be pushed by a strong women's field for this year's STIHL Karkloof Enduro spoils at this weekend's 2016 Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival at Karkloof Country Club. Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media
All of Hilton Frost (PYGA Industries), Craig Paul, David Hogan, Andre Pretorius, Jedson Tooms (ROAG Racing), Heiko Redecker, Shane Martin and Sharjah Jonsson have confirmed their participation already while the likes of Tim Bentley and Travis Browning – amongst others – are not unknown to submit an eleventh hour entry.
“There is a strong field at most Enduro events in KZN, especially Karkloof, so I’m sure all the usual suspects will be there again this year,” said Odendaal. “I’m pretty happy with how I’m feeling though so hopefully I can get the win on Saturday.”

On the women’s front, Kim Westbrook – also double STIHL Karkloof Enduro defending champion – has been the province’s form Enduro competitor however as the sport’s popularity continues to grow amongst the province’s female riders, the brave bubbly blonde flyer is starting to be challenged for top honours regularly.

While Sappi Howick Enduro winner, Charné Dreyer will miss the contest due to illness, young Sabine Thies (Greg Minnaar Cycles) – who won the recent Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival – and regular podium contender Kathryn Fourie are confirmed for Saturday’s tussle while Tamryn Taylor, Michele Reynolds, Tamika Haw and Nadine Nunes add further depth to the bout.

The 2016 Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival takes place at Karkloof Country Club on Saturday, 4 and Sunday, 5 June. The event offers 21km, 10km and 5km trail running races, 60km, 40km, 20km and 10km mountain bikes events as well as an Enduro. Entries can be submitted via www.roag.co.za while more information can be found at www.karkloofmtb.co.za.