Despite having competed in the event many times before the local member of Shaun Peschl’s recently formed Kargo Pro MTB team will however be tackling the event for the first time in three years after a two year sabbatical in Europe.

Kargo Pro MTB team member and international under 23 sensation Rourke Croeser is eager to put in a strong title challenge at Sunday's 60km Sappi Karkloof Classic, the feature race of this weekend's Sappi Karkloof Classic MTB Festival.

Photo: Zoon Cronje/ Gameplan Media

“I’ve missed the last two Karkloof Classics but I’ve done it several times in the past so it will be great to be back again this year and it’s always awesome to be able to support races that are so close to home and of the quality of the Karkloof Classic,” said Croeser.

“Outside of the MTN National Series events the Karkloof Classic is one of the biggest races on the calendar in South Africa. It is probably the best course in South Africa and a phenomenal amount of work goes into getting ready for the festival.

“There is also just such a great family atmosphere throughout the festival and it’s definitely one of my local favourites!”

After his solid performance at the recent ABSA Cape Epic where he and partner Shan Wilson narrowly finished outside the top 20 overall, Croeser was forced to take a short term layoff due to a minor knee injury.

He is however now back in training and is determined to put the various lessons he learnt throughout the remarkable adventure to good use.

“The Epic really was awesome! From my side it was more about gaining some experience than worrying too much about the result, but we managed to finish nineteenth [in their category] and it really was a great few days.

“Unfortunately I just picked up a bit of patella tendonitis from the Epic though, which meant I was off the bike for ten days or so. Luckily it wasn’t anything too serious though and I’ve been moving forward nicely and riding again for the last little while so I will definitely be good to go for this weekend.

Not only is the event is renowned for offering a great course set to thrill and excite competitors throughout their 60km journey, but will almost certainly serve up a highly competitive start list as well, something Croeser is looking forward to immensely.

“I think my best result has been a fourth in 2009 and I’ve also won the Sprint Shootout event at Karkloof as well so I have definitely put in a couple good performances there and would love to do well again this year.

“Ideally I’d love to win it this year. It’s always nice to do well at home. It’s difficult to know just how things will go after a bit of a break but I actually think the rest has done me good and I’m really hungry to do well this weekend.

“The field is always great at the Karkloof Classic and a couple of guys from Gauteng and the likes usually come down for the race so it certainly won’t be easy.

“A guy like Brandon Stewart, if he makes it down from the Mzansi Tour, is always a good competitor and Andrew Hill is riding extremely well at the moment, so I’ll certainly have to work hard to even just have a chance.”

A solid performance at the KZN event and using the opportunity as an invaluable confidence booster ahead of an important phase in his year will be something Croeser will also be desperately hoping to achieve at Sunday’s encounter.

“My year’s primary focus is obviously the World Champs in Pietermaritzburg in August. But, in the build up to that, I’ve still got the World Cups so doing well at big local events such as the Karkloof Classic are still hugely important for me as I prepare for those,” said Croeser.

“With this event being just five weeks before the first World Cup I eyed this race as one of my key trial runs right at the start of the year already as it will be ideal preparation.

“Hopefully now I can just go out there and have a good day on the bike.

The Sappi Karkloof Classic MTB Festival takes place from 19-21 April at Karkloof Country Club. Riders and spectators alike can stay up to speed with all the news and developments via the event’s Facebook page (Karkloof Mountain Bike Club) or on Twitter (@KarkloofMTB). More info can also be found at www.karkloofmtb.co.za