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Image credit: Craig Bishop/Gameplan Media

The route starts and finishes at the Moses Mabhida stadium and follows much of the M4 freeway used by the 45 kilometre fun ride, but includes three detours off the tar for sections of single track and jeep track mountain biking through the surrounding sugar-cane plantations and forests.

The event struck a chord with mountain bikers on its introduction last year, many eager to be part of the hugely popular aQuellé Tour Durban event, which also offers a 105km road race and the more accessible 45km road race ride up the North Coast on the M4 to uMdloti and back.

The event challenged MTB enthusiasts to set up their bikes appropriately for the race, with significant sections on fast flat tar roads, but capable of handling the off-road sections comfortably. Last year's race proved to be popular with the big field of MTB enthusiasts who took part, with the three off-road loops providing entertaining and not overly daunting sections that were novice friendly.

With few cyclo-cross specific bikes in the country, MTB enthusiasts experimented with tyre choices and tyre pressure, locking out shocks and general bike set-up to optimise their ride. Tyres with significant flat, smooth centres, but with enough knobbly patterns on the side to handle the off-road cambers were popular for the 55km race.

Ian Wilson will once again oversee the course design through the surrounding Tongaat-Hulett farmlands and doesn't envisage any major changes to the popular course put in place last year. The river crossing detour used last year over the uMdloti river will be easier to manage, with the site now sporting a permanent bridge built by the engineers on site, allowing the riders access to a fast and easy option to cross the river.

Last year’s race was won by seasoned pro Rourke Croeser of the Kargo Pro MTB team from TIB Insurance star Andrew Hill, using his mainstream MTB skills and bike set-up to claim the top step on the podium. There has been much speculation about seeing the outcome of a showdown between classic MTB riders like Croeser and Hill and specialist cyclo-cross elite riders over the fast 55km course.

The event organisers are gearing up for a field substantially larger than the impressive entry that was attracted last year, and said the successful debut was sure to result in a snowballing effect on the entry from MTB enthusiasts.