As a result of the regular harvesting of the plantations, the five-stage enduro course has been moved to the plantations between the Curry's Post Road and the N3 freeway, giving the event a total facelift for 2017.

ccs-62657-0-66162600-1487686436.jpgThe revamped Enduro course for the Sappi Howick MTB Classic weekend has attracted the interest of many of the top Enduro and downhill pacesetters like Tiaan Odendaal. Gavin Ryan/ QuickPix
The tracks that have been identified in fact return to trails that have been hidden under years of tree-fall debris, revitalising a historic section of the forest that was popular amongst MTB enthusiasts in years gone by.

The established trails have been supplemented by newly cut sections and interesting features, such as the blue shale quarry at the bottom of the trail network which has been pulled into use for added fun.

"All-in-all, the plantation closures have encouraged innovation and creativity, which the riders get to experience first-hand at the Enduro on the 4th of March," said course designer Gavin Ryan.

The Sappi Howick MTB Classic is the oldest race on the KZN MTB Calendar, and stays true to its motto of "raw and unplugged mountain biking".

The Enduro event was added to the popular Sappi sponsored MTB Classic for the first time last year, creating a festival of mountain biking in the KZN midlands, and launching a vibrant new platform where traditional mountain bikers can test their skills against specialist Enduro riders.

The Enduro race format is unique in that riders are untimed on the ‘liaison stages’ which are usually stiff climbs to a high point, after which they clock in using timing chips to race one of several timed sections to the bottom of a mapped out course.

Enduro racing has gained popularity across the country, with 135 entries at the first round of the KZN MTB Enduro Series held at St Ives on the 12th of February. The event saw 19 female entries from Sprog through to Masters, and it is hoped this trend will continue throughout the year.

ccs-62657-0-14850400-1487686436.jpg"It’s riders with an even mixture of skill, fitness, vasbyt and love of speed that will excel on these kinds of trails," said Enduro enthusiast Kathryn Fourie of the route planned for the 2017 Sappi Howick MTB Classic Enduro. Gavin Ryan/ QuickPix
The revamped courses for the Enduro and the Sunday's three marathon events spanning rides of 40km, 20km and 10km are part of a natural migration around the extensive plantations in the region, as the forestry production needs change year-on-year.

Coupled with the thorough communication from the Howick MTB Club advising riders of the trails that are affected by the forestry harvesting in progress, the continual retooling of the trails for the weekend serves to keep the oldest MTB event in the province fresh.

The raw approach to the trails has struck a chord with MTB enthusiasts who come back to this event every year, to test their skills and soak up the unique atmosphere of the area.

"Howick locals expect riders to know how to pedal – not just bomb down hills," said Enduro enthusiast Kathryn Fourie, runner up in the women's Enduro race last year to Charné Dreyer.

"It’s this facet that allows even competition between XC and big travel bikes, where XC riders make up for lack of travel on the short, punchy uphills that occasionally catch the baggy brigade by surprise.

"It’s riders with an even mixture of skill, fitness, vasbyt and love of speed that will excel on these kinds of trails," she added.

While entries have started to flood in for the Enduro, which attracted over 100 riders last year despite a clash with the regional XCO Calendar, the Howick Enduro should attract most of the discipline's pace setters, including the likes of Craig Paul, Tiaan Odendaal, local Keira Duncan, Shane Martin.

In the women's event Sabine Thies, who missed the Enduro last year could square up to Fourie and Dreyer as well as the class of riders like Amy Jane Mundy.

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