Knox, overall winner of the prestigious series in 2013 and 2015, won the last three rounds of the 2016 series and sits in third on the total points standing.
The Sabie resident also won the Dullstroom round of the series last year, on a course that’s not particularly long, but which takes riders above 2000 metres above sea level to an altitude that’s uncomfortable for some.
Knox confirmed his good form when he outsprinted a strong field to win the Nissan TrailSeeker Series event over 63km last Saturday.
“That Nissan race was quite short and there weren’t any big climbs and nothing really technical. It didn’t suit me much at all so I was very happy to take the win. But the Dullstroom course suits me perfectly and is one of my favourite routes. I’m super keen to race there again this weekend and my goal is to try and defend the title I won there last year,” said Knox.
Knox missed the opening round of the series and has accumulated a total of 15605 points from the last four rounds. Ahead of him in the standings are Waylon Woolcock (USN Purefit) who is second on 15862 points with Nico Bell (Team NAD), the 2014 Series winner, leading on 17748. A win is worth 4000 points with subsequent positions allocated based on position, time behind the winner and number of riders in the race.
Woolcock will miss this Saturday’s race, but Bell will be on the start line, eager to maintain his lead in the Series and avenge the narrow defeat to Knox in the sprint last Saturday. Bell will have the support of his Team NAD teammate, Gawie Combrinck, the 2015 national champion. The pair live and train in nearby Nelpsruit and are sure to pose a formidable threat to Knox’s aspirations.
Lourens Luus, originally from nearby Sabie, now living in Stellenbosch, is also a strong contender for the title on Saturday. The Team PSG Wealth rider won the race in 2014 and is feeling confident after strong recent results.
“I like the course, I think it suits my strengths. But we’ll have to see about the altitude and how it affects me,” said Luus.
Another potential title contender is Gert Heyns. The SCOTT LCB Factory Racing rider will have all three of his teammates in the race, namely Arno du Toit, Matthys Beukes and Philip Buys.
“My training has been going very well and I like that the route has been made more technical, which obviously suits our whole team with our XCO racing foundation. The only unknown factor really is if the altitude will affect any of us adversely,” said Heyns.
Team Telkom’s HB Kruger and Johann Rabie will also be in the mix. It will be Kruger’s first appearance at Dullstroom.
“I’m a little unsure of the altitude, but I’m feeling in good form and I’m aiming for a podium place,” said Kruger.
Among the women, the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series battle is proving to be a close one. National champion and Series winner for the past two years, Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health), was forced to miss Rounds 4 and 5 due to a shoulder injury. This has opened the title-race up somewhat and African marathon champion, Amy Beth McDougall (Valencia) is the current leader with 12768 points.
De Groot, who won Rounds 2 and 3, is in second with 11484 points, while Samantha Sanders (Valencia), winner of Round 5, is a close third on 11366.
“I’m excited to race at Dullstroom this weekend. The course looks great! I am still a bit fatigued from racing the Ironbike stage race in Europe last month so I hope to be able to be as competitive as possible,” said McDougall.
For De Groot, just racing again is a small victory following almost three months out of competition. But the Ascendis Health rider has won the Dullstroom race for the past two years and must go into the event as the favourite, especially following her victory over Sanders as last weekends’ Nissan TrailSeeker race.
Another strong podium contender in Dullstroom will be Theresa Ralph (Galileo Risk).
“I’m looking forward to another good battle in what is quite a competitive women’s category currently. My form is quite good and I’m looking forward to what seems like a tough course at altitude. It’s also a great mountain biking weekend away and my family will be doing the shorter events on Sunday,” smiled Ralph.
The Ultra-marathon will be contested on a course that’s just 98km long, but which has a total ascent of 1824 metres, and which keeps the riders close to an average of 2000 metres above sea level, which adds to the difficulty factor. The marathon course is 70km long with an accumulated elevation of 1411 metres.
The Ultra-marathon and marathon races will be held on Saturday. On Sunday the Half-marathon (40km), Fun Race (24km) and Fun Ride (10km) will take place.
Entries are still open and can be done online at www.nationalmtbseries.com.
Round 6, Dunkeld Country Estate, Dullstroom:
Saturday 3 September and Sunday 4 September 2016:
Friday 2 September
16h00-19h00: Registration and late entries – Dullstroom Reservations, Main Road, Dullstroom
Saturday 3 September
06h00-09h00: Registration and late entries
06h45: Riders briefing, leader jerseys handover
07h00: Start Ultra-marathon Pro/Elite
07h10: Start Marathon Ladies A Batch
07h20: Start Ultra-marathon Amateur
07h30: Start Marathon A. Batches + 5 min intervals
13h00: Prize Giving
Sunday 4 September
06h00-09h00: Registration and late entries
07h15: Riders briefing, leader jerseys handover
07h30: Start Half-marathon A. Batches + 5 min intervals
08h20: Start Fun Race A. Batches + 5min intervals
08h30: Start Fun Ride all
12h00: Prize Giving
For more information, visit www.nationalmtbseries.com