There will be a whopping R700 000 of prize money at stake for the eight events, which works out at R85 000 per event. This means that the MTN National MTB Series is now one of the richest endurance events on the South African calendar.

As has become the norm, the organizers will again do their utmost to ensure that riders will get the ultimate mountain biking experience, no matter what distance they choose to ride.

The new u.23 age category for the MTN Marathon series is an example of the organizers’ progressive thinking.

They realized that it is a daunting challenge for young riders who are only 18 or 19 years old and who were used to racing a maximum of 45km, to suddenly have to race 70km against much older and stronger riders.

The new age category will be a good incentive to keep young riders motivated and help them bridge the gap from junior to senior level.

It will be interesting to see what Lourens Luus (RE:CM) will decide to do.

He has been dominating the MTN Marathon Series over the past two years.

It was expected that he would begin to compete in the MTN Ultra-marathon series at Barberton in January, but because it is his last year as an u.23-rider, he might just decide to try to become the first overall winner of the new category.

According to Luus, it is not for him to decide.

“I will have to speak to Malcolm Lange, our team-owner, about what to do.”

It is interesting to note that Darren Lill (Cannondale/Blend Properties) is the latest road cyclist who decided to seriously take up mountain biking.

Lill is a former South African road champion and is considered to be one of the best climbers on the local road-cycling scene.

Unfortunately, there are not really that many opportunities for him, as a specialist climber and tour rider, to excel in local road races.

“It becomes frustrating, because most of the races are too short and flat for me to have a chance of getting a good result.

“In mountain biking I will at least get the opportunity to race for four to five hours at a time. This means that, if I am properly prepared, there will be opportunities for me to do some serious damage.”

Lill rightfully points out that he is not a total novice when it comes to mountain biking.

“In 2011 I did the Joburg2C with Brandon Stewart. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and that was actually when I decided that I wanted to compete in more mountain-bike events.

But things did not quite work out as I had hoped.

“At the end of last year I decided that it was time for me to start doing my own thing. That is why I am switching to mountain biking.

Charles Keey will be my team-mate.

“It is not as if I will no longer be competing in road races at all. I will just be more selective about when and where I race.

“I would have loved to compete at the SA Road Championship, but unfortunately the dates clash with the Grape Escape.”

Lill might just cause a surprise at the MTN Barberton ultra-marathon (26 January), in 2012 he finished 5th.

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