But with racing scheduled over two days, the event will see more than just a focus on the professionals’ racing, with various distance races on offer to cater for all levels and ages of mountain biker.

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Erik Kleinhans from RECM in action at the Meerendal leg of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series.

The weather is a key factor at Sabie. Rain makes the already tough course an even greater challenge, but riders will be pleased to know that the hot, dry conditions of this week will extend into the weekend, with only a small chance of rain for Sunday’s events.

The professionals will be in action on Saturday. Swiss ace Urs Huber will not be there to defend the title that he won in appallingly wet and muddy conditions last year, but his stablemate, Germany’s Stefan Sahm, will be flying the Team Bulls colours in the Sabie mountains. Sahm, a three-time ABSA Cape Epic winner, comes into Sabie with top form, confirmed by his overall victory at last weekend’s DUTOIT Tankwa Trek.

Swiss racer Konny Looser (Wheeler Meerendal) is also on the start list. His fourth place at the Meerendal event shows he is on track for a strong Cape Epic and he’ll be eager to confirm that with a podium finish on Saturday.

Virtually every top South African will be on the start line at what is considered a key pre-ABSA Cape Epic preparation race. Three-time Sabie winner, Kevin Evans will be joined by another former champion, Max Knox in their team Biogen-Volcan colours. It will be their first domestic race of the year and they’ll be up against a crop of well-raced riders.

Team RECM’s Erik Kleinhans, runner-up at Round 1 of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series at Meerendal recently comes in with the form of his life and will be looking for his first win at Sabie. He will be backed up by Nelspruit-based teammate Nico Bell, who will be racing in his backyard and has a handy familiarity with the route and conditions.

Also sure to be in the podium battle on a course that covers 115km with over 3000 metres of vertical ascent, are Team Contego’s Lourens Luus and Adriaan Louw, EAI Cycling’s Gawie Combrinck and Johann Rabie and Red-E Blend’s Waylon Woolcock and Darren Lill. Woolcock and Lill won the final stage of last week’s Tankwa Trek and are strong climbers who will relish the long ascents at Sabie.

In the women’s event over 72km with 1850m of ascent, Switzerland’s Ariane Kleinhans (RECM) will be gunning for a fourth-consecutive Sabie Classic victory. She was runner-up at Meerendal and will be motivated by the pressure of defending her ABSA Cape Epic title with Danish teammate, Anika Langvad, next month.

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Robyn de Groot pictured from Ascends Health will go head to head with Ariane Kleinhans this weekend for the elite women title.

Her main rivals on Saturday are likely to be the Ascendis Health pair of Robyn de Groot and Jennie Stenerhag, winners of the women’s team competition at last week’s Tankwa Trek. Individually though, they’ve yet to get the better of Kleinhans this year and will hope they can change that on Saturday.

Three other riders expected to challenge for a podium finish are Yolandi du Toit (Garmin), rising star, Bianca Haw (Sasol Racing) and Britain’s Catherine Williamson (Asrin Cycling).

A total of 3000 mountain bikers are expected to compete over the two days.

“It is easy to just focus on the sharp end of the event with so many stars taking part, but the Sabie event is one of the biggest participation wise in the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series,” said Fritz Pienaar, a former Sabie winner and now Race Director for Advendurance, the company that organises the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series.

This is the first year that Ashburton Investments is on board as title sponsor and, according to Boshoff Grobler, CEO of Ashburton Investments, the reception has been overwhelming.

“We are really happy with the partnership so far. But it’s still very early on and we look forward to building to even greater heights with Advendurance and the National MTB Series,” said Grobler.

Event schedule:

Saturday 21 February

06h45: 115km Ultra PRO/Elite (UCI) and Amateur

06h50: 72km Marathon Elite women (UCI) and Amateur men and women

07h30: 72km Marathon Batch "A" + 5min

Sunday 22 February

07h30: 45km Half Marathon XCM Men “A”

07h35 45km Half Marathon XCM Women “A” + 5min

08h20: 17km Fun Race – Batch "A"

09h10: 10km Fun Ride - 09:10am "All"