At 2pm tomorrow (Saturday, 30 April) the bell rings for the start of the penultimate round of what has been a year-long brawl for Olympic selection. Appropriately, the fight takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg, a world-class venue famous for hosting the 2013 UCI MTB World Championships and a number of UCI World Cups. Although the Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival taking place this weekend is a Cycling South Africa sanctioned event, it is not part of the Stihl SA XCO Cup Series.
However, it is a UCI HC (Hors Categorie) event, carrying plenty of valuable UCI points. More importantly, it is one of the last chances South African mountain bikers get to impress our Olympic selectors. Essentially it's do-or-die for any Olympic hopefuls. The team will be chosen after Round 4 of the SA XCO Cup in Port Elizabeth on 14 May.
In the heavyweight category (UCI Pro Elite Men) James Reid is locked in a tight three-way tussle for (what will hopefully be) two spots to Rio. It's a long and complex algorithm that has James, veteran Phil Buys and youngster Alan Hatherly pitted against each other. All you need to know is it boils down to tomorrow's XCO event in Pietermaritzburg with one last-ditch chance in PE in mid-May.
With so much to race for the tension is already palpable and race day will feature no-holds-barred action of the highest quality over the punchy 5.4km route. The technical course will suit James's explosive riding style and although he now trains in Stellenbosch, he can claim a hometown advantage as he was raised on the loamy Pietermaritzburg trails.
James holds a strong position in the eyes of selectors, with his 2015 Elite South African XCO title and two wins from three rounds at the 2016 SA XCO Cup Series. Unfortunately, he relinquished his 2015 Elite African Continental Championship title to rival Phil Buys in Lesotho in early April, falling victim to a late crash and the negative effects of racing at altitude (the African Continental Championships was hosted at a staggering 3000m).
So, if you want a ringside seat for all the action tomorrow, head to www.streamit360.tv at 2pm.