The route for the 40km tussle suggests it will be a technical and challenging day in the saddle, giving those with strong rock riding skills and legs that won’t give up an added advantage.
Joining their Kargo Pro Cycling male teammates, Hayley Smith and Frankie Du Toit have confirmed their participation with the pair likely to be strong forces to be reckoned with.
Both Du Toit and Smith have graced podium steps regularly the province over and with the former having already impressed in her first year competing as an Elite.
“I'm excited to race at the Sappi Howick MTB Classic this weekend as the route is always fun and technical!” explained Du Toit.
“I'm in quite a heavy week of training and am racing the KZN provincial this Saturday, so the Sappi Howick MTB Classic will be a challenging way to end this week off but I'm super excited to do my first Classic of the year!” she added.
Du Toit and Smith have just returned from a challenging weekend at the second leg of the STIHL SA XCO Cup Series in Cape Town where they placed fourth and fifth respectively in the Pro-Elite Women’s category.
“Unfortunately Frankie had a crash right in the beginning of her race, which left her fighting for fourth place,” explained Du Toit’s Kargo Pro Cycling team manager, Shaun Peschl. “It’s all learning in the first year of racing as an Elite though!”
While it is unconfirmed if 2015 women’s winner Cindy Theunissen will be competing this weekend or not, a number of other strong local riders will be tackling the 40km and 20km races.
“The Howick trail network creates strong riders of all ages and genders because of the type of terrain that comprise the trails and because of the community of riders that support each other,” explained Howick Mountain Bike Club rider Jackie Shaw.
“The ladies are pushed to keep up with the men which means that our local female riders are not shy of rock gardens or fast descents”!”
Sarah Drew, a strong Sub-Vet rider who has recently started competing again in 2016, enthused that, “The Sappi Howick MTB Classic is such a good race; it’s a solid 40km where you need to concentrate on the technical aspects and then pin it in the open areas.”
“I’m looking forward to the race on Sunday, particularly as it’ll be the first race on my new bike!” she added.
While the Sappi Howick MTB Classic is known for its technical aspects, the 20km offers a brilliant platform for women – and men – wanting to try out their first mountain bike race or to build up their base of 20km rides.
Megan Els, 2014 Motorbike Cross Country Championship winner, explains that for her the Howick trails offer something unique.
“Mountain biking in general is so different to the motorbike industry,” said Els. “It’s far more social and the vibe is what’s so important!”
“You can ride with your friends at a different pace and you progress after every ride.
“The 20km race offers me beautifully prepared trails thanks to all the effort goes into preparing the trails for the race, and that alone makes the event worth riding, as well as the social element!”
While the 40km looks to be competitive with the young guns likely to lead the pack, those out to enjoy perfectly prepped trails are in for a treat with the weather looking favourable for the weekend ahead.
Participants are also reminded of title sponsor Sappi’s social media competition during the event.
While the racing snakes battle it out at the front of the field, less serious riders are encouraged to snap a photo of themselves when they pass the Sappi photo frame en route.
Built at the Shafton Fire Tower, the frame is a fun way to take a break from pedalling and create a few digital memories and, by posting the images on the HMBC Facebook page using #HMBC and #InspiredByLife, riders then stand a chance to win one of several prizes including an Apple iPod.
The Sappi Howick MTB Classic & Enduro takes place on Saturday, 5 and Sunday, 6 March 2016. More information can be found at www.howickmountainbiking.co.za or www.facebook.com/howickmtb while entries can be submitted at www.roag.co.za.