The well-established STIHL Karkloof Enduro at midday on Saturday and the full line-up of mountain bike events on Sunday – headlined by the 60km Sappi Karkloof Marathon – has been complimented by the organisers’ introduction of three trail running events – 21km, 10km and 5km early on Saturday morning, broadening the appeal to more outdoor adventurers. Kargo Pro Cycling Team's Alan Hatherly and fellow cross country aces Brendon Davids (Trek) and Julian Jessop (Concept Cyclery Ballito powered by Burry Stander) will look to lead the charge for 60km Sappi Karkloof Marathon glory at this weekend's 2016 Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival at Karkloof Country Club. Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media Sunday’s 60km showdown is expected to be a battle of youthful enthusiasm as the highly skilled cross country trio of Brendon Davids, Alan Hatherly and Julian Jessop – all 23 years or younger – square off for a place on this year’s title and a place on the coveted podium. 2013 race winner Davids (Trek) and Kargo Pro Cycling Team’s Alan Hatherly – the man who led for much of the first two thirds of last year’s race – are both eager to overcome recent XCO disappointments while Jessop looks to the race as a chance to transition into his marathon-heavy second half of the year. Brandon Stewart and Matthew Wilkinson are also expected to play a role in this year’s clash while Kargo’s Andrew Warr, Leeroy Emslie (Leigh’s Cycle Centre), Jedson Tooms and Warren Price will also be hoping for a top ten finish with former Sharks centre, Jeremy Thomson also taking on the challenge. The women’s race was set to welcome South African Marathon champion Robyn de Groot to the region for the first however a crash two weeks ago saw the Team Ascendis Health rider dislocate her shoulder and, in so doing, tore her AC ligament and fracture the head of her humerus. “I really enjoy riding in KZN and have had great experiences on the trails in and around Pietermaritzburg previously but have never actually been to Karkloof before and so I was really looking forward to finally getting there this year!” explained a disappointed yet graceful De Groot. “I have heard a lot about the Karkloof Classic and it has been on my calendar for the past two years but just hasn’t worked out so I was looking forward to giving it a go. “It was going to form part of my build up to this year’s Marathon World Champs but unfortunately my injury has meant I’ve had to scrap all of that as my arm is in a sling and I’m still in a bit of pain. “I enjoy giving new races a go, otherwise things can become a bit stale, so hopefully next year I’ll be able to come up and take part!” she added. Merchants' Jeanie Dreyer will have one eye on a third 60km Sappi Karkloof Marathon title when she squares off against Kargo Pro Cycling Team's Frankie du Toit and Hayley Smith at this weekend's 2016 Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival at Karkloof Country Club. Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media De Groot’s absence has opened the door for defending champ Jeannie Dreyer to challenge for a third title at the event however the Merchants rider will receive strong competition from Kargo’s in-form young duo, Frankie du Toit and Hayley Smith. The 40km aQuellé Half Marathon, which has received a complete route makeover ahead of this year’s race, also takes place on Sunday while the family-focused 20km aQuellé Family Ride and 10km aQuellé 10km Kids Ride will ensure riders of all ages and abilities can enjoy a morning in the saddle. Prior to Sunday’s action though, KwaZulu-Natal’s rapidly growing Enduro community will enjoy their time on the region’s renowned trails as they throw caution to the wind and take on the four short, sharp time sections of the adrenalin pumping event.
Tiaan Odendaal and Kim Westbrook. Anthony Grote/ Gameplan MediaDefending champ Tiaan Odendaal has won the past two editions of the clash and is back again in 2016, eager to make it three in a row. He will however have to overcome the stiff challenge of the likes of Hilton Frost (PYGA Industries), Craig Paul, David Hogan, Andre Pretorius, Jedson Tooms (ROAG Racing), Heiko Redecker, Shane Martin and Sharjah Jonsson and possibly Tim Bentley and Travis Browning as well. The ladies race is set to be one of the most richly talented Enduro events to take place in the province in recent times as Kim Westbrook – also a two-time defending champ – looks to hold off the flying Sabine Thies and Kathryn Fourie as well as the challenge of Tamryn Taylor, Michele Reynolds, Tamika Haw and Nadine Nunes. A strong Merchants Change a Life Running Team presence in both the 21km and 10km trail running events will see the Valley of a Thousand Hills outfit eyeing out a strong podium presence in both races while the balance of the 350-plus trail running field hope to soak up the wealth of spectacular sights and sounds of the region when they enjoy the 5km event. Owen Bengo, together with the rest of the 350-plus field, will take on the all-new 21km, 10km and 5km trail run events at this weekend's 2016 Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival at Karkloof Country Club. Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media The popular two day event also offers participants and spectators alike the opportunity to soak up the race village’s plethora of food and drink facilities and bike wash and retail outlets as well as enjoy the recently revamped clubhouse’s diverse facilities. The 2016 Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival takes place at Karkloof Country Club on Saturday, 4 and Sunday, 5 June. Saturday's 21km, 10km and 5km trail running races start at 07h00, 07h30 and 08h00 respectively while the STIHL Karkloof Enduro gets underway at 12h00. Sunday's programme includes 60km, 40km, 20km and 10km mountain bikes events with racing starting at 07h30. More information can be found at www.karkloofmtb.co.za.