Eston – Some chilly yet clear conditions are expected in Eston this weekend for the much anticipated 2015 Illovo Eston MTB Challenge and a last-minute entry from Brendon Davids has thrown the men’s race wide open as he looks to claim his maiden title at the event when he heads off on the 60km Illovo Marathon on Sunday, 2 August.
The recent South African Cross Country Championships in Stellenbosch were a disappointment for the Kargo Pro MTB star who suffered a back injury which meant that he was unable to keep up with the front runners in the second half of the clash. His setback may have curtailed his XCO season however it has opened other doors for the remainder of the year as he now shifts his focus to more local marathons and stage races going forward with the Illovo Eston MTB Challenge being the first.
Davids admits that a shifting of the goal posts for the rest of the upcoming months has allowed the Under-23 ace a rare chance to challenge for top honours in the Quattro ROAG Series, an opportunity he hasn’t enjoyed previously due to his international XCO commitments. With current series leader Andrew Hill (TIB Insurance) not set to take part in this weekend’s clash, Davids will be eager to make up some ground on the triple defending champion.
It will not be plain sailing for Davids though as he faces some stiff competition from Team Thule’s Tyronne White, amongst others, who is well on his way to fully recovering from an injury that has side lined him for the past few weeks.
It has been a slow build up for 31 year-old White who has changed his focus to a string of stage races that are coming up in the latter part of the year and he is hopeful of a strong performance at Eston to kick start his preparation for these.
White is another who has made it clear that he is targeting as many Quattro ROAG Series events as he can with an outside eye on the overall title.
ROAG Racing competitor Jedson Tooms currently occupies in second place on the Quattro ROAG Series standing with White hot on his heels in third and Davids in eleventh ahead of this weekend’s action.
Travis Walker is another to have thrown his name into the mix and with the Pietermaritzburg resident having finished fifth at the 2014 Eston MTB Challenge and third at the resent SA XCO Championships, he is showing some encouraging form coming into this weekend’s event that he is familiar with.
The Full Dynamix/USN rider outshone his more fancied team mate Rourke Croeser at the national showdown and with 60km of tough terrain to tackle this weekend, he is not a man his fellow elite competitors will want to write off.
The women’s race is set to be a contest between two recently crowned national cross country champions in 15 year-old Tiffany Keep (Pure Adventure Wear) and 20 year-old Hayley Smith (Specialised SA/Bell Equipment). The two were impressive in their respective national title age-group victories earlier in the month and will hope to continue that form at Eston.
With Natalie Bergstrom (Jowetts Cycles), current women’s ROAG Series leader, unable to take part in this weekend’s festivities at Eston due to her recent knee reconstructive surgery and second place holder Jeannie Dreyer (USN/Hi-Tec) currently tackling the Rocky Mountains in Colorado with her husband Martin, the event carries added importance in the race for the series’ women’s spoils.
Keep is currently in ninth position on the ROAG Series standings and a win at Eston could see her leap-frog a number of her rivals into fourth place with just three races in the series still to go.
It is going to be an action packed day of racing at the Eston Club with organisers providing distances for all levels of riders. While the event’s feature race, the 60km Illovo Marathon, attracts the racing snakes and avid mountain bikers, the more relaxed 40km aQuellé Half Marathon remains ever popular.
One of the major drawcards of the Illovo Eston MTB Challenge is the 18km STIHL Tala Family Ride that takes riders through the Tala Game Reserve and is once again expected to attract around 1200 riders on the day, eager to tackle the single track and dirt roads of the reserve.
The 10km Omnia Kids Ride wraps up the day’s programme and is set to see participants in close proximity to the Eston Club, giving parents the chance to keep an eye on their little ones and tomorrow’s stars get their share of the day’s action.
The 2015 Illovo Eston MTB Challenge takes place at Eston Club on Sunday 2 August. Pre-entries close on Wednesday 29 July and can be submitted via www.roag.co.za while more information can be found at www.illovoestonmtb.co.za.