Howick – Former race winner Candice Neethling is poised to claim another title at the Sappi Karkloof MTB Festival this weekend, following the news that fellow Cape racer Ischen Stopforth, one of South Africa’s most experienced female mountain bikers on the circuit, has had her title hopes dashed at the eleventh hour by an energy-sapping stomach bug.
Neethling, who clinched the women’s title handsomely in 2012, was disappointed to hear about Stopforth’s withdrawal however was looking forward to returning to the Sappi plantations she spent many hours training in as a youngster.
“I went to school in the area so I did a lot of riding through the Karkloof forests when I was younger,” explained Neethling. “I’ve spent the past week or two here in Maritzburg and so have ridden the Karkloof trails quite a bit and I just love riding through those forests!”
“I would love to win at Karkloof again!” added Time Freight VELOlife’s MTB ace. “Unfortunately I missed last year’s race because I was over in Europe but with the race changing dates this year it fits into my schedule quite nicely and I’m really looking forward to trying to get another win this weekend!”
With many of KwaZulu-Natal’s top, experienced performers such as Natalie Bergstrom (Coffeeberry VELOlife), Nedene Cahill (Pure Adventure Wear/VELOlife) and Isabel Moolman (Mr Price Sport), it is Neethling’s fellow Time Freight VELOlife team mates who the former winner believes will offer the greatest challenge.
“Now that Bianca Haw is studying down at Stellies I’m not sure if she’ll be there this weekend but if she is then I’m sure she’ll be really strong,” said Neethling.
“With Karkloof being 60 kilometers, the juniors ride with us which is a real bummer as I’m sure they’ll also be right on our tail,” she chuckled. “I watched Frankie (du Toit) this past weekend in Clarens and she looked very impressive!”
Despite still having her eye firmly on cross country racing, Neethling feels the short, sharp nature of this marathon’s course in fact suits her and will serve her well ahead of her departure for Europe at the end of May.
“With the World cups in Europe just around the corner, I’ve still been working on my cross country skills since the World Cup in Maritzburg and, with the Karkloof course only being 60 kilometers and really fast, i think my cross country background will help.
“It’s a course that suits me because there is a lot of single track and I know the area really well so I’m really looking forward to the race this weekend.”
Despite the Karkloof region’s worldwide reputation, Stopforth hasn’t ever visited the area before and was looking forward to making her first appearance at South Africa’s largest MTB festival this year.
“I was really looking forward to taking part in the Karkloof Marathon this weekend but unfortunately I’m struggling with gastro at the moment and unfortunately won’t be able to make the trip up anymore,” explained the Sasol Racing competitor.
“I’ve heard it’s such a beautiful area and racing in Hilton in the closest I’ve ever gotten to Karkloof so I’m really sorry I won’t be able to do it now!” she added.
The Sappi Karkloof Marathon – the feature race of the three day festival which takes place at Karkloof Country Club from Friday 9 to Sunday 11 May – had also formed part of Stopforth’s preparations for either the UCI MTB Marathon World Championships or the inaugural Rainbow Challenge, both which take place at Pietermaritzburg’s Cascades MTB Park and surrounds such as the Karkloof region at the end of June, depending on which event she qualified for.
“Being 42 years old I’m not sure whether I could compete with the younger ladies in the elite race, plus I’m not sure if I’d have enough UCI points to race in that event.
“Had I not qualified for the elite event I was really looking forward to giving it a go in my age group at the Rainbow Challenge though!
“Either way, Karkloof this weekend would have been a really good opportunity to get bit of a feel for the area and all the trails I’ve heard so much about but have never been able to see for myself due to George being such a long way away,” said Stopforth.
Riders and spectators can follow news and developments via the event’s Facebook page (Karkloof Mountain Bike Club) or on Twitter (@KarkloofMTB). More info can also be found at www.karkloofmtb.co.za
Source: Gameplan Media