The 2023 South African Enduro Championships, presented by Greg Minnaar Cycles takes place at Town Bush Trails, in Pietermaritzburg this weekend and all the big guns will be there, including all three men that have won the title in the relatively young discipline, Johann Potgieter (2022, 2021), Matt Lombardi (2019) and Keira Duncan (2018).

By Sean Badenhorst

Formerly known as Cascades, the venue is no stranger to high-profile gravity racing, having hosted three UCI World Cups and the 2013 UCI World Championships, famously won by home-town hero, Greg Minnaar. This will be the first high-profile Enduro event at the venue and the five challenging stages on a 25km course with 1300 metres of climbing look certain to deliver a world-class test for the racers.

Johann Potgieter in action at the 2023 UCI Downhill World Champs in Scotland.

This is what the stages look like:

Stage 1

Trails: Left Left

Distance: 1.23km

Descent: 196m

Average Gradient: -15.8%

Features: Steep, tight switchbacks and ruts.

Stage 2

Trails: DH Start Hut | Eye Boggler | Flow | Baby Cloud 9 | Pebble Beach

Distance: 1.60km

Descent: 256m

Average Gradient: -17.3%

Features: Rock gardens, Roots, Ruts, Jumps, Rock-rolls and Steep.

Stage 3

Trails: Turbo Cabbage | Boulder Dam | Pipeline | Floros Gives You Wings

Distance: 1.93km

Descent: 311m

Average Gradient: -16.1%

Features: Steep, Drop-offs, Tight Switchbacks and Rock-rolls

Stage 4

Trails: Zoom Zoom | Mazda Mayhem Berms | Gums | Graveyard

Distance: 2.01km

Descent: 212m

Average Gradient: -10.5%

Features: Berms, Roots and Jumps.

Stage 5

Trails: JD | Treehouse | Corkscrew

Distance: 1.26km

Descent: 137m

Average Gradient: -11.2%

Features: Roots, Ruts, Rock Garden and Berms.

In addition to the Enduro, there is also a Lite Enduro, which will use Stages 1, 4 and 5.

Matt Lombardi in action at Trans Madeira 2023. | Photo: Trans Madeira

Rain has fallen recently and is predicted to fall again before race day, which will undoubtedly affect the racing conditions as the soil has a high clay content and becomes very slippery. But it is an outdoor sport and the riders – and the organisers – are prepared for any conditions.

Western Cape’s Potgieter will be aiming for a hat-trick of wins after claiming a relatively expected win on the steep Iron Throne, Hartebeespoort course in 2021 and a slightly surprising win at the more pedally Trailworx, Nelspruit course last year. What he has shown is that he’s an incredibly efficient Enduro racer, able to beat his competitors on any course and will go into this week’s event, on a steep, feature-heavy course as the favourite for the Elite men’s title.

Last year’s bronze medallist, Willie van Eck, is back from a long injury layoff.

“I just finished hosting one of my youth skills camps, so I need to recover from that with some rest. But I’ll be ready for sure when the race starts on Sunday,” said Potgieter on Tuesday.

“I will need to have a good look at the stages and then work on a strategy. Getting to know the stages will be the most important thing for me this week. If it’s wet, it will definitely affect racing as it gets very slippery there. But I’ll rely on my experience and try make as few mistakes a possible,” he added.

North West’s Wade Prinsloo is one of the Elite men’s title contenders. | Photo: Dominic Barndardt

Potgieter’s main rivals are sure to be fellow Western Cape racer, Matt Lombardi and local KwaZulu-Natal ace, Keira Duncan. Lombardi hasn’t raced local Enduro at a national level for a while, but won the Trans Madeira Enduro three weeks ago against a strong field. He also competed in some European races during the South African winter, including the final round of the UCI Enduro World Cup where he placed 21st in the Amateur division.

“I’m feeling pretty good at the moment. I’m just going to see how things go and hope for the best,” said Lombardi, who is no stranger to the venue.

Western Cape’s Michard Meets on his way to winning the Enduro SA Cup #3 at Jonkershoek | Photo: Chris Taylor

“I have raced XCO and DH at Cascades and a provincial Enduro once. So, I’m not unfamiliar with the venue. The provincial Enduro I did there was disgustingly muddy and I believe there’s a chance of similar conditions this weekend, so it could make things interesting,” he added.

Duncan (pictured in the article intro image) has finished runner-up for the past two years to Potgieter and he’ll be hoping that local knowledge as well as good current form will help him move one step up the SA Champs podium this weekend. He spent a few weeks racing in Europe recently where he achieved several podium places, including third at the Enduro World Cup in France in the Amateur division.

Frankie du Toit on her way to winning the Enduro SA Cup at Jonkershoek. | Photo: Chris Taylor

“I’m feeling pretty good. I enjoy racing at Cascades (Town Bush Trails). There are some great stages that have been set for this weekend. I’m going to give it my best shot and am hoping for a smooth day of racing,” said Duncan this week.

“If it’s wet, the racing times will be more spread out. This venue gets pretty slick in the wet, which could be good fun. I’m also not sure what changes the organisers will make if it’s really wet, but that could also have an impact on the final results,” he added.

Although still in the Youth category, Arielle Behr is an overall title contender. | Photo: Dominic Barndardt

Others that have entered and will ensure this is probably the strongest men’s field ever assembled for an Enduro in South Africa are Mpumalanga’s Willie van Eck, the 2022 bronze medallist, North West’s Wade Prinsloo, Western Cape’s Jason Boulle and Michard Meets, winner of the Enduro SA Cup round at Jonkershoek last month and KwaZulu-Natal’s Luke Dinkel. South African Downhill specialist, Connor Finnis, has also entered and will certainly be a contender for the overall podium too.

Add to that a few snappy age-category racers, including KwaZulu-Natal’s Alex de Bruin (Junior Men), Western Cape’s Luca Zietsman (Youth Men), Gauteng’s Danny Fowler (Veteran Men) and you have a blend of talent that’s going to deliver high-quality racing.

Danika Botha will be one of the favourites to win both the Junior and overall Women’s titles. | Photo: Chris Taylor

Neither of last year’s top two finishers, Western Cape’s Zandri Strydom (winner) nor Limpopo’s Lilian Baber (runner-up) will be contesting this year’s national champs, which sees Western Cape’s Frankie du Toit move into the pre-race favourite position.

Du Toit is the current Downhill SA Champion and her strong win and 12th place overall at the Enduro SA Cup at Jonkershoek last month indicates she’s in very good form.

Amber Cole, in action at the Enduro SA Cup #1 at Thaba Trails, will be a title contender in the Junior women’s category. | Photo: Dominic Barndardt

“I’m feeling quite confident. My training has been consistent and although it was mostly on a XC bike, I have raced at Cascades (Town Bush Trails) a lot. I grew up in that area and am looking forward to racing Enduro there this week,” said the 2018 and 2021 SA Enduro Champion.

“If it’s wet, it won’t affect my approach too much. I’ll tweak my bike set-up a bit, but that’s about it,” she added.

Gauteng’s Julia Kotze will be gunning for the overall women’s title. | Photo: Dominic Barndardt

Du Toit’s main rivals for the overall win are likely to be KwaZulu-Natal’s gravity ace, Beani Thies, Gauteng’s Julia Kotze, Juniors, Danika Botha (Gauteng), Amber Cole (KwaZulu-Natal) and Tashane Ehlers (Limpopo) and Youth star, Arielle Behr (Gauteng).

Entries are still open until midnight, Thursday 12 October via the Cycling South Africa portal here,  or the CSA App. The timing system to be used is the KZN Gravity tag system run by Elite Timing.