South African mountain bike racing great, Philip Buys, sees a three-way fight developing for the SA MTB Marathon Championship title on Sunday at the same venue where he won the national title in 2022. The SA Marathon Championships are being held on Sunday in conjunction with the two-day Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival at Absa Karkloof Country Club, and the 2022 champion sees three riders as the main protaganists in the fight for the 2024 men’s title.

Buys’ favourite to claim the title – both from his head and his heart – is his PYGA Euro Steel teammate and KZN local Michael Foster (pictured above), who cruised to a huge win at the 2023 edition of the event, although there will be a much stronger field in the national championships this time out. Buys is recovering from a knee injury and has opted not to ride, but sees his teammate as the man to beat.

“I wish I could be there again, but I have got a knee injury that is not coming right, so I am not going to race. It is starting to get better but I’m obviously not in shape for it yet,” said the multiple SA Champion. “But I think the quickest guy will be Michael Foster

“I think to me currently, if you look at how the guys are riding, the favourites are Tristan Nortje, Marco Joubert or Michael, and I think Michael will win it. I would like Michael obviously as a teammate, but I think he is a genuine contender. He won SA Cross Country Champs a few weeks ago and Marco was there, and I think if Michael knows the course then he is dangerous. He’s got the power and from what I know, he has been looking at the course so he will be able to keep up in the trails.”

Buys also feels the top riders in the recent SA Gravel Championships could be in the mix, but expects them to struggle in the the technical sections.

“The gravel guys could be in contention. Marc (Pritzen) did well there last time in 2022, but it’s not a gravel race. The sections between the trails and single track lean towards gravel, but obviously there is a lot of climbing and then lots of technical downhill in there. I definitely can’t exclude the guys who did well at the SA Gravel Champs, but I do think this is more of a pure mountain bike course.”

The women’s event also has a strong field with a bunch of riders in contention.

KZN hopes will be pinned on rising star Tyler Jacobs, who is showing all the signs of becoming one of the sport’s future stars, but she will face some stiff competition from a host of experienced rivals.

Sarah Hill, pictured on her way to winning the 2023 Sappi Karkloof Classic, will be among the favourites on Sunday to secure the South African marathon title.

Danielle Strydom won the SA Gravel Championships recently, while Sarah Hill and Sam Sanders have the pedigree to claim the title. Frances Janse van Rensburg and Hayley Smith are two other KZN locals who could be part of a leading group and cannot be discounted.

Buys believes the Karkloof venue is ideal to host a national championships.

“I think for me it’s a super scenic part of the country, so you know even if you’re not racing it’s really a nice area to be in,” he said. “Wherever we race a SA Champs it is going to be hard. I have not really studied the details for this year, but from what I have heard it is similar to what we did in 2022 … and anything in Karkloof is a worthy course for SA Champs. I think anything they put together in Karkloof is going to have a good balance.”

The weekend is however not just about the elite mountain bikers. The main attraction this year at the Sappi Karkloof Trail Festival is the 85km elite races on Sunday, however, all age-group national titles from youth and junior up to grandamasters will be awarded in distances varying from 40km, to 60km up to the 85km long event. The 20km MTB race caters for the younger sprog, nipper and sub-juniors but they are not championship categories, while there is also a 10km fun ride and 9km fun trail run on Sunday. On Saturday the 21km and 9km trail run will provide racing conditions for runners of all ability.

Source: Gameplan Media