After Covid-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of the 2020 South African Mountain Bike Marathon Championships, it’s all system go for the 2021 edition, to be held in Paarl, Western Cape on 1 May, where the country’s top racers will gather for a highly anticipated showdown at the Specialized Paarl MTB Challenge.

It’s been a while since the national marathon championships have been held in the Boland region of the Western Cape (Wellington in 2012) and there’s great anticipation for the event, which will not only offer national championships titles for the Elite men and women, but also the Youth, Junior, Sub-Veteran, Master and Grand Master divisions.

The Specialized Paarl MTB Challenge race route incorporates the trails that have been built into the large rock formations, making for some naturally technical sections. | Photo: Paarl Adventure Trails

The event offers a range of distances and is open to anyone to enter. Only CSA-licensed racers will be eligible to contest the national championship gold, silver and bronze medals though. The distances are 20km with 187m of ascent, 40km with 914m of ascent, 60km with 1380m of ascent and 87km with 2100m of ascent. eBikes may enter in either a 40km or 60km distance and will race in a separate start group.

“The Specialized Paarl MTB Challenge is not an event where the longer distances get all the good stuff and the shorter distances are just slapped together. Each distance has been meticulously planned to ensure the best possible experience for all participants,” says Darren Herbst, Specialized Paarl MTB Challenge organiser.

Arno du Toit and Sam Sanders were the last Elite national marathon title winners in 2019 when the champs were held at Buffelsdrift outside Pretoria. Both have changed teams since then and are eager to fight for the prestigious title again.

The Specialized Paarl MTB Challenge race route includes world-class singletrack that’s been built by Paarl Adventure Trails over the past five years | Photo: Paarl Adventure Trails

“I had a light flu which forced me off the bike for a few days recently. It’s never ideal to be sick, however I think the timing was still okay and I believe the slight rest and recovery actually had a positive effect on my current form. My build-up and training have gone really well, so I know I’ll be at my best for SA Marathon Champs,” said Du Toit, who now races for Insect Science.

“The past year has been a sad period for racing and not being able to race in the Jersey does add to my motivation to win it again. Also, all the other riders were robbed of the opportunity to fight for it last year with SA champs being cancelled, so I know there will be a strong, motivated field of bike racers lined up this year,” added Du Toit

It’s almost a home course for Du Toit, who lives in Durbanville, and he’s committed to getting to know the trails better ahead of 1 May.

“Even though I train around Paarl often and I have ridden most of the course at some point, I’m not very familiar with the trails at all. I will probably spend a bit more time there in the next couple of weeks to capitalise on the ‘almost home-ground advantage as much as possible. The shorter, more punchy climbing is good for me and I understand that there are many of those. I am a bit worried about the total amount of climbing, however I’m confident that the cross-country style, technical route will really suit me,” added Du Toit.

For Sanders, who had a long injury layoff in 2020, just racing again already feels like success.

Participants in all four events can look forward a stimulating race route at the Specialized Paarl MTB Challenge. | Photo: Paarl Adventure Trails

“I earned the right to wear the national champion’s jersey for 2020, a year that was marred not only by Covid, but also a year I barely touched my bike as I grappled to recover from injury. It’s a strange thing, but I was simply grateful to be given an opportunity to be back on my bike this year and have the support of a new team.,” said Sanders, who is now a member of the Galileo Risk Infiniti Spot team.

“It’s no secret that the more technical the route the better for me. When I won the Jersey in 2019 I rode a smart race and used the technical course and lack of climbs to my benefit. I won’t have that advantage on the Paarl course. I will pull the national champion’s jersey on again, perhaps not this year, but it will happen again,” smiled Sanders.

In the national championship, The Elite Men and Women, Sub-veteran Men (30-39) and Veteran Men (40-49) will compete over the 87km route. The Youth Men and Women (15-16), Junior Men and Women (17-18), Sub-veteran Women (30-39), Veteran Women (40-49) and Master Men (50-59) will contest their titles over the 60km route. And the Master Women (50-59) and Grand Master Men and Women (60+) will pursue podium places over the 40km route.

Elite Men and Women’s national marathon champions in the past 10 editions:

Year Venue Men Women
2020 – Cancelled Karkloof
2019 Buffelsdrift Arno du Toit Samantha Sanders
2018 Oudtshoorn Gert Heyns Robyn de Groot
2017 Pietermaritzburg Nico Bell Robyn de Groot
2016 Clarens Max Knox Robyn de Groot
2015 Van Gaalen Gawie Combrinck Robyn de Groot
2014 Pietermaritzburg James Reid Robyn de Groot
2013 Hazyview James Reid Robyn de Groot
2012 Wellington Max Knox Cherise Stander
2011 Durban Burry Stander Karien van Jaarsveld
2010 Sabie Kevin Evans Yolande Speedy

To enter the Specialized Paarl MTB Challenge, or to find out more, visit

The Paarl Adventure Trail Network consists of close to 200km of custom-built trails. The variety is unequalled with virtually every imaginable type of terrain on offer and every discipline catered for, including Cross-country, Marathon, Downhill, Enduro and Touring. For more information on the progressive trails network, visit

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