Defending champion Chris Wolhuter knows a major challenge lies ahead as he aims for his third title in a row in the Liberty Winelands Encounter starting in Stellenbosch tomorrow.
The 28-year-old Capetonian, who will partner Dylan Rebello in the three-day race, has his sights set on another win but says the level of competition is rising each year.
“Three in a row would definitely be a goal for us, but there are some quality riders in the field this year,” said the Imbuko Wines rider, who won alongside Craig Boyes last year.
He said accomplished mountain bike exponents like Waylon Woolcock and HB Kruger and Andrew Hill and Marco Joubert were among those who could well challenge for the top spot on the podium.
“Last year there were more teams than the first year and this year there is a further increase, so it just shows how the event is growing.”
Wolhuter and the Stellenbosch-based Rebello targeted a top three finish among African teams in the recent Cape Epic but their plans were derailed by several mechanicals.
Although that race did not go quite according to plan, he said it was a good experience and they had recovered nicely from the effort.
Feeling that the format of the Liberty Winelands Encounter, in partnership with STANLIB, suited his riding style, Wolhuter said he was looking forward to the race.
“The multi-stage events require different skills and I often get better as the race goes on. The longer it is, the better it suits me.”
He added he was in decent form, having won the Simonsberg Contour MTB stage race in February ahead of Czech rider Dominik Buksa.
“It was nice to see we can compete with overseas riders,” he said.
“I also came second in the PE Plett solo category, so I’m happy with the way things have gone.”