Swiss mountain-biking star Ariane Luthi and South African ace Robyn de Groot will be top contenders for the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek women’s title this weekend.
The popular Eastern Cape mountain-bike event gets under way on Friday and finishes on Sunday, starting and finishing at the Zuurberg Mountain Inn.
Riders will cover a total distance of 209km over the three days, traversing a variety of trails, which include sections in the Addo Elephant National Park.
A former Cape Epic champion (two women’s titles and three mixed), Luthi said she was delighted to partner five-time national marathon mountain bike champion De Groot at the event.
“It’s something we have just never managed to get right before,” she said.
With a wealth of experience in South African mountain bike races, including the popular Winelands Encounter, Luthi competed in the Addo area seven years ago.
“I did ride there in my first year in South Africa in 2011 when I competed in the Herald Cycle Tour mountain-bike race,” she said.
“I do remember beautiful mountain-biking terrain and I am very excited to be part of this event.”
The Swiss ace recently competed in the European mountain-bike marathon championship in Italy, where she was happy to take third place in the face of strong opposition.
Among their chief rivals will be Theresa Ralph and Sarah Hill, who linked up for the first time last year and won the joBerg2c last month.
Ralph brings plenty of experience to the partnership, having won the Magalies Monster and the Kalahari Challenge last year, while the 24-year-old Hill is developing her potential as a stage-race competitor.
In the men’s category, regular GZT contender Andrew Hill, from Durban, will be chasing his third title, in partnership with Shaun-Nick Bester.
Riding for TIB-Silverback-Best4Sport, Hill said he had developed a nice partnership with Bester, a former road ace who has taken to the mountain-bike trails.
Bester has shown his mountain-biking skill be winning the PE Plett team race and finishing third on the podium at the joBerg2C, partnering Declan Sidey on those occasions.
Having conceded the title last year, Hill said their ultimate goal would be to “stand on top of the podium”.
“I know there will be strong teams to contend with, so we will assess our situation after the first day,” he said.
“The second day, being the queen stage, is where gaps can happen so that could be important in the long run.”