songo.info and the MTO Forestry Group’s annual MTO Champions’ Race is but a week away, and 2017 edition looks to be attracting the best ever field. The race is set to take place in Kayamandi, the community within which the songo.info charity operates, on Wednesday the 15th of March 2017.
The MTO Champions’ Race is often used as a final high intensity work-out ahead of the Absa Cape Epic, which kicks off on Sunday the 19th. While the short laps make for explosive racing, which is in stark contrast to the Cape Epic’s war of attrition a good performance in the MTO Champions’ Race has proven to be a useful final indicator of form. Christoph Sauser, Jaroslav Kulhavý, Ariane Lüthi and Annika Langvad have gone from MTO Champions’ Race victories to Cape Epic glory in the past.
While many elite riders enter last minute, with registration remaining open until one hour before the various race starts, the field of confirmed riders is already highly impressive. Together they boast 12 Absa Cape Epic titles, an Olympic Gold Medal, 20 World Championship – titles across disciplines as diverse as Cross Country, Cross Country Marathon and even XTERRA – and near countless national titles.
The most decorated rider in the field is arguably Jaroslav Kulhavý. Kulhavý will be teaming up with Christoph Sauser for the Absa Cape Epic in the colours of Investec-songo-Specialized, and the Olympic Gold and Silver medallist will be keen to see his perfect record of two starts and two wins converted to three from three by the end of March. In Kulhavý’s absence for the 2016 event, young Dane, Simon Andreassen claimed the MTO Champions’ Race title. For 2017 the presence of Kulhavý on the start line makes him the clear favourite, but the likes of under 23 World Champion Sam Gaze, South Africa’s Olympian Alan Hatherly and Sauser himself will all be highly motivated to take the MTO Champions’ Race crown.
Though not strictly short course specialists the presence of the entire Topeak-Ergon and Centurion-Vaude squads also adds tremendously to the depth of the men’s racing field. Daniel Geismayr, Nicola Rohrbach, Jochen Käss and Markus Kaufmann will all be lining up for the German Centurion-Vaude team. While for fellow German team Topeak-Ergon the MTO Champions’ Race is hardly new, especially with Stellenbosch resident Erik Kleinhans in their ranks. Joining Kleinhans on the start line will be Jeremiah Bishop, Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek. Flying the flag for the local teams are Waylon Woolcock (Team BCX Cycling) Nico Bell and Gawie Combrick (NAD Pro MTB) and songo.info’s very own Lwazi Ntshakaza, Theo Ngubane, Thando Klass and Lorenzo le Roux.
The women’s race had a particularly cosmopolitan field with competitors hailing from afar afield as Bermuda and Norway. Defending champion Ariane Lüthi has endured a troubled start to 2017 on the bike, but she has made a habit of peaking to perfection for the Absa Cape Epic over the last two years so she will once again be the woman to beat in the MTO Champions’ Race. Facing up against Lüthi will be triathlete Flora Duffy, Esther Süss, Candice Lill, Vera Adriaan and Hielke Elferink. Duffy’s impressive haul of Wold Championship medals includes gold in three triathlon disciplines and she showed last year that she’s more than a match for the pure mountain bikers on the urban course through Kayamandi. Süss meanwhile will be as tenacious and tough to beat as ever, while four time Dutch marathon champion Elferink has been staying in South Africa since the Tankwa Trek in February, so she will be no stranger to the dusty conditions which are sure to reign on the day.
Aside from the men’s and women’s main events there are also Future Champions’ Races which age group riders can partake in. Under 14 and under 18 boys and girls can enter these events on the day, with registration taking place at 15:00 at the Kayamandi Sport Grounds, below the songo.info clubhouse. The entry fee is R200 per rider.
Spectators are welcome and entry is free for all spectators, though there is a R20 charge per car for secure parking. The age group racing starts at 16:00 on Wednesday the 15th of March, followed by the elite women’s racing at 17:30 and the elite men at 18:00. The action will be live tweeted on the songo.info Twitter handle @songoinfo. For more information, including directions and information regarding parking, please visit www.songo.info.