South Africa’s traditional season opener, the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge, takes place on Saturday the 21st of January. Along with a stellar field of local challengers, a number of European mountain biking stars are set to line-up for the 2017 edition.
The race’s newly acquired UCI Status and its formidable reputation as the Hell of the South combine to make the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge South Africa’s premier one day mountain bike event. The depth of the elite racing field certainly supports this claim. Amongst others Christoph Sauser, Karl Platt, Kristian Hynek and Annika Langvad will be taking on the one hundred and twenty one kilometre route from Chandelier Game and Ostrich Show Farm near Oudtshoorn, through the rugged Attakwaskloof, to Pine Creek Resort in Groot Brakrivier.
In December 2016 Sauser announced his return to racing following a season in retirement. Though his form is untested his experience and competitive nature will surely see him compete with Platt, Hynek and the leading South African riders – Dylan Rebello, Waylon Woolcock, HB Kruger, Gert Heyns, Max Knox and Erik Kleinhans – for victory. Sauser has won two of the last four Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge titles, in 2015 and in 2013 when he was the first rider to break the five hour barrier. On both occasions he went on to win the Absa Cape Epic alongside Jaroslav Kulhavý, with whom he is teaming up for the 2017 Cape Epic.
In the race for a sixth Absa Cape Epic title between Sauser and Platt the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge plays a major psychological role. Last year Platt backed up his Attakwas success with victory in the Cape Epic, highlighting that the Attakwas is the ultimate proving ground. Unlike in previous years Platt is the lone Team Bulls rider entered into the race and will have to rely on his extensive Attakwas experience to neutralize the threat of Sauser, who will have the support of Investec-songo-Specialized’s Sipho Madolo, and Hynek, who will be able to rely on his Topeak-Ergon teammate Kleinhans.
Hynek’s entry into the 2017 Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge is part of Topeak-Ergon’s bid to gain more experience in the harsh South African conditions ahead of their Absa Cape Epic bid. Like Team Bulls and Investec-songo-Specialized Topeak-Ergon will also be competing in the Momentum Health Tankwa Trek, presented by Biogen, in February. The Attakwas therefor provides an early opportunity to gain a psychological edge and establish winning momentum ahead of the teams’ stage racing goals this season.
The South African charge will likely be led by Kleinhans, Woolcock, Heyns and Knox, though first time Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge entrants Rebello and Kruger are not to be written off. Rebello’s slight build and climbing prowess could see him excel on the rocky climbs in the first half of the race. Heyns and Kleinhans are proven Attakwas campaigners, both boasting third place finishes in recent years; while South African Marathon Champion Knox is eager to set right his past struggles in the race.
Leading ladies at Attakwas
The women’s field boasts, for the first time a reigning World Champion; the current cross-country rainbow jersey wearer Annika Langvad. Langvad will be up against her Absa Cape Epic partner Ariane Lüthi, 2016 Attakwas champion Robyn de Groot, the ever competitive Jennie Stenerhag and Mariske Strauss; while Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Olympic triathlete Mari Rabie are unknown forces in the race for the women’s title.
Langvad’s goals for the first half of the year revolve around finishing her dentistry studies, so her entry into the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge came somewhat as a surprise. That said she is the three time Marathon World Champion making her the clear favourite to break Lüthi’s course record of five hours, thirty minutes and fifty eight seconds.
Having returned to racing under her maiden name after a turbulent couple of years, during which she divorced from Erik Kleinhans, Swiss star Ariane Lüthi looks to be back to her early 2015 form. Off the bike she’s more relaxed than ever and the chance to go up against Langvad will surely spur Lüthi on to prove she can win the Absa Cape Epic without the Danish rider at her side. The first step toward that goal is winning the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge, but Team Ascendis Health’s South African Marathon Champion, de Groot, will not allow the two Europeans to have things all their own way.
De Groot, has dominated in the South African ranks for the best part of three seasons, and has stepped up to an international level over the last year. She will be looking to continue that progress with a victory over an in form Lüthi and one of women’s mountain biking’s biggest stars, Langvad.
Strauss, Stenerhag and Moolman-Pasio could use the attention focused by the three favourites on each other to launch a surprise attack, with the climb to the Queen of the Mountain point at crest of the Attakwaskloof neck the ideal location for a move of that nature.
Aside from the elite racing the side story of the 2017 Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge is the attempt by Colleen Jacobs, Kel de Moura, Nico van Zyl, Ian Robertson, Jacques Brink, Wayne Hodgson, Petrus Senekal and Jandri Ferreira to join the prestigious ten times Attakwas Finishers Club. All eight riders have only missed one of the eleven previous races, making them near as remarkable as the eleven current double Ratels who completed all ten of the first ten Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenges.