The famous bronze rhino statue spells the end of the uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge as riders prepare to tackle the final 30km from the entrance of the Hluhluwe Mfolozi Park to Hilltop Camp. Picture: Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media

Durban – The biggest field ever entered in the five year history of the uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge will see over one hundred riders negotiate the varying distances from Hillcrest to Hluhluwe starting on Thursday, 5 December.

With five different distances on offer for riders, the three day ride will begin on Thursday while the other four distances will all take place on Saturday.

The three day ride will take place for the second time this year and after a successful pilot in 2018, the numbers have swelled for the event.

Renowned South African adventurer Sibusiso Vilani will be taking part in this ride where day one takes the riders from Hillcrest to Zinkwazi. The second day is from Zinkwazi to Empangeni and then the final stretch on Saturday is from Empangeni to Hilltop Camp.

The longest of the rides is the 330km Long Horn which starts in Hillcrest at around midnight on Saturday and will see the riders negotiate tar roads and farm roads all the way to the famous bronze rhino statue at the entrance to the Hluhluwe Mfolozi Game Reserve.

Amongst the hard core riders that will be taking on this challenge again this year are Terrence Parkin and Dave Duke. The pair will aim to repeat their ‘uBhejane Ultimate’ feat, which involves riding the first two days of the three-day ride and then returned to tackle the 330km ride on Saturday.

Parkin, the Olympic medallist, managed to complete the hugely demanding ride; however Duke fell during the three day ride, ruling him out of taking on the full distance.

The second longest of the rides, dubbed the Short Horn, is a 250km slog from Umvoti Toll Plaza to Hilltop Camp. This event, which is the most popular of the five rides this weekend, includes one of the Absa Cape Epic’s remaining Bhubesi’s Mike Nixon.

Nixon has competed and finished every single Epic that has taken place and forms an important part of Kingsley Holgate’s foundation where he does a lot of riding during their expeditions.

Former Cell C Sharks and Springbok star Jeremy Thompson will also be tackling the 250km Short Horn. Thompson is a more than accomplished mountain biker with a number of high-profile events to his name, the most recent being the Absa Cape Epic.

Another Sharks star Joe Pietersen will also be back at the event this year. Pietersen is heavily involved in conservation in the Lowveld and is still playing rugby competitively in the United States but felt he had to return to the event again in 2019.

The 110km ride starts at Canefields outside Richards Bay at 9:30am on Saturday morning fior the slower riders, with the fitter and faster riders starting an hour later.

The final option is the 30km ride from the bronze rhino at the entrance to the park to Hilltop Camp. This ride takes the participants through the game reserve amongst the wildlife and although it comes after a long day in the saddle is often a highlight for the riders.

In order to take part in the event, each rider needs to raise a minimum of R5000. This can come through pledges and donations to the event.

All the money that is raised will go towards Project Rhino and Helping Rhinos.

These two organisations are instrumental in the fight against rhino poaching in northern KwaZulu-Natal and the money raised is crucial funding for them in their fight.

The Mercury