The ever-popular Stihl Tala Fun Ride through the Tala Collection Private Game Reserve will be a hit once again at the Illovo Eston MTB Challenge Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Medi

Durban - The 16th edition of the famous Illovo Eston MTB Challenge will see hundreds of excited mountain bikers and trail runners gather at the Eston Farmers Club for an exciting morning of competition on Sunday.

The 60km marathon is seen by many of the country’s finest marathon riders as one of the premier events on the MTB calendar and one of the most sought after titles to win. Following a number of end sprints over the past few years, Sunday’s finish could well unfold in similar fashion.

2017’s winner Stuart Marais is back to defend his title and he will come up against last year’s runner-up Julian Jessop once again. Jessop had the upper-hand 12 months ago; however a dramatic tumble saw Marais sneak through for the victory.

The two have been involved in a tussle already this year with the young Jessop, who won the Africa Jersey at the Absa Cape Epic with PYGA/Euro Steel team-mate Matthys Beukes earlier this year, taking the line honours at the Sappi Karkloof Classic in May.

It will be an interesting fight between the two over the fast flowing 60km track, however there will be a number of riders ready to take advantage of any errors from the leading duo.

TIB Insurance’s Andrew Hill and Ballito Bicycling Company’s duo of Tyronne White and Andrew Johnson will be in the mix eager to pounce on any opportunities.

The added incentive of vital Quattro ROAG Series points gives the riders even more to concentrate on and Jessop’s healthy advantage in the overall standings puts him in the pound seat for the R25 000 prize with two more series events after this weekend.

The women’s race is going to be one of the more open contests with 2017 champion Bianca Haw opting to give this year’s race a miss, meaning that the door could be open for young Silverback Volvo’s Tiffany Keep to claim her maiden Eston title.

She will have some tough competition from the ROAG Series leaders Christie-Leigh Hearder and Andrea de Boer as the pair battles it out for the overall ladies series prize.

Hearder is just a skimpy four points clear of De Boer on the series rankings but with the form that Keep brings into the race with the pair might be fighting it out for the second spot on the podium this Sunday.

Keep has occupied the other two steps of the podium at Eston in the past and in the absence of Haw she will go into the contest as favourite, thought there are always a few top riders that only enter on the day of the race.

There are three other riding events on offer at Eston, with the more manageable aQuellé 40km Half Marathon providing riders with a few tests but a lot of exciting single track and district roads. 

One of the events major drawcards continues to be the Stihl Family Ride through the Tala Collection Private Game Reserve. The very do-able 20km route takes riders along the jeep track and single track of the game park with the opportunity to see the resident zebra, impala, giraffe and wildebeest.

The popular trail running events of 18km and 9km respectively were a hit with runners in 2017 and will once again offer runners of all abilities the ideal opportunity to tackle the trails through the Tala Collection Private Game Reserve this Sunday.

The Merchants Change a Life Academy are sending an impressive squad of runners to this year’s race, however they will have to chase down ROAG Series leader Nomore Mandivvengerei who has been in great form this year.

From a ladies perspective Wendy Mills will be the runner to watch as she looks to extend her slender lead on top of the ROAG Series standings. Sarah Grey will be hoping that she can cancel out the 13 point lead that Mills has this Sunday.

The Mercury