A strong finish from Sandes was not enough to overhaul former Comrades gold medallist Kumalo, who shattered fellow KZN athlete Eric Ngubane’s 2014 course record by almost 50 minutes to finish five minutes clear of Sandes and 13 minutes ahead of top New Zealander, Scotty Hawker, in third place.
Twelve months on and the Cape Town event has grown in stature, its “Pro-Status” rating on the Ultra-trail World Tour ensuring an even stronger line up of athletes this time around.
Athletes such as legendary winner and record-breaker at the Western States 100 miler in California, Canadian Rob Krar, French national trail champion, Nicholas Martin, and strong Swedish road ultra-marathoner, Elov Olssen, will spice up proceedings at the front end of the field.
But for all their talent, the internationals lack the intimate knowledge of one of the most challenging technical courses of the tour, and that is where Sandes, in particular, and Kumalo could capitalise and again find themselves out in front when it matters.
“I’m better prepared this year than last,” admitted Sandes. “I’m certainly a lot fresher, having not raced much since our Himalayan Traverse in mid-year. My training and preparation have gone well and I know the course even better than last year.
“But there are so many variables in ultra-trail racing and you’ve still got to put it together on race day. A lot can go wrong - and right - on the day and I’m not going to get ahead of myself at this stage.
“To be honest, I’m not yet 100% sure of my tactics for Saturday. I guess my dream race would be to take it out hard from the start and get an advantage over the more technical sections in the earlier part of the race. But that could be risky - if you burn too many candles early on you can pay for it later.
“I’m sure Prodigal will be firing on all cylinders. I have not heard much of him of late, but he is a great competitor with a strong pedigree.
“Nicholas Martin and Rob Krar will be tough to beat. They have had strong records over many years and Krar appears to be back to his best after his win at Leadville 100 miler earlier this year.”
Zimbabwe-born Kumalo will be looking for an emotional pay-back after his 11th-placed finish at Comrades six months ago. “That is the worst possible position,” his coach John Hamlett reflected. “And I know that Prodigal took a knock.
“But I feel his heart is in trail running and I think that’s where his future lies. He has had a few niggles but generally he is in good shape and his training and preparation have gone well. I think he is capable of defending his title on Saturday.”
While the strong international flavour has placed Ultra-trail Cape Town squarely on the global map, it could again be South Africa’s ultra-distance super-stars who again rule the roost come Saturday in another clash of South Africa’s titans.@StephenGranger3