Thabang Madiba is back to his old form.
CAPE TOWN - The stakes are high, the mountains surrounding Hout Bay even higher. All trail-racing trails lead to Hout Bay tomorrow for the South African Championships run over 40km in conjunction with the 2019 edition of the Hout Bay Trail Challenge.

Typically run in July, the early scheduling this year provides selection guidance for the Proteas team to take part in the World Championships in Portugal early in June and most of the country’s top trail exponents will be in action early tomorrow in order to secure a boarding pass to Lisbon.

The race takes place over the traditional three-leg route, starting and finishing at Hout Bay Yacht Club, with athletes racing over Karbonkelberg and Suther Peaks before dropping down to Sandy Bay and climbing back to Suikerbossie to end the first leg. A major climb via Hout Bay Corner and Llandudno Ravine brings runners to the top of the Back Table, where they head north to Hely Hutchinson Dam, before descending to Constantia Nek to end leg two.

The final leg involves a climb up Vlakkenberg Peak and a traverse below Constantiaberg, before descending to East Fort and racing down Chappies for a beach front finishing stretch to the Yacht Club.

The men's and women's winners of the senior titles are guaranteed places on the Proteas team, with the first two runners-up also likely to receive call-ups, providing their performances are judged to be competitive.

In addition, the fourth-placed finishers could also win selection, should their results compare favourably with performances from leading athletes in high profile races in the country in recent months.

Several years have passed since South Africa were able to field a competitive team in international competition, with last year’s squad (with the notable exception of Naomi Brand) failing to make an impact at the event in Spain. Given the depth of quality in the field tomorrow, this year could well be different.

Kane Reilly and AJ Calitz have dominated Hout Bay in recent years, each boasting three wins, but an injury has thwarted a showdown between the two mountain trail giants, leaving 2013, 2015 and 2016 winner Calitz reduced to spectator status.

Cape Town athlete Reilly has reigned supreme for the past two years and as the only athlete to have broken the four-hour barrier for the testing course, will start clear favourite to make it three in a row tomorrow.

Although elite road runner Siviwe Nkombi is untested over a trail course as long and technical as Hout Bay, his win in the Ultra-trail Cape Town’s 21km in December and in several shorter trail races in recent months suggests he could pose a threat to Reilly, while former long-distance and ultra-distance national champion, Gauteng’s Thabang Madiba, is reportedly approaching top form after recovering from injury.

The return of two of South Africa’s trail greats after long lay-offs, Stellenbosch athlete Landie Greyling and Johannesburg-based Nicolette Griffioen, is the feature of the women’s race. The two will be favoured to take the top positions tomorrow, with young Matie Cana Peek, Naomi Brand, Chantel Nienaber, Mia Uys and Karine Bezuidenhout likely to fight it out for the remaining podium position.

The race gets underway from Hout Bay Harbour at 6.30am tomorrow, with the winner expected home before 10.30am.

IOL Sport

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