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South African National Cup Series #5 - 2

Pretoria, South Africa, May 23-24, 2009

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Schedule

South African series to conclude in Pretoria

After four rounds of fast-paced racing around the country, titles will be decided this weekend at the fifth and final round of the MTN South African National series, which will take place at Fountains Reserve in Pretoria. The cross country will happen Saturday, and the downhill will wrap up the racing on Sunday.

Cross country

It's going to be a thriller in the elite men's category where a frenetic points scramble is expected to decide the final winner. After four rounds, at least five riders are still in with a shot at the title, which rewards consistency in the series, which, for the first time awards UCI points.

Leading the series is Namibian Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin adidas), who won round three and has accumulated a total of 386 points, just five clear of round one winner, Team GT's Renay Goustra, on 381. Roan Exelby (Fullimput Morewood) and round two winner, Brandon Stewart (DCM Chrome) are both on 380 with Craig Paul (Jeep) rounding out the top five on 335 points.

The start is sure to be chaotic, but crucial since the challenging course offers limited opportunities for overtaking and the first rider onto the singletrack will be the man with the early advantage.

Following his strong ride at round four in Pietermaritzburg, Exelby must be the marginal favourite. But that was five weeks ago and in cross country mountain bike racing, five weeks is a long time. Others sure to make the race one of the most interesting of the year include another Namibian Mannie Heymans (Garmin adidas) and current South African champion Erik Kleinhans (Team GT).

The Under 23 series title has already been wrapped up by Burry Stander (Specialized) following wins in all four rounds to date. The 2008 Under 23 World Cup Series champion flies to Europe on Friday for the World Cup in Madrid so will miss the final round of a series that he has helped elevate in profile. In his absence, the riders most likely to challenge for the win are Matthys Beukes (MTN Energade), Philip Buys (Garmin adidas), Max Knox and Bryce Munro (both DCM Chrome).

Western Cape ace Sara Muhl (Jeep) has already wrapped up the elite women's title following her early wins in rounds one and two. But South African champion Yolande Speedy (IMC Momentum) will still be out to end the series with a victory after having been forced to miss the first two rounds to recover from surgery. Expect Shawna Thunder (The Leigh Group) and Tania Raats (Bell Equipment) to join the podium battle, along with top Under 23 racers Janneke Leask and Heletjie van Staden (both Schwinn).

Downhill

Western Cape riders will be out to continue their dominance of the downhill series when they tackle the fifth and final leg at Fort Klapperkop, Pretoria on Sunday.

Leading the charge is South African champion Johann Potgieter (Red Bull Von Zipper), who has been the most consistent throughout the series, posting either the fastest or second-fastest times at six of the eight rounds (there are two rounds per event). His current total of 1205 points is well clear of the rest, but he'll still be strongly challenged on the technical, dry, rocky course.

In the absence of Andrew Neethling (Trek Global Racing) and Jonty Neethling (Fox Morewood), who are both racing in Europe, fellow Capetonians, Gary Barnard (Fox Morewood) and Louis Bresler-Knipe will head up the challenge to make a dent in Potgieter's consist record.  Also expect a strong showing from Dirk van Schalkwyk on his home course as well as Pietermaritzburg-based Kelvin Purchase.

As usual, the junior men should be among the overall podium contenders, led by South African champion, Pierre van der Merwe (Morewood Monster Energy). Timothy Bentley and Kenneth Sinclair are also likely to be in the mix for top spots.

The course is relatively short and steep, with sub two-minute times expected for the top finishers. It is likely to suit aggressive riders like Barnard and Potgieter and the narrow nature of the course means there's little or no room for error.

In the women's series, Victoria Phillips, Gina Nixon and Rika Olivier have been doing battle for top spot at most of the events this year and Sunday is expected to be no different. Phillips has a relatively commanding lead in the Series, but will need to have a good result in Pretoria in order to secure the title.