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SA’S TOP WOMEN MEET HEAD-TO-HEAD AT SA MTB CHAMPS

The long-awaited head-to-head battle between the two top female mountain bikers in the country, Yolande Speedy and Yolande de Villiers, will finally take place on Saturday at the Mazda Big Induna 75km event in Hazyview. Appropriately, it’s also the 2007 South African marathon championships, so the victor has more than just pride and prize money to race for.

Tania Raats will face her toughest competition yet in an effort to defend her lead in the 2007 Mazda Series at Saturday’s Mazda Big Induna in Hazyview.

De Villiers (Mazda Merida) won last year’s Mazda National Series, with Speedy (IMC Mongoose) just a few points behind in the runner-up spot. But fate and different racing schedules have somehow intervened this year, making Saturday’s fourth leg of the 2007 Mazda Series a much-anticipated duel.

Speedy missed Barberton, the first event in the Series, due to a broken shoulder and didn’t ride Dirty Harry, the second event in the Series. De Villiers has started all three Series events so far, but only finished one. At Barberton she was forced to withdraw early on due to a mechanical problem, but she bounced back to win at Dirty Harry. Both Yolandes actually lined up at the start of the third event, Forest to Falls, in early May, but De Villiers crashed out after 10km, fracturing her elbow and leaving the way clear for Speedy to secure the victory.

Interestingly, both Yolandes won their respective categories at the 2007 Absa Cape Epic. De Villiers and Anke Moore won the women’s event, while Speedy and Paul Cordes captured the mixed category title.

Speedy won the Big Induna event last year, while De Villiers skipped it, giving the former intimate knowledge of the route, which appropriately for the national championships, is tough. The first 40km is somewhat technical and rolling through forests, while the final 35km is more open with long, testing climbs.

Speedy arrives back in South Africa on Wednesday, following two cross-country World Cup events in Europe. She’ll fly out to Canada for the next World Cup event on Sunday, so has managed to squeeze the national championships into her busy schedule, which should see her in peak form. De Villiers showed she too is in fine form despite having to wear a plaster cast on her arm for the past five weeks. She finished fifth in the Elite women’s race at the SA road championships in Bloemfontein 10 days ago and will be relieved to have the cast removed this week.

No doubt happy to let the spotlight – and pressure – fall on the two Yolandes, the other title contenders include current Mazda Series leader, Tania Raats (Maverick Momentum) and South African cross-country champion, Amy Jane Mundy (Jeep Specialized). Raats will be eager to return to the top of the podium after having finished third and second respectively at the last two Series events.

Mundy has been unbeatable in the cross-country National Cup Series this year and will be hoping to stay as close to her rivals as possible on Saturday. Her consistency is her strength in marathon events and should any of the other favourites falter, she’ll no doubt be well placed to add the marathon title to her cross-country crown.

Conspicuous by her absence is 2006 South African champion, Anke Moore, who is preparing to move to Ireland to live.

In addition to the 75km race, there will also be a 40km event, which doubles as the fifth event in the Fritz Pienaar Cycles National Half-marathon Series and a 15km ride for novices and youngsters. Online entries have closed, but late entries will be taken at the Induna Adventure Centre, just outside Hazyview on Friday, 15 June from 14h00-20h00. For more information, visit www.adventurezone.co.za