ATTAKWAS EXTREME: THE 2023 MTB SEASON STARTS HERE

The traditional mountain biking season opener, the Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, will once again feature a stellar elite field. Headlined by the record holder, Wessel Botha, and the 2020 winner, Matt Beers, the men’s race is sure to be fiercely contested. The women’s race is likely to be a battle between the challengers and the queen of the Attakwaskloof, Yolande de Villiers, who has won four titles and is closing in on Ariane Lüthi’s record of six victories.

Matt Beers, of Toyota Specialized starts the 2023 season as the favourite for the Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen. Photo by Shift Media Co.

In 2022 searing heat made for an exceptionally challenging edition. The August Atta, in 2021, and the 2020 race were both cool and wet which perhaps lulled regular riders into a false sense of security. While the most recent race reinforced the event’s reputation as South Africa’s toughest one-day mountain bike race. Anyone who can survive or even thrive during the Hell of the South is well poised for a strong season.

For the elite racers and the competitive amateurs, the Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, represents the first goal of the year. A yard-stick against which to measure the success of their pre-season training. “Atta is always a challenge!” Marco Joubert, of Imbuko {type}DEV reiterated. “It’s the first race of the year, it’s often hot, and it’s the first test of your training. You know you should start conservatively and build into the race. But you’re also so excited to be back and racing that you can’t help yourself but go out hard…”

In 2022 Joubert’s aggressive approach saw him force the pace towards the King of the Mountain hotspot at the top of the Attakwaskloof, but then fade out of contention for victory. The slower starting Simon Andreassen surged past Joubert, Beers and his Toyota Specialized teammate, Tristan Nortje, to win the race. While in 2021 Botha outsprinted Namibian Alex Miller and Joubert to take the title.

Imbuko {type}DEV’s Marco Joubert (front, right) is bullish about his and the team’s chances leading into the event. Photo by Shift Media Co.

A steadier approach is thus more likely to pay dividends. Though, if the weather wreaks havoc on the race once more all established wisdom goes out the window. Beers will however toe the line as the favourite, as is always the case when the 2021 South African Marathon Champion lines up at a longer distance mountain or gravel bike event these days.

Behind the Toyota Specialized man, the next tier of pre-race favourites includes the 2021 winner, Botha, the 2022 runner-up, Nortje and Joubert of course. As well as 2021 runner-up, Miller his PYGA Euro Steel team leader Philip Buys, Valley Electrical Titan Racing’s Gert Heyns, Imbuko {type}DEV’s Pieter du Toit and the Insect Science Pro combination of Arno du Toit and Keagan Bontekoning.

One of the highlights of the Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, is seeing the riders who have changed teams racing on their new equipment and in their new kits for the first time. 2023 sees the 2022 African Championships XCO Gold medallist, Miller, join the team of the man he beat, Buys. Racing for PYGA Euro Steel will undoubtedly provide the Namibian with more local opportunities this year. The other major change is that Heyns has joined the Stellenbosch based Valley Electrical Titan Racing team. Rossouw Bekker’s team has grown increasingly competitive in recent years and the signing of the former South African XCO and XCM signals another step towards the goal of winning one of the country’s biggest mountain bike races.

Riders likely to contest for top ten placings rather than the podium places include CP van Wyk, Justin Chesterton, Wian van den Bergh, Rogan Smart, Bekker, Pieter Korkie, Jarret West, Rudi Koen, Kai Von During, Alan Gordon, Herman Fourie, Michael Foster, Erick Heyns, Christiaan Janse van Rensburg, Freddie Visser and the experienced Nico Bell. Ockert Struwig, Charl Coetsee, Zandré Gerber and Matthew Grobler are dark horses for a strong showing.

In the elite women’s race the favourite is no dark horse. De Villiers has won the last two editions and will once again be tough to beat. She will however be up against fellow former South African Marathon Champion, Samantha Sanders. Sanders is by all accounts back to her best after two injury affected seasons.

Oudtshoorn’s Yolande de Villiers is the favourite for the women’s race as she seeks to add to her four Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, titles. Photo by Jacques Grobler for www.zcmc.co.za.

Sarah Hill will also be looking to step up for competitiveness in the 2023 Hell of the South. She finished second to De Villiers last time out, but was 38 minutes behind the winner. Reducing that gap rather than an outright challenge to Sanders and the Queen of the Attakwaskloof would represent a stellar showing from the Johannesburg based rider.

Danielle Strydom and Karla Stumpf will be making their debuts, pitting youthful exuberance against the ageless challenge of the race from the Klein Karoo to Groot Brak River. The Imbuko {type}DEV pairing will be racing solo here, but could still be testing their compatibility as a stage racing partnership for later in the season. At the other end of the experience scale, Theresa Ralph returns to the event for the first time since 2017. Her proven endurance and ability to up the tempo as the race distance increases could see Ralph surge through the field in the final 60 kilometres, of the 121 kilometre course, picking off fading rivals.

Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius would likely be satisfied with a repeat of her 2022 fourth position, though she will do well to replicate that result with the increased depth of the 2023 field. Then there are a number of women who will be resuming their battle from the 2022 Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen. Robyn Williams came out on top there, alongside Ila Stow who is not racing in January. Williams will be up against Tarryn Povey, Kylie Hanekom and Nicola Freitas in a resumption of the Working Heroines showdown. Joining this fiercely contested fight are Nicola Walker, Tracey Campbell and Sarita Louw.

Sarah Hill placed second in 2022 and would likely count a repeat of that result as a success in 2023. Photo by Jacques Grobler

To watch the battles for the first bragging rights and titles of the 2023 season unfold follow @attakwas on Twitter. Regular updates will also be posted to the @attakwasmtb Instagram and Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, Facebook stories. Highlights videos and more photos will be posted on the race’s Facebook and Instagram handles post-event. For more information, please visit www.atta.co.za.

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