Marais, who hails from nearby Howick in KwaZulu-Natal, hinted that home ground advantage might play in his favour.
“Obviously Alan [Hatherly] will be the man to beat but it will be home ground advantage for me,” he told In the Bunch.
“It [Cascades] is somewhere I have raced for most of my life, so I am really looking forward to it.”
The course had changed, however, he said. “I have just recently got off the course and it is very different to what we’ve done in previous years.
“There is a hell of a lot of climbing, probably more so than any of the other races we have done this year.
“Fortunately, though, it is not as technical as it has been in the past. It will be more important to keep your line on the single track.
“But it will definitely be hard in terms of climbing.”
KwaZulu-Natal has had heavy rain in recent months which has made the course heavier than the dry and dusty surfaces experienced in the first two events.
Marais said he preferred the changed conditions. “It may be dry at the moment, but the forests have not exactly dried out yet.
“There are a few spots that are still slimy, damp and very mossy where riders could slide out quite easily.
“For most parts the course is really nice and is rolling along very well. I prefer these types of conditions to the dry and dusty ones.”
Aside from Hatherly, who recently beat Marais into second at the African Continental MTB Cross-Country Championships and won bronze at the Commonwealth Games, a few other riders posed a threat, he said.
“Guys I know who are normally always there – Arno du Toit and Jan Withaar – are riders who pitch up and you never know how they will perform on the day. There will definitely be some competition to watch out for.”
The African Continental Champs event, which took place in Egypt almost two weeks ago, took a lot out of him, Marais said.
“The travelling was tough,” he said. “It is just about getting on the course now and getting comfortable with everything again.
“But I have had a good build-up after Egypt. I have had a few good training days and I have broken some new personal records with my numbers. I am feeling good.”
After having raced for 21 days in the first half of the year, Marais plans to take a week’s break after the cross-country event this weekend.
However Marais, 29, is uncertain about his future in the sport. “The way the racing is currently going I will probably be retiring in about a month or two,” he said.
“I am currently unable to get any sponsors. In my current financial situation I am even wondering if I will make it to the SA Champs [in July].
“Things are beginning to become a bit tighter than they have been.”