Stuart Marais will be hoping to get the Mandela Day MTB Dash monkey off his back when he takes part in the 42.2km race for a sixth consecutive year tomorrow.
Marais has not managed to win the Howick event in all of those attempts, despite it being a race that takes place “almost literally on my doorstep”.
“I’ve been trying to win this race for the last five years; it will really be nice to try and take it this time,” Marais told In the Bunch.
“This race has just been one of those monkeys hanging on my back,” he said, adding that the Mandela Day race and the Karkloof Classic were the only events in KwaZulu-Natal he had not yet won.
Marais, who recently secured sponsorship from Expedient Africa and Moving Parts Tractor Spares, admitted the wrong turn last year “was my own fault” and described the race as having been a “great contest which came down to a sprint finish”.
Jessop will not be taking part this year as he will be competing in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in La Bresse, France, this weekend.
“I didn’t realise how much it rained last night so the tracks should be quite slosh-filled and the KZN kind of mud is usually quite sticky.
“I don’t usually mind the mud too much – at least if it’s not a sticky mess, which makes it more of a frustration. We’ll see how it goes.”
Learning from last year, Marais said it would be important to assess the finishing stretch of the race.
“I need to look at the finish line,” he said. “The last two kilometres of this race is quite important; knowing what to expect if it comes down to a sprint finish.
“You need to know where you’re going heading towards the finish line, which is what I didn’t do last year and where I got everything wrong.”
Training has not gone according to plan for Marais, who said he suffered from “quite a bad bout of flu” two weeks ago, which kept him off the bike for a few days.
“At the moment I’m not 100 per cent sure of my form. I did put in some effort on Wednesday and I felt quite strong.
“We will just go out and give it a bash. You never know, the rest might have done me the world of good.”