With some solid preparation under their belts, Stellenbosch University are geared up to defend their title when the Varsity MTB Challenge takes place in the Western Cape on Saturday and Sunday.
Starting from the Nederburg wine farm in Paarl, the two-day mountain bike event, sponsored by First National Bank, will attract a wide variety of cyclists, being open as well to alumni and members of the public.
The focus will however be on the student challenge in which men's and women's teams of three each will compete for the honour of being crowned South Africa's varsity mountain bike champions.
One of the star riders on the Maties team, Tristan de Lange, said they would not be resting on their laurels.
"To be honest, I don't quite know at this stage who we will be up against, but we know that the competition will be strong and we are really amped for the challenge," said the BComm student.
"We definitely want to defend the title as it's been on our calendar since last year and it's been a long-term goal for the team."
De Lange, who comes from Windhoek in Namibia, is in his second year at Stellenbosch and is expected to play an important role in the fortunes of the team.
"I don't want to say I'm the leading rider because we have a solid team all round," said the 20-year-old. "We are naturally confident we can do well again.
"In the weeks running up to the race, we have put in the best quality training that we could, bearing in mind our academic commitments."
De Lange said one of their focus areas was on training as many consecutive days as possible to get their bodies adjusted to the demands of a multi-day race.
With the bulk of the work done, he said they would do some minor preparation in the lead-up to keep their muscles active while trying to stay fresh and focused.
During the race, he said they would work together to make sure they achieved their goals.
"We'll try to find a pace we are all comfortable with and make sure everyone has what they need," said De Lange. "If we do run into trouble, we will cover it as a team as best we can, working out the best solution for us."
Although he has not done the specific trails making up the Varsity MTB routes, he was confident the team would be able to adjust to the challenge.
"I haven't done these, but I am familiar with the terrain we will be facing.
"To adapt won't be a problem because of the variety of the training grounds that we have in the Western Cape and we are quite comfortable about coping with what is on offer.
"It will just be a matter of how we pace ourselves and for that we will have a look at the route profile."
De Lange said he believed the Varsity MTB Challenge was an important date on the calendar.
"I heard very good things about last year's event and I think this weekend will be just as good, if not better. As a Maties team, we are really looking forward to it."
The champions will come up against University of Cape Town, last year's runners-up, University of Pretoria, third last year, North-West University and Nelson Mandela University.
For more information, go to www.varsitymtbchallenge.co.za.
CAPTION: Stellenbosch University are fired up to defend their title in the two-day Varsity MTB Challenge that takes place from Nederburg wine farm near Paarl on Saturday and Sunday. Photo: Robert Ward