MTN has proven itself to be a cycling sponsor that maintains a proactive attitude towards the sport.
They displayed their proactive thinking again when they negotiated with the UCI about the possibility of awarding international ranking points for the first four ultra-races in this year’s MTN National MTB Series.
The good news for South African mountain bikers is that the UCI has agreed that riders can race for points in the Barberton, Attakwas, Clarens and Sabie races next year.
The advantages of this system are twofold.
Most importantly, it will give local riders an opportunity to improve their international rankings. This will be a big plus point, especially because many talented mountain bikers do not have the money to stay in Europe for a number of months in order to race there.
Furthermore, the participation in the MTN series of some of the top international marathon riders will also introduce an ability check for local riders.
During the past two years MTN’s ultra-series has been dominated by the likes of Kevin Evans, Burry Stander and Max Knox. The situation could become very interesting if five or more international riders should also compete in the series. It will be a very positive experience for up-and-coming South African youngsters to race against some international professionals.
The spin-off for international riders will be that the MTN series will make it possible for them to train and race in South Africa from the end of January until the Cape Epic. It is common knowledge that the extremely cold conditions in Europe during January and February make it almost impossible to ride a mountain bike.
This is the second time during the past three years that the organizers of the MTN series have come up with proactive ideas.
Three years ago Evans pointed out that it served no purpose for pro-elite riders to compete in marathons over distances of 70km in preparation for World Championships over distances that range from 100km to 130km.
MTN took his words to heart and introduced the new ultra-series that give local riders regular opportunities to race farther than 100km. South African mountain biking immediately benefited from MTN’s decision. The very next year Evans finished 8th overall at the World Marathon Championship. Last year Stander won a bronze medal.
Judging by these results, it seems that it will be just a matter of time before a South African rider wins gold at a World Championship. If this should happen, MTN should be complimented for their vision.According to Wessel van der Walt from Advendurance, the person responsible for negotiating with the UCI, the other good news for pro-elite riders is that the prize money will be increased next year.
“To bring the series in line with the UCI standards, the first 15 riders in each of the pro-elite ultra races will receive prize money. The 2010 winner received R12 000, this year it will be R18 000.
“The total prize money for the series will be over R500 000.”
According to Van der Walt the riders will only be able to collect UCI ranking points in the first four races of the MTN series.