Field still wide open for Bay leg of SPAR series

FLYING HIGH: Mapaseka Makhanya is one of the elite runners tackling this year’s SPAR Women’s Challenge Grand Prix Series in Port Elizabeth next week

Top runners will be breathing down Cape winner’s neck

Next week’s SPAR Women’s Challenge will see the country’s elite runners go head to head for top honours in the Port Elizabeth leg of the Grand Prix Series. In the second race of the series on May 6, professional athletes will be competing for points and a good position on the Grand Prix leaderboard.

Points are accumulated in the six SPAR Challenge races. The next event is in Durban, followed by Pretoria, Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg. The overall winner this year will receive R173 000.

There were new names at the top of the standings after the first race in Cape Town on April 2.

A newcomer to the race, Louisa Leballo, 39, of Nedbank, won by a one-second margin and she tops the leaderboard with 30 points.

She is no stranger to racing in Port Elizabeth, but as it is her rookie year competing in the Grand Prix, Leballo is unfamiliar with the course. However, she is looking to conquer the flat route.

“I just want to have a good race. My aim is to maintain my position on top of the Grand Prix leaderboard,” she said.

The top three runners in Cape Town each received 10 bonus points for beating last year’s winning time, but Leballo’s winning time of 32.58 minutes was two seconds short of the incentive time set before the race, so she did not qualify for a R5 000 bonus.

Leballo ran a personal best time, beating her previous fastest 33.29 min set in Soweto in 2003.

Another SPAR Challenge debutante, Kesa Molotsane (KPMG), is hot on her heels with 29 points, followed by three-time Grand Prix winner Irvette van Zyl (Nedbank), who has 28.

The Port Elizabeth defending champion, Van Zyl – wife of Olympic hurdler LJ – has been competing in the Bay leg since she was 15 so it has become a special race for her.

Last year was Van Zyl’s first win here after coming second and third several times, so she is excited to be healthy and ready to run to what she believes is her full potential.

“Going into this race, I am more confident than I was in Cape Town,” she said.

“I went through a really rough patch a few weeks before the event. And then in the race, I was outsprinted with 500m to go.

“So I definitely feel that I am in better shape, not only physically but mentally, too.

“I’m hoping for a good time and a top-three finish. A win will be a definite bonus,” she said.

The 2015 Grand Prix winner, Lebogang Phalula, is in fourth place in the standings with 17 points, followed by Cornelia Joubert on 16 and 2013 Grand Prix winner Mapaseka Makhanya on 15.

Makhanya said Port Elizabeth was a beautiful course and, when the weather permitted, a great place to run.

She is fully prepared as her training has been going well, and she hopes to improve with every race.

“I’m honestly going out there to do my best. I’ve never had a great run in PE so I will give this one my best shot.

“I have no specific tactics for the race. I’m just going to try better my ninth position and time from last year,” she said.

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