The Pretoria Challenge -- the fourth race in the six-race series - takes place at Supersport Park on Saturday, August 4 and elite runners will be doing their best to claim a stake in the Grand Prix.
Defending champion Kesa Molotsane appeared to be cruising to victory until the third race in Durban in June, where she had an off-day and Zimbabwean Betha Chikanga surprised everyone by leading from start to finish to win the race.
Glenrose Xaba, who finished second in all three races so far, moved into the lead, two points ahead of Molotsane, who won the Cape Town and Port Elizabeth races, but finished sixth in Durban. Xaba has 57 points and Molotsane has 55.
Another Zimbabwean, Rudo Mhonderwa, is in third position, with 51 points, having finished fourth in all three races.
Chikanga said after her victory in Durban that she hoped to take part in all three
“We thought she would fade after a while and when we realised she wasn’t going to fade, we had left ourselves too much work to do to close the gap,” said Nolene Conrad, who finished third, behind Chikanga and Xaba.
“We’ve run with her before and we won’t let her get so far ahead again.”
Xaba recently won the Totalsports Women’s 10km race in Durban in 33.41 minutes, and several of the elite runners were in action in the South African half marathon championships in Port Elizabeth at the weekend. Chikanga finished in seventh position, and was followed by Mhonderwa, Lebogang Phalula and Christine Kalmer.
Conrad, who missed the first two races because of international commitments, will be aiming to improve her position. She and three times Grand Prix winner Irvette Van Zyl are currently in joint 15th place, having each missed two races, but they are both expected to move up the ladder in the last three races.
Van Zyl, who can’t remember how many times she has won the Pretoria Challenge, will be back in action on Saturday, eight weeks after giving birth to her second son, Gideon.
“I ran the day before he was born, and would have run that morning, except my water broke,” said Van Zyl.
“I was back on the road almost immediately after the birth and is feeling very fit. The Phalula twins Lebo and Lebohang have been relatively quiet this year, but the two previous SPAR Grand Prix champions can never be ruled out.
So far, none of the top runners has managed to pick up bonus points for finishing in a better time than last year. Bonus points could be crucial in deciding who collects the R185 000 winner’s cheque after the Johannesburg race.
Following the Pretoria race on Saturday the Grand Prix Series moves to Pietermaritzburg on Sunday 19 August followed by the last race in the 2018 series in Johannesburg on 7 October.
- Michael Vlismas