After three races on fast coastal courses, the 2023 SPAR Grand Prix moves inland to Mbombela on Saturday to launch the second half of what is turning out to be a hotly contested campaign.
In 2022, the series returned to Mpumalanga for the first time in many years, presenting the runners with a challenging out-and-back course at the iconic Mbombela Stadium.
With the top of the Grand Prix leaderboard crowded with big names after three races, there is expected to be plenty of movement in the rankings after this weekend.
Going into the race, Ethiopian athlete Selam Gebre (Nedbank Running Club) leads South African star Glenrose Xaba (Boxer Athletics Club) by just three points after they finished second and third respectively at all three contests thus far.
But both Gebre and Xaba will need to find their best form against a powerful line-up which includes the next five athletes in the SPAR Grand Prix leaderboard.
In-form Lesotho athlete Blandina Makatisi (Maxed Elite Running Club) will be eager to climb the table after settling into third position overall, while defending series champion Tadu Nare (Nedbank) will also be confident of narrowing the gap.
Nare is a key player. After missing out on the opening leg of the series in Cape Town, she secured bonus-point victories in Gqeberha and Durban and now lurks ominously in fourth spot overall.
Under the new SPAR Grand Prix structure, which requires athletes to run only four of the six races in the 2023 campaign, Nare has every chance of overtaking the others by the end of the series, given her scintillating form so far.
After Mbombela, she only needs to run one more race, in either Tshwane or Johannesburg, to complete the required four.
Should she overtake Gebre and Xaba and once again take the title, she will join Rene Kalmer and Irvette van Zyl, who have both won three SPAR Grand Prix titles in the past.
Cian Oldknow (Hollywood Athletics Club) is also in the field and while she is lying 11th overall after running just one race, she too can rocket up the standings if she competes in the remaining three events.
AJOK ADDS TO EXCITEMENT
Similarly, three-time series champion Irvette van Zyl (Hollywood) will be hoping to take advantage of the new points structure. She was ninth in her first race of the year in Durban last month and also has three more races to improve her position.
In addition, the elite field for this weekend's race features the likes of experienced athlete Kesa Molotsane (Murray and Roberts Running Club), consistent performer Cacisile Sosibo and her Boxer teammates, twin sisters Lebo and Lebogang Phalula.
Adding another element of excitement, the line-up also includes Ugandan middle-distance star Docus Ajok. Though she has only one official 10km performance to her credit (36:25), Ajok is a four-time medallist in the 800m and 1 500m events at the World Student Games and she has a turn of speed which makes her a dangerous prospect.
With lightning-fast times having been clocked at the first three legs of the SPAR Grand Prix, the next three contests will be more tactical, with race strategies on the hilly terrain outside the Mpumalanga capital likely to play a key role.
With arguably the strongest field of the series so far lining up, plus huge prize money and valuable Grand Prix points up for grabs, a race of the highest quality can be expected in Mbombela.
The fourth leg of the SPAR Grand Prix will start at 7am on Saturday at Mbombela Stadium.