Durban - A strong South African contingent is desperate to break the foreign stranglehold in the Comrades Marathon "up" run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg on Sunday.
Ludwick Mamabolo, the controversial winner from last year, is among the contenders, along with Nedbank teammates Claude Moshiywa and Bongmusa Mthembu.
Fanie Matshipa, who was second in the last "up" run, is also among the local favouries, with Samancor Chrome colleague Gift Kelehe, while Charles Tjiane from Bonitas and Mr Price's Gert Thys are expected to be in the mix.
The foreign challenge should come from defending "up" run champion, Zimbabwean Stephen Muzhinghi, and Lesotho's Leboka Noto, who was third in 2012.
However, Muzhinghi, a three-time winner of the annual 86km race, has been on a downward spiral after ending seventh last year, with a change of team and injuries hampering his progress.
"He's still fit enough to win the race," his team manager, Lucas Mongatane, said on Friday.
"He's had a very good training regime and should run a good race.
"Mentally I think he's very strong. We've given him all the support he has needed and come Sunday it should be an interesting race.
"He's very determined to win back the title after last year, and one thing I can tell you about him is that he's not a quitter, he's a fighter, and he'll be up there." However, Tjiane felt it could be the end for the Zimbabwean, with the local charge attempting to produce the first South African "up" run winner since Jetman Msutu in 1992.
"I think it can be a good year for South Africans because a lot of the challengers, especially the foreign ones, are absent or struggling," Tjiane said.
"On the top of that list is Muzhinghi who is here, but he's not been doing so well, and I don't think he has the confidence to win." Mamabolo was absent from Friday's media conference, after only recently being cleared from a positive drugs test following last year's race.
"Ludwick will be even stronger this year. I'm confident about that," said team manager Nick Bester.
"After everything that happened to him, he's a strong contender once again." The women's race, meanwhile, is again expected to be dominated by Russian twins Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva from the Mr Price team.
Elena won a seventh title last year, even though she was hampered by her sister's absence due to the birth of her child.
The biggest challengers for the crown are expected to come from fellow Russian Marina Zhalybina.
The home charge will be led by Kerry Koen, the top South African last year, and Farwar Mentoor, who had previously been the top local ultra runner.
Koen, two places behind Mentoor two years ago and fifth last year, was hoping to go even better this weekend, but admitted beating the Russians was improbable.
"I think all the South Africans would love to win, but the Russian girls have proved time and again that they cannot be written off," Koen said.
"So it's going to take something special to get ahead of them."