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Title sponsors of the South African National MTB Series are now offering equal prize money after its former champion boycotted the first race.

Ashburton Investments, the title sponsor of the South African National MTB Series, has announced that going forward Elite women will receive the same money as Elite men.

Ariane Lüthi is the three-time Cape Epic winner is the Swiss National Champion. She lives in Stellenbosch (South Africa) and won the series this year – but sat out of the first round this year.

Explaining her reasons on Facebook, she said: “I didn't race the Ashburton National Marathon in Grabouw, because the prize money for the top women wasn't equal to the men's. I engaged with organisers openly and at length offering many compromises. In the end I have to follow my heart."

Ariane Lüthi

The women’s prize money had increased for 2016, but was still not equal. However, following Lüthi’s boycott, Ashburton Investments did an about turn.

Ashburton will now offer equal prize money over the entire series, Marie Creighton from the investments company said: “We are firmly committed to the series, and as such, we want to encourage the participation of every rider. The prize money should be equal, and our hope is that this will further encourage more women to enter and compete. We would like to thank miss Lüthi for bringing it to our attention, and that we are able to rectify this discrepancy for the remainder of the series."

Director of the Advendurance, the company that organises the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series, Fritz Pienaar, said: “I am glad that we can offer an equal prize purse to the ladies, without lowering the men’s prize money and I do believe that the result is a win for all. I would like to thank Ashburton Investments for the continued support and look forward to a great series in 2017!"

Lüthi herself will now go ahead and race – she commented: “This is fantastic news and I cannot thank Ashburton Investments enough for increasing their sponsorship towards our beautiful sport and, in particular, their support of equality within it."

She added: “The way Ashburton Investments as well as Fritz Pienaar responded to my request is admirable. The fact that Advendurance, with the help of Ashburton Investments are willing to change the prize money structure and make it equal for women and men, is something I don’t take for granted. It is often very difficult to effect change. Maybe that is one of the biggest reasons why I love South Africa. I love it for its open mindedness."

Giving insight into the wider issues of equality across the world, she added: “It is important to me to clarify that it was never my intention to make it a fight between Advendurance and myself or between men and women for that matter. My intention was to create awareness for the gender inequality that there still is, making people think and causing a discussion about it. If the cycling community's response to this issue could be mirrored in broader society I really believe we could move forward on many more challenging social issues."

The news comes soon after the welcome announcement that British Cycling will offer equal prize money across National races, too.