Men shine at muddy inaugural Rainbow Challenge

The inaugural Rainbow Challenge got the weekend’s UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships action underway at Cascades MTB Park on Saturday 28 June. A large contingent of South Africans were joined by a score of foreigners for the slippery and muddy affair.

The 30-year-old or older competitors took to the trails of Pietermaritzburg and surrounds in search of victory in their age group categories. The hotly contested men’s 30-34 and 35-39 age groups set off together and after suffering various thrills and spills throughout the 70km clash, it was national 35-39 champion Brand du Plessis who crossed the finish line first.

“I am very thrilled to have won!” said du Plessis. “It was very muddy out there and very slippery but I managed to make it home without any serious clashes and so I’m very happy!”

Jan Withaar, who clinched victory in the men’s 30-34 clash of last year’s Masters Cross Country World Championships, had spent much of the encounter out in front with du Plessis however a crash two-thirds of the way into the race saw him fall off the pace slightly and so instead he turned his attention solely onto the men’s 30-34 victory.

“Brand and I had said at the beginning that if the other guys joined us then we’d probably look to work together to get away and that it would be pretty cool if we, both SA Champs in our age group, could finish together,” explained Withaar.

“I came off the bike with about 30km to go though in the first really slippery section and I damaged my bike a bit so I had to let Brand go. “I tried hard to close the gap after that but I’m still just happy to have got the win even though I’d hoped there would have been a few more foreigners here this year just as there were for last year’s cross country Worlds,” he added.

The large men’s 40-44 field raced off half an hour after their younger compatriots and after South African marathon champ Johan Labuschagne had to withdraw, it was Andy Davies who crossed the line first while Arno Daehnke claimed the men’s 45-49 title.

The men’s 50-54 race was fiercely contested and it was widely known cycling analysis and TV personality Andrew Mclean who eventually came home to claim the spoils as he posted the third fastest time of the day overall, just two minutes behind overall winner du Plessis and 13 seconds after Withaar.

Mclean was followed home by men’s 50-54 Swedish national champ Atle Hansen while Poland’s Jacek Brzozka added further to the international presence on the podium by finishing third.

Greg Anderson won the men’s 55-59 category before Linus van Onselen added to his masters cross-country world title he clinched at Cascades last year when he powered to victory in men’s 60-64 race, contested over a shortened but no less difficult 50km route, while Sandy Rae won the men’s 60-64 encounter.

James van Rensburg and Craig Ridgard may not have been at the front of the field however the efforts by the two turned many heads and served as inspiration for all who competed and supported the event alike as the pair tackled the tough 50km course despite their disabilities.

Van Rensburg was the first Para-cyclist across the line and, understandably, was thrilled with his effort. “I’m over the moon, it is a dream come true for me!” said van Rensburg. “I’ve always wanted to take part in a Mountain Bike World Championships and I think this is now the beginning for Para-cycling to become bigger and bigger, especially in mountain biking! I’ve competed in the Road World Champs in Italy before but for me, this is even more special than that. My smile will stay on my face for weeks!”

Despite only having 10% function in his left arm, van Rensburg was determined to take advantage of the rare opportunity the event represented for Para-cyclists to compete on such a prestigious stage. “It’s the same for myself and the able body riders, we all have to pedal with two legs and just hold on as best we can along the way,” chuckled van Rensburg.

More information on the 2014 Rainbow Challenge can be found at www.rainbowchallenge.co.za.

Photo: Brand du Plessis claimed victory in the men's 35-39 category of Saturday's Rainbow Challenge in Pietermaritzburg as he posted the fastest time of the day © Darren Goddard/Gameplan Media

Summary of results - 2014 RAINBOW CHALLENGE

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Men 30-34 (70km)

1 Jan Withaar 03:54:39
2 Tyronne White 04:01:49
3 Craig Stone 04:06:04
4 Derrin Smith 04:10:00
5 Dion Froneman 04:10:34

Men 35-39 (70km)

1 Brand du Plessis 03:52:52
2 Grant Usher 04:03:29
3 David Cooke 04:12:41
4 Warren Price 04:14:13
5 Hennie Kriek 04:15:01

Men 40-44 (70km)

1 Werner Moolman 04:01:12
2 Andy Davies 04:16:31
3 Leon Erasmus 04:19:09
4 Lance Chapman 04:19:10
5 Dirk Barnard 04:22:24

Men 45-49 (70km)

1 Arno Daehnke 04:08:47
2 Bruce Diesel 04:09:08
3 Jeremy Thomson 04:11:57
4 Robert Sim 04:12:52
5 Petrus Swiegers 04:15:05

Men 50-54 (70km)

1 Andrew Mclean 03:54:52
2 Atle Hansen (SWE) 04:04:55
3 Jacek Brzozka (POL) 04:08:55
4 Doug Brown 04:10:16
5 William Wertheim-Aymes 04:28:22

Men 55-59

1 Greg Anderson 04:07:30
2 Paul Furbank 04:15:46
3 Norman Boy 04:26:16
4 Jimmy Redman 04:30:48
5 Kim Phillips 04:31:30

Men 60-64 (50km)

1 Linus van Onselen 03:04:56
2 Kjell Friberg 03:17:33
3 Cobus Slabbert 03:47:26
4 Sandy Kelly 03:47:46
5 John Becker 03:53:15

Men 65+ (50km)

1 Sandy Rae 03:38:29
2 Bruce Williams 04:00:57
3 Bruce Hansen 04:19:05
4 Tony Howe 04:31:31
5 Colin Mercer 05:24:51

Men Para

1 James van Rensburg 03:29:52
2 Craig Ridgard 04:16:51

ENDS

Source: Rainbow Challenge press release