Pietermaritzburg - Sam Bull rocketed to his first ever National downhill cup MTB victory and Danish stars Sebastian Fini and Simon Andreassen captured the 20km and 50km marathon titles respectively as the successful inaugural Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at the Cascades MTB Park drew to an end on Sunday.
For Fini, who finished fourth in a superb field that contested the men's elite cross country race on Saturday, Sunday's 20km marathon was a fun ride to bring down the curtain on the Danish national team's visit to South Africa.
"I enjoyed the mud! Yesterday we didn't have any mud [during the cross country], so it was nice to have it today," he said.
"It has been a good trip. We were in Johannesburg for a week and for a race there, and then we have been in Pietermaritzburg, and I would say it's nicer here in Pietermaritzburg. I was at the Worlds in 2013. Maybe we will come back again. It's a nice course here."
The super-talented Simon Andreassen, a junior world champion in both cyclocross and mountain biking, claimed victory in the 50km Classic after fighting off the challenge of South African star James Reid on a route that had been soaked by rain the previous evening.
"It was very slippery and wet, and very slow rolling because it was so heavy, but I am used to it in Denmark, so it was fine for me," he said.
"After 15 minutes, I broke clear of James. In the middle of race, after I took a wrong turn, he caught me again. Before the last downhill, I tried to attack and I managed to break away. It was a lot of fun," he added.
"Watching Simon is quite interesting because he pedals completely differently to other people. You always learn, even from a guy who is four years younger than me. He has got a technique-orientated style, a very complete pedal stroke, and he is pedalling all the time and keeping momentum," Reid said.
With a smile on his face, he continued: "We've got a good crop of [South African] juniors nowadays. It is really good. There were a whole lot that were still with us in Hilton and I didn't know these guys. That was really cool."
"To have a world champion standing on the podium today was great, and it just shows that people still think of Pietermaritzburg as a very viable, international venue, which I think is fantastic," event organiser Alec Lenferna weighed in.
Multisport star Carla van Huysteen was a runaway winner of the women's title. It was her first time back on a mountain bike since she broke her left wrist nine weeks ago, which caused her some pain on the climbs, but it was something that was not going to stop her.
"I'm in Seventh Heaven," she grinned. "It was really messy and muddy. There were some descents where I can't believe I stayed on my bike. It was a really good course, though, very pumpy, hard climbing, lots of it. I don't know what the elevation was, but we ascended a lot. It's just an amazing track."
The downhill wrapped up the Festival, just in time to avoid afternoon rain, and it came down to the three final riders racing down the hill. Tim Bentley clocked a 4:39.8 to better Sam Bull's fastest qualifying run of 4:40, but it looked as if reigning national champion Tiaan Odendaal might have wrapped up victory when he slashed a massive eight seconds off of Bentley's time. Bull, however, then ran an astonishing 4:28.7 to steal the win.
There were plenty of congratulations offered to the man from Howick after a fine effort. With a satisfied look, almost of disbelief, on his face, Bull said: "It's my first Nationals win. I've won quite a few first race [seeding] runs in Provincials and other races, but I have always been pipped. I have had a lot of second places.
"I'm happy to finish three seconds ahead of Tiaan. He and I are the same age. We've battled a lot throughout the years and he was always a step above me coming through the junior ranks; he had raced a bit longer than me. Now I am just stoked to be where I wanted to be, especially at a National level. To tick off a National Cup win is really awesome. I am very happy with that."
Lenferna, the man behind numerous top UCI events in Pietermaritzburg, including MTB, BMX, track and road, said he was satisfied with how the Festival had played out.
"I think this concept is one that can work. It is something that we will explore going forward. I like the opportunity that it affords for people to watch proper racing, like the elite cross country on Saturday, and then be able to ride today. The idea of being a spectator and a participant is really cool.
"The multi-disciplinality of the event was something that was interesting and worth exploring more," he concluded.
2015 Stihl SA National Downhill Cup #2Cascades, Pietermaritzburg
1. Sam Bull 4:28.719
2. Tiaan Odendaal 4:31.928
3. Tim Bentley 4:39.852
4. Andrew Martin 4:42.077
5. Ryan Frerichs 4:46.438
6. Christopher Philogene 4:50.551
7. Andre Pretorius 4:53.801
8. Kelvin Purchase 4:55.302
9. David Hogan 4:55.519
10. Shane Martin 5:01.235