Max Knox and Robyn de Groot emerged the victors at the third round of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series this year, which played host to the 2016 South African Mountain Bike Marathon Championships in Clarens, today. De Groot made it her fourth consecutive National Title while it was Knox’s second National Title and third win at this venue.
The Elite Men’s Ultra Marathon kicked off promptly at 07:15 in crisp cool conditions as they embarked on 112 kilometres along the dusty and scenic trails that Clarens has to offer. Early in the race, Waylon Woolcock (USN Purefit) suffered a puncture, which separated him from the lead group. After inserting two plugs and bombing (inflating) the wheel, which was cracked, he wasn't too sure of how far back he was and kept on chasing the lead bunch that consisted of his teammate Darren Lill, Max Knox (Lowveld Tractors/Dirk Lourens Cycles), defending champion Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell (both NAD Pro MTB) and James Reid (Team Spur). Woolcock caught up to Lill and the pair worked together to the group where Woolcock tried to recover.
Knox launched an attack on the climb after the second water point at 56 kilometres and Woolcock stayed with him for most of the way but in the final climb before the descent into Clarens, Knox got a gap and sailed away to the finish to claim his second ever National Championship title.
Knox said: “My race went very well. I enjoy racing at Clarens and I’ve won two times here before so I knew if I rode well and smart then I would be able to be in contention at the end. It was a little bit difficult because the other guys had two team members but I just tried to stay in contention until the 50-kilometre mark where I knew it would get hard. I went hard there and only Waylon came with me. I managed to get a gap from him and knew that I would have to be on my own in front. I kept it steady and am really happy to take the win.”
Combrinck crossed the line in second place, one-and-a-half minutes off the pace: “I put in a big effort at the start. I launched a big attack just before the 56-kilometre tech zone and then on the steep climb right after that, Max and Waylon rode away. We caught Waylon just out of town and Nico put in a big effort to chase him down but Max was too strong and we could not catch him. I managed to get a gap on Waylon in the last singetrack to the finish.”
Woolcock was spent after his earlier efforts. “I spent too many pennies trying to catch up from my puncture earlier in the race. Apparently I came back to the group from an eight-minute deficit so that effort cost me in the end. Well done to Gawie – he stuck it to me on the last descent.”
Starting five minutes after the Elite Men, at 07:20, the Elite Women set off on their 77.5-kilometre Marathon. A group of four riders – De Groot (Team Ascendis Health), Samantha Sanders (Valencia) and Candice Neethling (Team Dorma) – looked comfortable together at the 56-kilometre tech zone with Amy McDougall (Valencia) in fourth place, two minutes and 40 seconds behind.
At the most talked-about climb after the tech zone, De Groot attacked and got a gap on Sanders, which she carried until the end of the race. This is where McDougall managed to reel in Neethling and hold third place until the end.
De Groot was happy with her race, which she said went exactly to plan: “I came in with a plan today and holding onto the jersey was something that I wasn't letting go of and I’ve worked pretty hard towards it. Myself and Sam and Candice got away on the Queen of the Mountain and went along some flat rocky sections and my chain came off my front chain ring so I had to stop and put that on. They were going at a fast pace and I worked hard to catch them again and had to manage my energy after that. I knew the course pretty well from the tech zone (56-kilometre mark) and I knew where I needed to go and it went according to plan.”
Sanders took a tumble after crashing hard in the singletrack but commended De Groot on her performance. “I knew Robyn was the one to beat today and after the tech zone I hung onto her wheel because I saw Candice was struggling a little bit. When Robs attacked, I couldn't hold her pace and she got away and in the singletrack I tried hard to close the gap and had a bit of a fall. Robs was super strong and she deserves the win.”
McDougall was elated with her third place: “I kept pushing as hard as I could and at 65 kilometres I saw Candice and pushed extra hard to close in on her at the 70-kilometre mark. I rode as hard as I could and I’m pretty stoked with third place.”
Neethling said that she gave it everything she had in the last few kilometres. “We were all together and riding well but as soon as we went past that tech zone and hit that horrible climb, I just started battling and backed off a little bit, and that was all the pace that I had at the finish.”
For more information, visit: http://www.cyclingsa.com/2016-sa-mtb-marathon-champs/.
Summary of Results – 2016 South African Mountain Bike Marathon Championships
1.Max Knox 04:10:00
2.Gawie Combrinck 04:11:35
3.Waylon Woolcock 04:13:29
4.Nico Bell 04:15:24
5.Darren Lill 04:24:01
6.Hendrik (HB) Kruger 04:25:37
7.Matthew Beers 04:25:40
8.Timothy Hammond 04:27:31
9.Pieter Seyffert 04:28:42
10.Ben Melt Swanepoel 04:29:20
1.Robyn de Groot 03:25:34
2.Samantha Sanders 03:27:27
3.Amy Mcdougall 03:33:32
4.Candice Neethling 03:34:44
5.Vanessa Bell 03:38:40
6.Carmen Buchacher 03:39:09
7.Maricel Bekker 03:46:14
8.Adrienne Moolman 03:53:09
9.Emily Clarke 03:55:38
10.Anriette Schoeman 04:06:08