Stuart Marais continued his stellar season by retaining his title at the Illovo Eston MTB Challenge at the weekend, as lady luck deserted his nearest challenger Andrew Hill once again.
Marais and Hill quickly put themselves head-and-shoulders above the rest of the strong elite field and raced away to a massive early lead.
They slugged it out on the tough climbs, and Marais just managed to out-muscle Hill to take the King Of The Mountain hotspot.
With a mouth-watering duel for the prestigious title looming large, Hill was sidelined by a technical mishap that left his saddle seat-post shattered. The mishap forced the TIB Insurance ace to cobble together a repair with the limited materials he had at hand, and he could only watch as six riders passed him.
That left Marais (Expedient Africa/Moving Parts Tractor Spares) alone at the front of the race, and having to pace himself over the last thirty kilometres, all the time looking over his shoulder to see if the chasing bunch was making any inroads into his lead.
“It was just a case of limiting losses from there to the finish,” said a relieved Marais.
“There was one section where we climbed out of a valley when I could see Tyronne (White), but otherwise I was on my own,” said Marais.
He dedicated the win to the brace of sponsors that have come on board midway through the season to enable him to continue his winning ways on the bike. “I hope I can continue to make them proud.
He wasn’t challenged in the closing stages and cantered home to win by more than six minutes, with the energetic White winning an end sprint to snatch the silver medal from Warren Price.
Left languishing well off the pace, Hill did well to reel in four places to restore some credibility to his day after the technical set-back.
“If you don’t try, you don’t get it,” he reflected after the race, having taken the decision not to bail when his seat-post broke. “It is a good lesson in not giving up. Things like this happen in racing and in life, and you just have to keep on pushing.”
David Low of the new RiVive team rounded out the top five, thrilled to make that cut in such a competitive event.
“If you look at the field today, it has just grown in depth over the years. Soon there will be bunch sprint finishes at every race,” said Low.
The race for the women’s title was shaped by the decision of Tiffany Keep to race the 40km aQuellé Half Marathon, leaving the tenacious Jeannie Dreyer to take the title on a day when she never saw any of the other pretenders to the women’s throne.
“Actually I love riding on my own because there is no pressure and I can just enjoy the ride!” said the Merchants stalwart.
“I can relax on the hills and recover a bit and then go a bit quicker when you can. I enjoy not being pressured on the single track, which can be my downfall.”
“It was a beautiful day out,” she added. “There was something for everybody, and some beautiful views. It was technical in places but not un-rideable.”
Christie-Leigh Hearder took the second, and with it the valuable ROAG series points, with Andrea de Boer securing the last spot on the podium.
Having opted to race the 40m km distance, Tiffany Keep raced into the top five overall in a race dominated by juniors, with Kusaselihle Ngidi hanging on to win a thrilling dice to the line with Sam Moore.
Earlier in the day the big field of trail runners revelled in the cool and clear conditions over the 9km and 18km distances through the Tala Private Collection reserve.
The blue riband 18km Illovo Eston Trail Run race saw a head-to-head duel between old adversaries Mthobisi Mzolo and Zimbabwean born Nomore Mandivengerei, with Merchants Change A Life athlete Mzolo reversing their Sappi Karkloof Classic result by winning the needle sprint to the finish line by the slimmest of margins.
“It was challenging because the course was quite flat!” said Mzolo, who said that this was part of his base training for the upcoming 42km Mandela Marathon.
The event drew another big field to the Eston Beaumont Farmers Club enjoying the excellent winter weather riding the manicured single track and farms roads.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS
60km Illovo Eston MTB Marathon
1.Stuart Marais 2:22:01
2.Tyronne White 2:28:24
3.Warren Price 2:28:25
4.Andrew Hill 2:29:47
5.David Low 2:30:29
6.Derrin Smith 2:30:29
7.Bradley Potgieter 2:31:20
8.Julian Jessop 2:31:20
9.Jordan Wisdom 2:33:31
10.Brennan Anderson 2:34:09
60km Illovo Eston MTB Marathon – Women
1.Jeannie Dreyer 2:52:56
2.Christie-Leigh Hearder 2:59:25
3.Andrea de Boer 3:07:24
4.Debrah Thomas 3:13:28
5.Tamika Haw 3:15:54
aQuellé 40km Half Marathon
1.Kusaselihle Ngidi 1:35:35
2.Sam Moore 1:35:36
3.Thomas Cheatle 1:40:23
4.Brent Yelland 1:40:39
5.Tiffany Keep (1st woman) 1:41:08
18km Illovo Eston Trail Run Men
1.Mthobisi Mzolo 1:05:45
2.Nomore Mandivengerei 1:05:46
3.Sibonga Shange 1:09:36
4.Mxolisi Zondi 1:09:36
5.Justin Rose 1:15:44
18km Illovo Eston Trail Run Women
1.Apiwe Gaga 1:22:25
2.Wendy Mills 1:30:03
3.Patricia Dammann 1:33:49
4.Sarah Gray 1:38:17
5.Marlene de Beer 1:42:08
9km Illovo Eston Trail run
1.Hlelani Radebe 35:51
2.Khumbulani Nzimande 35:51
3.Dumisani Shabalala 35:51
4.Raymond Radebe 39:31
5.Bongani Makhatini 40:23
More information can be found at www.illovoestonmtb.co.za