Former South Coaster Candice Neethling (Time Freight VELOlife) and Uvongo’s Hayley Smith (Bell Equipment) excelled at the 2014 SA National MTB Marathon Championships, which took place in cool to warm conditions at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg at the weekend.
Both competed in what was a gruelling 70km Elite women’s race with a massive amount of climbing.
London 2012 Olympian Robyn de Groot (Biogen Toyota) made her intentions clear from the start where she capitalised on the hill climbs and opened a gap from the get-go, looking in superb form throughout the race as she powered up the numerous climbs.
Her advantage ensured that she was not in any danger along the cross-country sections around Cascades MTB Park, crossing the finish line in 4 hours 4 minutes and 32 seconds to take the win.
“I went in a little more nervous than last year – I had a lot to lose but everything to gain,” said De Groot. “I certainly wanted to maintain the jersey on my shoulders. It’s a great honour and I always wear it proudly.
“It was my dream and it is awesome when dreams come true. I’ve learnt in mountain biking that when you haven’t crossed the finish line you can’t count it as ticked – anything can happen. I’ve been doing some interval training, and this race was my main focus, more so than Worlds.”
Neethling finished in second place, just over nine minutes behind while Samantha Sanders (Valencia) claimed third place in a time of 04:21:20.
Neethling said: “The course was so tough, there was just a lot of climbing. We had to get out of the valley somehow, but I guess everyone thought that the climbing was over, but that wasn’t the case.
“You really had to be mentally strong. There was some nice, tough singletrack sections, and I really tried to catch Robs there, but she was too quick on the climbs. She was very strong today.”
Smith finished sixth in a time of 04:32:31. “It was one of the toughest days out on the bike but I’m happy with my result, said the KwaZulu-Natal women’s Under-23 cross-country champion.
The Elite men departed from Cascades MTB Park and began their climbing in the 95km ultra marathon course, which incorporated some monster climbs, and a cross-country style track in the final 25km.
They passed through a number of small landowners’ private land along the way as they headed into the Mount Verde and Hilton College estates.
The gruelling route passed through various private farms and was no walk in the park for the deserved winners in each category.
Defending champion James Reid (Trek South Africa) snapped his chain within the first 7km, and chased the front group of riders up to the first feed zone at 14km and went on to retain his title.
“Then it was a race of attrition, the guys came and went, and it wasn’t super hard but the guys were all trying to save for the end,” said Reid.
“I’ve come from eight weeks in Europe, and the last marathon race that I did against the South African guys was at the end of March.
“The national title is always special, you can’t get a chance to win it at every race and it is the one that counts. I managed to do it last year, and I’ve managed it again this year.
“I went in with the same tactics – wait for the last third of the race and then exploit the singletrack as much as possible. It worked out again,” he said.
Rourke Croeser (Kargo Pro MTB Team) finished in second place less than four minutes off the pace, while Kevin Evans (Fedgroup ITEC) crossed the finish line third in a time of 04:48:38.
Racing in a predominantly cross-country racing team, Croeser said: “It’s not really a switch towards marathon, it’s just really good training. It was just a super tough day and I can feel that I haven’t done much endurance.
“I was really good up until about 20km to go and I cracked badly, but it’s one of those things. It was an awesome event.”
In terms of rating the course in terms of difficulty, Croeser said: “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. I thought there would be some downhills but it pretty much seemed like just uphills the whole way. It was good!
“At about 50km, myself and James looked stronger than the other guys and we just put the hammer down from there.”
Summary of Results – 2014 SA National MTB Marathon Championships, presented by Stihl
Elite Men: Ultra marathon 95km (EM)
1 James Reid 04:41:21
2 Rourke Croeser 04:45:09
3 Kevin Evans 04:48:38
4 Brendon Davids 04:55:20
5 Nico Bell 04:56:47
6 Max Knox 04:58:15
7 Matthys Beukes 04:58:48
8 Andrew Hill 05:00:14
9 Adriaan Louw 05:02:35
10 Gabriel Combrinck 05:03:07
Elite Women: Marathon 70km (EW)
1 Robyn de Groot 04:04:32
2 Candice Neethling 04:13:43
3 Samantha Sanders 04:21:20
4 Jeannie Bomford 04:23:22
5 Amy Mcdougall 04:29:00
6 Hayley Smith 04:32:31
7 Carla van Huyssteen 04:33:42
8 Yolandi du Toit 04:37:31
9 Janine King 04:38:26
10 Leana De Jager 04:39:19