A dress rehearsal for the Cape Epic is what the MTN Sabie marathon might just boil down to on Saturday, February 26. Germany's Karl Platt (Team Bulls), who has perfected winning the Epic into a fine art has, indicated that he will race the next marathon in the South African series.
Platt's duel with Max Knox and Thomas Zahnd (DCM), who are going to ride the Epic as a team, and Mannie Heymans (Garmin-adidas) and Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN/Qhubeka), who are also on good form will ensure an exciting race.
Knox, Niyonshuti and Heymans proved that at the moment they are the riders in top form when it comes to racing marathons with the MTN Clarens and MTN Barberton case in point. Knox won the MTN Barberton marathon, Niyonshuti was the winner at the MTN Clarens while Heymans finished third in Barberton and second in Clarens.
The big question is whether Heymans can better his position on Saturday. Judging by his past performances in Sabie, he is certainly a favourite. In his years of racing as an elite, Heymans has always managed a top-10 finish in Sabie. He has, in fact won the Sabie marathon an astonishing record of seven times.
So Mr. Sabie is a title that Mannie Heymans (Garmin adidas) has good reason to want to claim for himself. Heymans has done enough over the past 10 years to become one of the town's most popular sporting heroes. He won the very popular Sabie Marathon seven times, finished second twice and came third once. Last year he finished 10th.
When asked about Sabie, Heymans openly admits that it is "home from home" for him.
When Heymans arrived in Sabie in 1999 to take part in the race for the first time, he was still relatively unknown. "Sabie was the first important victory of my cycling career in South Africa. I think that is why the Sabie race will always be so special to me."
Heymans and Platt won the inaugural Epic in 2004. The German has also won the Epic in 2007, 2009 and 2010 with Stefan Sahm as his teammate. In 2008 they finished second.
Platt got his breakthrough in marathon-racing in 2001 with a surprise victory at the Lake Garda Marathon. In the same year he finished third in the TransAlp Challenge. Since then, there has hardly been a marathon Platt hasn't won or finished on the podium at least. A definite highlight was winning the Triple Crown - TransAlp, Cape Epic and Trans Rockies - in 2002 with three different partners.
In 2007, Platt with Sahm as his partner managed to achieve the "Triple Crown" again. Taking this into account one can assume that Platt isn't going to Sabie for a holiday.
Knox will be tough to beat - as a born and bred Lowvelder, he makes no secret about the fact that he really wants to win the Sabie marathon.
Judging by what has happened so far this year in women's mountain bike racing, its seems a foregone conclusion that Yolandé Speedy (MTN/Qhubeka) will win, barring a serious crash or mechanical problems.