Watch out for Ben-Melt Swanepoel (Merida/Squirt Lube) at the MTN Ride Crater Cruise marathon in Parys, South Africa, on Saturday, October 13. A study of the results of the Ride Crater Cruise reveals that Swanepoel has a unique record. Apparently there is something about even numbers that brings out the best in him.
In the inaugural Ride Crater Cruise in 2004, he finished second and in 2006 and 2008, he went one better and won the race. The only blemish on his record was in 2010 when he missed a podium finish by a mere eight seconds to finish fourth.
This year's race will mark the return of the "prodigal son" of South African mountain biking.
Swanepoel missed most of this season's national MTN marathons because he was racing in the United States.
He was certainly not there just to make up the numbers. He won three stages in the Breck Epic in Colorado and finished fourth in the gruelling Breckenridge 100-miler.
Another highlight was when he finished second in the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series Final at Fools Gold. American Jeremiah Bishop (Cannondale), was the only rider who was able to catch up with and pass the South African.
Swanepoel mostly competed in 100-mile mountain-bike races. Each race lasted from seven to nine hours. According to him, the 100-milers make for quite intense racing because they are usually contested on challenging singletrack sections.
The experience gained by Swanepoel while racing in the USA, will certainly count in his favour during the Ride Crater Cruise race. Apart from the high mileage that he has done, there is something else that might count in his favour.
Max Knox (Specialized), Kevin Evans and David George (Nedbank360Life) and Nico Bell (Westvaal Columbia) all competed at the UCI World Marathon Championship in France last Sunday.
They are four of the major role players in the series but they will probably only arrive back in South Africa during the week leading up to the event. Come race day they might still suffer from jet lag.
Swanepoel said the MTN Ride Crater Cruise is a totally unique race. "Offhand I cannot think of any international race that can be compared with the Ride Crater Cruise. It is a strange race in which you definitely need a bit of luck. Teamwork certainly also plays a major role, and so does endurance.
"One place where the race can be won or lost is at the koppie, just after the last water point. Another is on the singletrack section where you have to bounce over tufts of grass all the time."