Seven years almost to the day after his last major marathon victory, Jacques Rossouw (Fedgroup - ITEC Connect) made a triumphant return when he claimed a dominant victory over a strong field at the MTN South African National Mountain Bike Series marathon in Barberton.
Four-time South African marathon champion, Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360Life) finished second with Jacques Janse van Rensburg (MTN Qhubeka) claiming third place. Defending champion, Max Knox (Decca Ghost) had to be content with fourth and South African road race champion, Darren Lill (Team Bonitas) rounded out the top five in a gruelling five-hour battle
The 120km race, which included over 3000 metres of vertical ascent, was contested by one of the strongest fields ever assembled in a South African national series event. The Barberton event marked the start of the prestigious eight-race series, which, with over 15,000 participants, is the world's largest mountain bike series.
For Rossouw, the venue of his victory was significant. In 2005, he won the Barberton Classic (as it was then known). He was one of the most dominant riders in the country at the time, but it was his last major victory before his retirement from the sport at age 24. His premature retirement was forced by illness, brought on by overtraining and a compromised immune system. But in 2011, after a six-year break, he began a comeback, wiser and hungry for success.
Patience has never been his strong point, but Rossouw displayed plenty of that in Barberton on Saturday. Power on the other hand has certainly been his strong point - his nickname is "Big Blade" - and he showed plenty of that too, but only when necessary.
Rossouw raced the perfect race. He lost teammate Brandon Stewart after 10km due to a damaged rim, but that failed to rattle Rossouw, who sat patiently in the lead pack up the first climb, a 13km, 925m dirt road ascent, only turning an angry pedal at the summit to secure the King of the Mountains prize. He then sat in again down the long descent.
"Adrien (Niyonshuti) and Jacques (Janse van Rensburg) of the MTN team pushed the pace up the first big climb. I just sat on their wheels and waited for the top to get the King of the Mountain sprint. Then I waited until the start of the second climb, where I had decided before the race to make a big move," explained Rossouw.
And it was on this steep 8km climb at 79km that he launched his race-winning move.
"I didn't attack, but just picked up my pace. I saw Kevin (Evans) taking some strain, so I took it up another notch and only Jacques (Janse van Rensburg) and Max (Knox) and Darren (Lill) stayed with me for a while and then they dropped off. I kept a steady pace to the top and was told I had a three-minute lead. I went hard on the descent to try and increase my lead a bit, but then took it a bit easy on the next section with lots of river crossings as I didn't want to do anything silly and risk bike damage," said Rossouw.
The 30-year-old Capetonian then upped his pace again in the final 10km and claimed an emotionally charged victory in a time of 4 hours, 58 minutes and 58 seconds. He slumped over his bike after crossing the finish line, clearly having given his all.
"I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that I am serious about this comeback. I trained really hard over the past few months and wouldn't be able to be in this position if it weren't for Brandon Stewart, my teammate and employer and our sponsors. Brandon has been coaching me and has also given me so much advice about race routes and other riders. It's a good way to start our first full year as Team Fedgroup - ITEC Connect."
"We're a very new team and today we went from underdog to top dog in 120km," said Stewart. "Obviously it's good to win the first big race of the season, but to beat such a strong field is very good for our confidence. We prepared very well for this race and it showed in the end."
In the women's race, Ariane Kleinhans (Contego Giant) claimed her first Barberton title, securing victory in a quick 3:14:49, which gave her third place overall in the event. Second place went to rising star, Candice Neethling (Team BMC), with Ischen Stopforth (Team bizhub) completing the first three positions.
Round 2 of the South African Marathon National Series will take place on February 18 in Tulbach, Western Cape.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|3||Jacques Janse Van Rensburg||0:06:15|
|18||Ruan Du Toit||0:38:42|
|23||Guylin Van Den Berg||1:12:23|
|26||Jaco Du Toit||1:20:59|
|36||Carl Van Maanen||2:44:57|
|DNF||Paul Alexander Van Zweel|
|DNF||Jozua De Kock|
|DNF||Gert Janse Van Rensburg|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|12||Yolandi Le Roux||2:19:23|