Max Knox (Specialized) used some "Burry Stander magic" to win the MTN Barberton marathon mountain bike race for a record fourth time on Saturday while Candice Neethling (BMC) prevailed in the women's race.
The finish was quite dramatic. When Knox entered the stadium, he slowed down and pointed one finger up to the sky in a salute to Stander, who was tragically killed by a taxi on a training ride earlier this year.
Knox made it clear that his sole motivation for the duration of the race was to ride a good race in honour of Stander.
Spectators at the finish noticed that Knox rode in a Specialized jersey with Stander's name emblazoned on the back.
There is an interesting story behind this. When Knox signed up to ride for Specialized, he did not have any kit at first, and Stander gave him one of his own jerseys. This was the jersey in which Knox won the Barberton marathon.
The race was a classic duel between Knox and Matthys Beukes (Contego). The duel began during the second lap when Knox attacked at the beginning of the last serious climb.
Beukes was the only rider who was able to take on Knox, turning the race into a thrilling contest. The former was slightly stronger on the climb, managing to stay about 10 seconds ahead of Knox, but going downhill Knox attacked and regained the lead.
Unfortunately for Beukes, he bonked with about five kilometres to go.
"Maybe it happened because I did not eat enough during the race. I simply had nothing left in my legs. All I could do was pray that nobody would pass me during the last few kilometres," Beukes said.
Luckily nobody did.
Knox's winning time for the race over 110km was five hours, 17 minutes and 32 seconds. Beukes was second in 5:19:15 and Charles Keey (Cannondale/Blend Properties) third in 5:19:52.
Because it was extremely important for Knox to win, he deliberately chose to play down his chances of winning. "I am not ready yet. It is too early in the season. I am planning to peak later on. It will be anybody's race."
These were just a few of his comments before the race.
Beukes's second-place finish came as a bit of surprise, especially because he mainly focussed on cross country racing during previous seasons. "I decided to compete more often in the marathon races. At long last I got the hang of racing over such long distances...
"But I still plan to compete in cross-country races as well."
For the first time in years, the race was not dominated by the same riders. Riders who impressed were Keey and Darren Lill (both Cannondale/Blend Properties), Erik Kleinhans, Lourens Luus and Waylon Woolcock (all RE:CM) as well as Rourke Croeser (Kargo / Orange Monkey).
Kleinhans is stronger and fitter than he ever was. On Saturday, however, he was extremely unlucky. It looked like a forgone conclusion that he would finish third but, when it mattered most, he was brought to a standstill by mechanical problems.
Lill impressed on the first climb. He attacked seconds after Knox complained about the negative racing.
At that stage it seemed as if everybody was just racing against Knox, waiting for him to do something.
Lill attacked and managed to obtain a lead of about two minutes on Beukes and Philip Buys (Scott) and another two minutes on the rest of the riders.
Unfortunately he also ended up being a victim of mechanical problems.
The 21-year-old Luus, who had been second at Attakwas, proved his consistency in marathons by coming fourth at Barberton.
In the women's race, it was not only a case of Olympian versus Olympian, but also of mountain biker versus road cyclist. In the end there was no surprise. Candice Neethling (BMC), the Olympic cross country mountain biker, prevailed. She won the 76km race in three hours, 35 minutes and 56 seconds.
Robyn de Groot, who represented South Africa in road cycling at the Olympic Games in London last year, was second in 3:36:01.
De Groot's performance on Saturday was impressive because the MTN Barberton race was her first serious attempt at mountain bike racing. "I did my first mountain bike race just before Christmas last year, but it was basically just a comfortable 55km fun ride on the Garden Route.
"My decision to race at Barberton was really taken on the spur of the moment," De Groot said.
Britain's Catherine Williamson and Ischen Stopforth were third and fourth respectively in the same time of 3:39:12.
The two Specialized riders gave the impression that they were just on a good hard training ride for the Cape Epic.
Ariane Kleinhans (RE:CM) was certainly the unluckiest rider on the day. Coming from her recent victory at the Attakwas, she attacked on the first serious climb of the Barberton race and managed to ride away from all her rivals. But a victory was not meant to be for her on Saturday.
Only a few kilometres further on, mechanical problems brought her attempt at Barberton to secure two consecutive victories to an abrupt halt. Neethling then took the lead, with De Groot catching up later on during the race.
The two of them became involved in a ding-dong battle. Neethling managed to open up small gaps on the technical sections, but De Groot clawed her way back on the climbs. But in the end, when it really mattered, Neethling was just that little bit more experienced and stronger.
This was Neethling's second victory in the MTN series. Last year she won at Hilton. She plans to race the MTN Sabie, and maybe Clarens as well, before shifting her focus back to cross country racing.
"My main goal for the season is definitely to be at my best for the cross country world championship in August in Pietermaritzburg."
De Groot said she thoroughly enjoyed herself on Saturday. "I will definitely compete in more mountain biking events from now on."
What was surprising about De Groot's mountain biking debut, was her strength going up the climbs. Only Kleinhans and Neethling were able to beat her to the top of the steepest climb.
As a road cyclist, De Groot is considered to be a sprinter who can also climb if the need should arise. "Coming from a road cycling background certainly helped. What should be remembered is that team tactics are important in road cycling.
"If your team's climber gets away on a climb, you don't chase her down. That is why I am seldom very aggressive in the mountain stages of tour cycling."
De Groot admits that she did suffer on the Barberton climbs. "At one stage the climb felt never-ending. Going downhill was fun, but I did experience some scary moments."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|2||Robyn de Groot||0:00:05|
|4||Leana De Jager||0:12:08|
|5||Yolandi Du Toit||0:12:10|
|11||Dalene Van Der Leek||0:36:28|
|16||Laurike Van Huyssteen||0:48:09|
|17||Wilmarie du Plessis||0:52:37|
|27||Mia van Rooyen||1:34:05|
|30||Christine De Jager||1:48:59|
|35||Roxanne van Winsen|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|17||Miguel Santos Magan Faba||0:33:23|
|28||Russel De Jager||1:00:40|
|29||Guylin van den Berg||1:01:32|
|30||De Wet Doman||1:02:58|
|35||Ronald Andrew Stockwell||1:12:15|
|36||Wayne Mc Duling||1:13:52|
|58||Jacques Le Roux||2:01:42|
|61||Gert Janse van Rensburg||2:06:20|
|66||Pieter de Jager||2:16:09|
|67||Coenie Van Eck||2:19:09|
|69||Manus De Waal||2:21:49|
|70||julien van der pluym||2:24:25|
|74||Jeandre van Schalkwyk||2:35:26|
|80||Willie van der Vyver||8:11:30|
|82||Chris de Beer||8:16:52|
|90||Ernie van der Vyver|
|94||Christopher Van Rooyen||0:17:06|
|99||Johan De Buys||0:23:53|
|100||dave van den berg||0:23:54|
|108||Ryan de Bruin||0:41:38|
|DNF||Jakes van Staden|
|DNF||carel le roux|
|DNF||Carl van Maanen|
|DNF||Jac Louis van Wyk|
|DNF||Christian Van der berg|
|DNF||Marius Van Wyk|
|DSQ||Daniel Herman Scholtz|
|DSQ||Pieter Steynberg Vorster|
|DSQ||Deon de Kock|