"The question is not whether Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN/Qhubeka) is capable of winning one of the MTN marathons, but rather when it will happen."
This remark was often heard last year in discussions of who would be the upcoming stars of Southern African mountain biking. Not surprisingly, Niyonshuti's name was mentioned quite often in such conversations. The rider from Rwanda did not disappoint. On Saturday, he won the MTN Clarens marathon. His winning time over 113km was five hours and 45 minutes.
What was impressive about Niyonshuti's victory was that he managed to stay in front in what was certainly one of the toughest races in the MTN series for a long time. The words "mud bath" acquired a new meaning for most of the riders.
The young Rwandan rode a masterful race with what seemed like wisdom beyond his years. He patiently waited for the exact moment to launch his attack. Niyonshuti rode over the second big climb of the day with two Garmin riders Marc Bassingthwaighte and Philip Buys. Unfazed he kept his cool and eventually dropped Buys and with about 20 kilometers to go left Bassingthwaighte for dead as well.
The day's other highlight was certainly the way in which Mannie Heymans (Garmin-adidas) fought his way back from 12th position to second, proving that ‘old age' needs not be a handicap.
It would seem as if there is something in the air of the eastern Free State that brings out the best in the Garmin-adidas riders. In almost a repetition of last year's results, they dominated the race, but narrowly missed the overall victory. Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin-adidas) finished third and Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) fourth. Switzerland's Thomas Zahnd (DCM) was the fifth rider across the line.
According to Heymans, the Clarens marathon reminded him of the fourth stage, to Swellendam, of the first Cape Epic back in 2004. "It was supposed to be an easy day, but rain during the previous night also turned the easy rolling roads into 'clay fields'.
"As if the grass climbs of the Golden Gate reserve were not enough, the normally fast, rolling district roads became a never-ending battle for man and machine. The riders, as well as their equipment, were tested to the limit. Brake failure was the main problem and only a handful of riders managed to finish with two working brakes," said Heymans.
Heymans said he felt quite comfortable for about the first 40 kilometers. "Then, suddenly, it felt as if someone had pulled my plug. I even struggled to pass the women with whom we caught up and I thought that this was going to be a 'hard day at the office'.
"I did not panic and kept going at my 'survival pace', hoping that my legs would strengthen again. After the next downhill section, I began to feel better and I was able to push some bigger gears, making up ground on the riders just in front of me.
"By the time we reached the second technical zone, I had worked my way back into sixth place. Out in front Marc (Bassingthwaighte), Phil (Buys) and Adrian (Niyonshuti) were sharing the lead with Phil (Buys) who outsprinted them for the 'King of the Mountain' title.
"Not knowing who was in front, I kept on pushing, believing that I could still make up a position or two. I first caught teammate Phil then, 2km later, I was riding with Marc. He encouraged me to keep pushing, hoping that I could catch up with strong-riding Adrian.
"But that was not to be, and an emotional Adrian won his first, and I believe one of many still to come, MTN ultra-marathons.
"The winning time ... is testimony to a very tough outing. Congratulations to every rider who managed to finish. This was a small taste of what a tough European marathon could be like."
Max Knox (DCM) had to abandon the race after his bike's brakes totally packed up. 'Free wheeling' now has a new meaning for him.
A slippery women's race
Yolandé Speedy (MTN/Qhubeka) proved that race experience simply can't be bought when she won the MTN women's marathon. The 18-year-old Candice Neethling (Bizhub), who still raced as a junior last year, again surprised by finishing second. Eszther Cluer (MTN/Qhubeka) was third.
Speedy afterwards admitted that she had to work hard for her victory.
"The course was great but the mud made it extremely demanding. We were challenged by all sorts of different mud. At some places it was sticky and at other places slippery. This meant that you could never get into a good rhythm because you had to switch between running and riding all the time."
Speedy and Cluer were in the lead for the first 60 kilometers. Unfortunately for Cluer, her legs then just gave in.
"It was so frustrating. I had nothing left in my legs. I had to endure pain during the whole of the last 15 kilometers.
"Candice caught up with and passed me with about 10 kilometers to go. There was nothing I could do about it. I cannot tell you what a relief it was just to finish. When I found out that I was still in third place, all my suffering became worthwhile. "
Despite her suffering, Cluer was still full of praise for the course.
"It is certainly one of the most beautiful routes I ever had the privilege of riding. I wish I could go back to Clarens to ride there again.'
Neethling's performance this year has been an astounding feature of women's mountain biking. In what is only her first year as a senior, she had already achieved a fourth place in the MTN Barberton marathon, she dominated the African under 23 cross country race, and now she finished second in Clarens as well.
"Wow! It was really tough out there. I think I rode an hour longer than I had planned. The muddy conditions certainly tested one's technical skills," was how Neethling described her race.
As luck would have it, Neethling got stuck in one of the muddy sections and it took her some time to get going again.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Adrien Niyonshuti (Rwa)||5:45:05|
|2||Mannie Heymans (Nam)||0:03:18|
|3||Marc Bassingthwaighte (Nam)||0:05:24|
|4||Philip Buys (RSA)||0:06:55|
|5||Thomas Zahnd (Swi)||0:09:39|
|6||Nico Bell (RSA)||0:13:43|
|7||Adrian Enthoven (RSA)||0:16:48|
|8||Paul Cordes (RSA)||0:21:42|
|9||Charles Keey (RSA)||0:32:30|
|10||Brandon Stewart (RSA)||0:43:47|
|11||Waldo Moolman (RSA)||0:45:48|
|12||Erik Kleinhans (RSA)||0:50:58|
|13||Rodney Green (RSA)||0:51:03|
|14||Carl Calverley (RSA)||0:55:27|
|15||David Low (RSA)||1:36:54|
|16||J P Jung (RSA)||1:43:12|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Yolande Speedy (RSA)||4:18:44|
|2||Candice Neethling (RSA)||0:08:15|
|3||Eszter Erdelyi (Hun)||0:12:05|
|4||Catherine Hare Willianson (GBr)||0:15:56|
|5||Luthi Ariane (Swi)||0:18:46|
|6||Ischen Stopforth (RSA)||0:24:49|
|7||Karien Van Jaarsveld (RSA)||0:30:37|
|8||Samantha Sanders (RSA)||0:46:35|
|9||Nicci Grobler (RSA)||0:52:05|
|10||Yolandi Du Toit (RSA)||1:10:45|
|11||Samantha Oosthuysen (RSA)||1:34:01|