Burry Stander (Specialized) was the first rider across the line at the MTN Hilton Dirt Fest marathon on Saturday, September 24, proving for the umpteenth time that nothing can beat international racing experience.
When Stander missed an early break that consisted of David George (360Life), Max Knox (Ghost) and Brandon Stewart (Itec), he did not panic. He just waited for the first technical downhill section to make his move and quickly caught up with the race leaders. A few riders followed Stander.
During the next 60 kilometers, the race developed into a classic cat and mouse game. Riders weaved their way through and over a variety of rocks and loose sand sections, as well as some of nature's other obstacles.
According to Stander the racing was not really very hard at that stage. "What I found interesting was that, in spite of the fact that the organizers had lengthened the distances for the ultra-marathons, our race tactics have not really changed.
"Actually this is to be expected. It is not possible to race flat out over 100 kilometers and still be competitive at the end when the serious racing starts. So we basically rode together nicely, occasionally using each other's slipstream.
"I decided to up the pace with about 20 kilometers to go."
George and Niyonshuti were the only riders who were brave enough to try to keep up with Stander.
But once Stander really gets going, he is like a slow poison that slowly but surely kills off his rivals. George was the first to throw in the proverbial towel.
Niyonshuti impressed everybody with his tenacity, just refusing to give up. Stander only managed to rid himself of the Rwandan rider over the last 10 kilometers.
Stander's winning time was four hours 18 minutes and 34 seconds. Niyonshuti was second in 4:20:31, Knox third in 4:22:35, George fourth in 4;24:01 and Darren Lill (Bonitas) fifth in 4:24:51.
Stander will not compete in the MTN series again this year because he will fly out to France on Thursday.
Knox, George and Niyonshuti are basically the only riders who have a realistic chance of winning the MTN series overall.
Actually it will all go down to the wire with the Ride Crater Cruise as the final 'battle ground'. Niyonshuti will have to outride Knox again for an overall victory. If something should go badly wrong for both Niyonshuti and Knox, and Kevin Evans or George (360Life) should win, the situation could become really interesting.
Knox readily admits that the course of the Ride Crater Cruise does not really suit his style of riding.
"But it will not help to get all worked up about it. I will just have to adapt and give it my all."
Tight battle in women's race
The MTN women's marathon was a humdinger in which Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Qhubeka) just managed to outsprint Ischen Stopforth (Bizhub) at the end. Only 10 seconds separated the two riders. Yolandi du Toit (Bizhub) finished third.
Speedy had to work hard right until the end to make sure that she stayed in front of the hard chasing Stopforth. In the end the time gap between the two riders was merely 10 seconds.
Speedy's winning time for the 75km marathon was four hours, two minutes and 33 seconds and Stopforth finished in 4:02:43.
"For Yolandé everything went according to plan," said her training partner Paul Cordes. "As we anticipated there was quite a bit of singletrack which was to her advantage. It made our decision to keep her on full suspension spot on.
"Yolandé climbed very well on the day and she took the 'Queen of the mountain' which was a great bonus. Right at the beginning of the race, she put her skills to good use to gain a slight advantage on the other girls, forcing them to chase.
"When they all came back together, the cat and mouse games between Yolandé, Ischen and Candice Neethling (Bizhub) started in all earnest.
"Eventually Yolandé managed to take advantage of a small slip-up by Ischen, which gave her and Candice a small lead.
"Then she was able to open a gap on Candice on one of the drags, after which she just focused on maintaining a steady pace and minimizing her mistakes.
"The worst mistake that Yolande made was to misread her trip meter, which made her think that she was closer to the finish than she actually was.
"When she came onto one of the last climbs, she suddenly realized that Ischen was only a couple of 100 meters behind her. She then had to dig deep to make sure that she stayed ahead of Ischen."
Stopforth said it was definitely one of the most exciting races she has ever competed in.
"It does not often happen that there is such a tight finish in a women's marathon. I think Yolandé's technical skills on the singletrack sections made the big difference. I managed to make up time on every climb and on the open roads, but unfortunately I kept on losing time on the singletrack sections.
"Going onto the last little climb I could actually see Yolandé. I then pushed myself that extra bit harder, but it was to no avail. The finish was only 50 meters away."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Burry Stander (Specialized USN)||4:18:34|
|2||Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN Qhubeka)||0:01:47|
|3||Max Knox (DoItNow Ghost)||0:04:01|
|4||David George (Nedbank 360Life)||0:05:27|
|5||Darren Lill (Team Bonitas)||0:06:17|
|6||Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360Life)||0:08:00|
|7||Ben Melt Swanepoel (Specialized)||0:09:24|
|8||Jacques Janse van Rensburg (MTN Qhubeka)||0:13:37|
|9||Brandon Stewart (ITEC Connect)||0:16:04|
|10||Philip Buys (Garmin adidas)||0:16:21|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Yolandé Speedy (MTN-Qhubeka)||4:02:33|
|2||Ischen Stopforth (Bizhub)||0:00:10|
|3||Yolandi du Toit (Bizhub)|