By outsprinting Kevin Evans (Nedbank360Life) to win the MTN Hilton Dirt Fest on Sunday, Max Knox (Specialized) clinched an overall victory in the MTN National MTB Series.
It was definitely one of the best races of the series. It could be compared to a boxing match on wheels with Knox, the aggressor, continuing to dish out punishment and Evans simply refusing to give up. Even though Evans took some real strain, he never stopped chasing down a determined Knox.
Afterwards Knox graciously praised Evans for the way he raced. "I expected it to be a tough race, and Kevin did not disappoint me. In the end, I had to race smart to beat him." According to Knox, nothing much happened during the first 40 kilometres.
"There was a big group of us riding at a steady, hard pace. Some tactical moves were initiated but none of them succeeded. I made my first attack with 40 kilometres to go. I think I caught everybody off guard when I accelerated on one of the straight flat sections.
"I managed to open quite a comfortable lead and Kevin had to work hard to catch up with me. When we were level, I attacked again. Kevin could not keep up, so I was on my own out in front once again. The time gap between us hovered around 25 seconds all the time."
Evans admitted that he suffered. "I was close to giving up, but I persisted and slowly clawed my way back to him just after the second tech zone. Once I had caught him, I was adamant to stay there, and we exchanged a few 'blows'."
Knox and Evans admitted that, when going into the last 10 kilometre lap, both of them knew that the race would be decided by a sprint to the line. Just before the finish they had to race through a tight corner. The slippery and muddy conditions complicated matters. That was where the race was destined to be won or lost.
Evans went to inspect the corner before the race in order to decide what the best line of action would be. Unfortunately for him, when he reached the corner spectators were standing exactly where he was planning to ride.
"I lost the race in that split second because Max shot through on my inside and there was no way for me to catch up again." Knox said he knew that it was important to be the first rider through the corner.
"I timed it just perfectly."
Not surprisingly, Evans was disappointed with the way in which the race ended. "It is not easy to accept that I have lost a whole series because of one corner of a race. But I can take some comfort from the way in which my racing has improved over the past few weeks.
"My main focus is to be at my best at the UCI Marathon World Championship which will take place two weeks from now in Ornans, France. If I use Max as a benchmark, it seems as if I am steadily improving.
"In the MTN Gravel Travel Max beat me by more than 12 minutes. At the Hill2Hill, the time gap between us was down to three minutes and now, a week later, it is down to mere seconds."
Evans predicts that there is an excellent chance that, between him, Knox, David George and Nico Bell, they will get three top-ten finishes at the world championship.
Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN-Qhubeka) beat George (Nedbank360Life) in a sprint to finish third in the MTN Hilton Dirt Fest.
Knox was full of praise for the course that was designed by the organizers of the MTN Hilton Dirt Fest. "I would put money on it that everybody who competed will describe their racing experience as exciting. The muddy conditions made for some tricky and challenging riding, but it was doable and most enjoyable."
Neethling wins women's marathon
South African Olympian Candice Neethling won the women's 75km event in four hours and 36 minutes. She beat Theresa Ralph by four minutes and Nedene Cahill by 13 minutes.
Neethling is the first to admit that she surprised even herself. "I have been battling ever since the Olympic Games in London. I was just so tired, emotionally as well as physically, but Sunday everything suddenly clicked into place, enabling me to ride a near perfect race.
"The fact that I have changed my race strategy has probably helped. In the past I used to set off at a very fast pace, which was the reason why I often faded quite badly towards the end of the race.
"This time I was more conservative. During the first 40 or so kilometres I just made sure that I stayed with Theresa (Ralph).
"When I realized that my legs were good, I made my move and managed to open a gap. I was lucky that I experienced no mechanical problems and did not get lost like I did during the Hill2Hill the previous week."
Neethling will also compete in the MTN Ride Crater Cruise in Parys for the first time.
"I think I am strong enough now to race 100 kilometres. I don't know what to expect at the Crater Cruise. From what I have heard it is like a road race on dirt roads, which means that everybody will be racing faster than they normally would."
According to Neethling her participation at the London Olympics was "a totally awesome experience".
"I am so glad that I had this opportunity. I have learned much from racing against the world's best and I am sure that this experience will help me to become a better rider. I would love to represent South Africa at the 2016 Games in Brazil as well."
Neethling said she has begun to study. "When I have completed by studies, I will have a BSc degree in psychology and sociology. Even though I enjoy my studies, cycling remains my main priority at the moment."
The Crater Cruise will serve as the final round of the MTN South African National Marathon Series.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|13||Guylin van den Berg||0:46:54|
|14||Michael Mc Dermott||1:04:43|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|4||Andrea de Boer||0:57:18|
|6||Nicolene van der Sandt||1:20:47|