By winning the MTN Hilton Dirt Fest Ultra Marathon on Sunday, Darren Lill (Cannondale/Blend Properties) proved that there is truth in the saying third time lucky.
Lill has been threatening to win a race in the MTN National MTB Series throughout the season, but he was unfortunate on two previous occasions to run out of luck at crucial moments. He was leading at the MTN Barberton race but a stick that became entangled in his bike's wheel put an end to his chances.
During the MTN Sabie race he took a wrong turn while he was in the lead. These setbacks certainly served as extra motivation for Lill.
He promised himself that he was going to win a race in the MTN National MTB Series, come what may. "The MTN Hilton race was the last opportunity I had to fulfil my dream. The MTN Ride Crater Cruise does not suit a pure climber like me very well, therefore it was a case of MTN Hilton or bust.
"Getting the victory under the belt is very special. I proved to myself that I am good enough to win in the MTN National MTB Series. Hopefully I will not have to wait quite as long for my second victory," said Lill.
His winning time was four hours 32 minutes and 56 seconds. Nico Bell (Westvaal/Bell Cycles) was second in 4:33:25; Gawie Combrinck (Westvaal/Bell Cycles) third in 4:33:45; Waylon Woolcock (RE:CM) fourth in 4:34:27 and Andrew Hill fifth in 4:42:54.
Bell's second-place finish will probably make him the new overall leader in the MTN National MTB Series, especially since Max Knox (EAI Solutions/Specialized) had to withdraw.
The talented 25-year-old complained about stomach pains after returning from Europe on Wednesday. According to his doctor Knox's stomach was fine but he diagnosed the athlete with sinus infection. He prescribed antibiotics which prohibited the former MTN Hilton champ from racing again this year.
The battle for overall victory in the MTN National MTB Series will go right down to the wire. It will be a winner-take-all situation in all likelyhood, because the winner between the two at the MTN Ride Crater Cruise on October 12 will be the overall winner as well.
Bell and Combrinck, who have dominated the last two MTN races, seem to have developed their team tactics into a fine art. Bell won the MTN Rooiberg race and Combrinck was third.
The series has been dominated by three teams. Due to Knox's aggressive approach to racing, the EAI Solutions/Specialized can boast with three victories, namely MTN Barberton, MTN Clarens and MTN Wellington.
Cannondale/Blend Properties can also claim three victories. Charles Keey won at MTN Sabie and MTN Tulbagh and Lill at MTN Hilton.
Bell and Combrinck have been the most consistent riders throughout the series.
On Sunday, Lill rode like a rider possessed but he certainly did not have the easiest of rides. First he was brought to an abrupt halt after a stick got stuck in one of his wheels, which meant he had to chase back to the leaders.
That was only the beginning of his bad luck. He also had to stop to get some grass out of the bike's cassette because he was unable to properly change gears.
To top it all Lill's chain dropped off which meant he had to stop for a third time.
Lill impressed with the way he stayed calm throughout each setback. Despite all the setbacks he still managed to win the the King of the Mountain prime and, in doing so, he ensured that he would be the overall winner of the category as well.
After the second climb, which was about 20 kilometres from the finish, Lill and Bell were in front alone. Combrinck was in third position, about 25 seconds adrift. "I suggested to Nico that we slowed down slightly to enable Gawie to catch up with us so that we could work together. "I knew that Gawie was riding in support of Nico and I was confident that I could beat Nico in a sprint to the line," Lill said.
Unfortunately for Bell, he began to suffer from cramps and dropped back to third position. During the last few kilometres Combrinck tired and this enabled Bell to catch up and pass him again.
Johann Rabie (NuWater) was another casualty of lady luck. He was racing from the front but his hopes of maybe pulling of a surprise victory came to an end when the front shock of his bike broke.
Christine Janse van Rensburg won the women's race over 75km with Janine King finishing second and Amy Mcdougall third.
The men's 75km U23 marathon race was won by Brendon Davids (Jeep) with Luke Roberts second and Jan Withaar third.