Nico Bell and Robyn de Groot won the elite men's and women's MTN Rooiberg marathon in South Africa.
"I love it when a plan comes together."
Nico Bell (Westvaal/Bell Cycles) could be forgiven if this phrase from the ever popular television series, the A-Team, crossed his mind as he won the 105km MTN Rooiberg marathon on Saturday, June 15. This victory, his first ever in the MTN series, has been a long time in the making.
Bell's winning time was four hours, 21 minutes and 21 seconds. Matthys Beukes (Scott) was second in 4:27:34; Gawie Combrinck (Westvaal/Bell Cycles) third in 4:29:59; Darren Lill (Cannondale/Blend Properties) fourth in 4:41:343 and Johann Rabie (NuWater) fifth in 4:41:46.
Bell's name has been mentioned since last year whenever pre-race favourites were discussed, but for a plethora of reasons, he always seemed to run out of luck at crucial moments in almost every race. To his credit he refused to become despondent. In fact, he just became more motivated.
It should be mentioned that Bell left nothing to chance. Bell and his trusted sidekick, Combrinck, sat down and carefully planned the best way to ensure a victory at MTN Rooiberg.
"I asked Gawie to put his body on the line to make sure that we keep racing at a fast pace for the duration of the race. In this way, we can make sure that a rider who drops back will not be able to join up again.
"I want it to be a race of attrition in which only the strongest riders will survive," said Bell last week when asked about his plans for the MTN Rooiberg race.
That was exactly how Saturday's race played out. For the first approximately 20 kilometres, Beukes was the rider who set the pace that enabled him to win the king of the mountain prime.
The moment he started to slow down, Combrinck went to the front to set the pace. He did such a good job that, after 60 kilometres, there were only a few riders left in contention to take the victory. Bell waited for the steepest climb of the day to start playing his cards. He tested the strength of his rivals with short bursts of acceleration, but refrained from any major heroics.
On the seven sisters climb after the first tech zone, the real fun began when Bell attacked. Beukes tried for a while to keep up but, realizing that he was fighting a losing battle, he wisely decided to consolidate his second place.
The entire event took place in the Rooiberg conservancy and inevitably there was numerous encounters with the resident wildlife.
According to Beukes, they had to stop and get off their mountain bikes at one stage during the race to give a herd of Impala and Springbok the right of way. "It was exciting but also slightly scary." Lill nearly landed up with a Springbok landing on his back while they waited for a herd to pass while Combrinck had a close encounter with a kudu while they were racing down one of the trickiest descents.
London Olympic gold rower Matthew Brittain said after the race, "Only in Africa, the front group stopped and waited for the herd to pass without a comment and just continued racing after they passed!" reminding of the famous Paris Roubaix where riders sometimes have to stop for a train to pass mid race, but with African flair.
"MTN Rooiberg was definitely a race of a different kind. Not only did you have to watch out for loose rocks all the time, but you also had to be on constant alert for what might jump out of the bush," said Combrinck.
Bell said without hesitation that the MTN Rooiberg was one of the toughest races of the series so far.
"I had flashbacks of the first stage of the Cape Epic. Riding through the thick loose sandy sections and over the loose rocks were not easy. You really had to keep your wits about you."
Robyn de Groot (Need Sponsor) also achieved a cycling first by winning the MTN Rooiberg women's 75km race. Yolandi du Toit (Bizhub) was 2nd and Yolanda Speedy (ASG) 3rd.
It was her first victory in the MTN series. De Groot has now pretty much consolidated her position as the overall leader in the women's MTN Marathon National MTB Series.
She won the MTN Rooiberg race in a time of three hours, 42 minutes and 44 seconds. Two weeks ago De Groot also won the South African mountain bike marathon title. Notwithstanding these two major victories, she is under no illusion. "What has been happening feels too good to be true. I do mountain biking for the pure enjoyment of it and, luckily, it is paying off at the moment.
"But I am not taking anything for granted because mountain biking is quite a finicky sport. I need at least one more solid result for a truly realistic chance of winning the MTN series overall. "All it will take to nullify my overall lead in the MTN National MTB Series is one or two mechanical problems."
De Groot said she started Saturday's race by riding at a relatively easy pace for the first 15 kilometres or so. "When we reached the queen of the mountain prime I accelerated to make sure that I was first at the top. Yolandi du Toit caught up with me on the tricky "roller coaster" descent and took the lead.
"From then on we were involved in a game of cat and mouse. Yolandi was the faster rider through the technical singletrack sections and I made up time on the climbs. Eventually I managed to drop her and open up a sufficient gap to win."
De Groot will represent South Africa at the UCI World Marathon Championships in Kirchberg, Austria, on June 29. This will be another first for her.
"I have done as much research as I could about the course and it looks like a gruelling, hilly course with a good 3000 metres of ascent. With only 15 days to go to race day, I will not be able to make too many changes. I will try to increase my speed somewhat, but otherwise I will have to stick to what has brought me this far.
"It is wonderful that there will be three of us in the race, and I look forward to represent South Africa alongside Candice Neethling and Samantha Sanders."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Robyn de Groot||3:42:44|
|2||Yolandi Du Toit||0:01:37|