On Saturday, the hills of Barberton were set alight by a furious attack on the slopes leading out of town.
That is about the only way to describe Saturday's 120km MTN Barberton Mountain-bike Ultra marathon. It was won in a spectacular way by Max Knox (DCM).
After about 80 kilometers of hard racing, Knox, Burry Stander (Specialized/MR Price) and Kevin Evans (MTN/Energade) were still racing neck and neck and it seemed to be anyone's race. But at the bottom of the last climb, in a matter of three minutes, the situation changed dramatically.
Knox attacked and literally just flew away from Stander and Evans. They had no answer and had to look on despondently as Knox disappeared from their sight, increasing his advantage with every pedal stroke. In the end he finished more than ten minutes ahead of Stander and Evans.
Knox made history by winning. It does not often happen that a rider manages to win the Barberton Ultra marathon twice in succession.
Still gasping for breath after his heroic ride, Knox said he had no choice but to make the racing hard because, being a born and bred Lowvelder, it was important for him to win in front of his home supporters.
Modest as always, Knox refused to make much of his victory. Listening to him talk about his victory, it sounds like just another good day at the office.
"I made sure that I was familiar with the route before the race, so that I would not be caught unawares," said Knox. "My victory was actually a brilliant team effort. At the beginning, on the first serious climb, my teammates, Brandon Stewart and Jacques Janse van Rensburg, set the pace, forcing the other riders to perhaps spend more pennies than they would have liked to. I just sat on, using the other riders' slipstreams to save my energy."
Halfway up the first climb, the faces of the five riders racing with Knox displayed different expressions of pain. Knox was riding right at the back with a slight smile on his face. When the media bakkie passed him, his smile broadened and he even had time to give a thumbs up signal - as if to say I am really enjoying this.
"When I reached the last climb I decided to test Burry and Kevin to see how strong they were," said Knox. "When I realized that they could not respond to my attack, I put in a bit of extra effort to get away from them. From then on it was just a matter of keeping my cool and not doing anything stupid."
Still gasping for breath, Knox ended the conversation by saying that winning in Barberton was really very special.
Stander, who finished second and Evans, who were third, were both full of praise for the way in which Knox rode.
"Max was in a class of his own. On the last climb he made the pace so hard that it felt as if Kevin and I were standing still," said Stander. "There was no way that I could keep up with him, so I decided to just ride at my own tempo."
Evans described Knox's performance as exceptional. "Both Burry and I just could just shake our heads in amazement about the way in which Max just rode away from us."
Before the race, it was predicted that Evans and Stander would ensure that there would be drama during the race and they did not disappoint. With Knox out in front, the main battle was for the second place.
At first it looked like a foregone conclusion that Evans would finish second because on the last climb he managed to open a gap of about two minutes. But Stander, with his never-say-die attitude, managed to catch up again. Over the last few kilometers, the two of them played cat and mouse games with one another.
Then, with about two kilometers to go, it happened. Stander crashed into one of the fun riders who suddenly just popped up in front of him and both of them went down. Evans must have been tempted to pretend that he did not see the crash and to continue riding on in order to ensure a second place finish, but he did not. He stopped and waited for Stander to get onto his bike before they resumed their battle.
"I don't regret doing what I did. That is the nature of the beast. I could easily have ridden away, but it is not in my nature to take advantage of somebody when he is down," said Evans. "So I waited for Burry, knowing that he always has a big punch at the end. It was an enjoyable fight for the second place."
Stander was very appreciative of Evans's sportsmanship. "I really did not expect him to do that, but that is Kevin. It was considerate of him."
Stewart was afterwards quite frustrated because after doing most of the hard work on the first serious climb, he became a victim of punctures. "I really had good legs. I am certain I could have stayed with the leaders until the end, even perhaps managing a podium finish."
Janse van Rensburg's challenge for a podium finish came to a sudden end while he was racing downhill at full speed. Janse van Rensburg made a slight error of judgment and had to pay the price. He crashed, flying head over heels, over his handle bars and landed on his head.
According to him he was totally disorientated afterwards. "I got back onto my bike and started to ride again. After about ten minutes I realized that I was doing my own race on a totally different route. It was race over for me."
Yolandé Speedy (MTN/Energade) seems determined to live out the full meaning of her surname each time she races. On Saturday she astonished everybody when she finished inside the top 10 overall in the 75km race.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Max Knox (DCM)||4:54:21|
|2||Burry Stander (Specialized MR Price)|
|3||Kevin Evans (MTN Energade)|
|4||Adrian Niyonshuti (MTN Energade)|
|5||Paul Cordes (MTN Energade)|
|6||Melt Swanepoel (Specialized MR Price)|
|7||Matthys Beukes (Scott)|
|8||Mannie Heymans (Garmin adidas)|
|9||Rourke Croeser (DCM)|
|10||Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin adidas)|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Yolande Speedy (MTN/Energade)||3:24:40|
|2||Karien Van Jaarsveld (Natro)||0:10:50|
|3||Yolandi Du Toit (Konica Minolta)||0:12:40|