Thanks to Charles Keey (Cannondale/Blend Properties) and Nico Bell (Westvaal/Bell Cycles)'s never-say-die approach to racing the UCI MTN Sabie marathon went right down to the wire.
The 114-kilometer race was literally decided in the last 100 meters. Keey insured his victory by managing to be the first to race into the final corner. In doing so, he forced Bell to break for a mere second. That was all Keey needed.
He won in four hours and 46 minutes with Bell basically finishing on his shoulder. Max Knox (Specialized) was third followed by Waylon Woolcock (RE:CM) and Lourens Luus (RE:CM).
"This is definitely the biggest victory of my career," a jubilant Keey said afterwards.
By winning the MTN Sabie marathon, Keey might have insured that he is now also the number one ranked rider on the local Kia-rankings. He ended last week ranked second, behind Matthys Beukes (Contego).
Unfortunately nothing much came of the South African versus European challenge. Karl Platt and his Team Bulls teammates were not able to compete in Sabie due to their team launch that was held over the weekend.
Steffen Thum (Germany), the overall winner of the 2011- 2012 UCI MTB Marathon World Series, his compatriot Simon Gegenheimer who finished fourth overall in the same series, were as he has predicted beforehand not quite fit enough yet to take on the South Africans.
Keey's victory and Bell's second place finish should not be a great surprise. In fact both of them could have podiumed at the January MTN Barberton marathon if it were not for bad luck at a crucial moment.
Bell's race ended in the first 10 kilometres when a stick got stuck in his wheel damaging his derailleur beyond repair. He was racing in the front when it happened.
Keey was even more unlucky at MTN Barberton, he was racing from the front for the most of the race, made one mistake which led to him going down hard, but he refused to give up even though he dropped back to the 18th position.
He got back on his bike and raced as never before to finish third overall.
Darren Lill (Cannondale/Blend Properties) was once again the first to attack at MTN Sabie as at MTN Barberton which led to him taking the lead on the first serious climb. Unfortunately for Lill one moment's lack of concentration led to him going off onto the wrong route effectively ending any hope of a victory.
Bell, Neil MacDonald (Fedgroup-Itec) and Philip Buys (Scott) proved over the next 20 or so kilometres to be the strongest riders racing at the front at various stages.
After the first 74km lap Buys had about a two-minute lead but as luck would have it he punctured not once but twice and in the end he rode the last 20km with a flat tyre.
MacDonald attacked on the last serious climb. Keey who knew he had good legs opted for a conservative approach deciding to riding at his own page. "I just made sure I kept Neil in sight."
In the end he did caught up with MacDonald then Bell and Knox joined up with him.
But for Knox who was been playing catch up for most of the race that was it he just did not have anything left in his legs to keep on racing at that pace that led to the start of the "dogfight" between Bell and Keey.
Over the last few kilometres they took turns riding in front. Keey managed to be the first to get onto the last five kilometres of single track. According to Bell there was no way he could pass Keey. It was no surprise that Keey took the lead on the single track.
He qualified as a mechanical engineer last year and it is well known fact that engineers are very precise in what they do.
That is why Keey made sure he was in Sabie a day before the race so he could ride parts of the course. "I realized it would be important to the first on the single track and going into the last corner."
Knox has no qualms about finishing third. "I raced as best I could in the end Nico and Charles's tactics were better than me. "I lost the race due to the mistakes I made on the "Rocky Horror" technical descent.
"But I am honest when I say, I could not have lost to two more deserving riders. Both Nico and Charles have been putting in the long and hard hours, it is time that their efforts start to pay off.
"Actually I think this year's MTN-series is going to one of the most exciting as there are so many new riders who can win," said Knox who won last year's series
The women's marathon was also a humdinger with Ariane Kleinhans (RE:CM) and Candice Neethling racing shoulder to shoulder to the end. In the end, Kleinhans managed to beat Neethling by a mere 22 seconds. The winning time was three hours, 32 minutes and 52 seconds.
It is the second year in a row that Kleinhans won at Sabie.
The technical, rocky battles between Ariane Kleinhans (RE:CM) and Candice Neethling (BMC) promise to be a definite highlight of the MTN National MTB Series.
At the MTN Sabie marathon, the two of them rode shoulder to shoulder for about 67 kilometres. Racing up and down the slopes of the Drakensberg, they were both doing their best to leave the rival behind.
It was only during the last few kilometres that Kleinhans eventually managed to drop Neethling, beating her by merely 22 seconds. The winning time for the 70 kilometre race was 3 hours, 32 minutes and 52 seconds.
Kleinhans has now won the MTN Sabie Marathon for two consecutive years.
Neethling was victorious at the MTN Barberton marathon. There has not been such a serious battle in women's mountain biking for quite a while.
By finishing third overall Robyn de Groot, who rode in the colours of Songo.info, proved that her second place finish at the MTN Barberton marathon was no fluke.
When asked why she rode in the Songo.info kit, De Groot said that she did it to pay tribute to the late international mountain-biking legend, Burry Stander, as well as in support of his wife, Cherise.
When Stander and Christoph Sauser (Switzerland) won the Cape Epic last year, they were wearing similar jerseys. Stander was killed earlier this year by a taxi while he was out on a training ride.
De Groot's performance is even more remarkable considering that she has only been competing seriously in mountain-bike races since January.
Theresa Ralph finished 4th and Amy Mcdougall was fifth.
Kleinhans readily admits that she had to dug deep to win the Sabie again.
"Candice's never-say-die attitude meant that I had a tough fight on my hands right up to the end, but it was actually very exciting."
According to Kleinhans she really had to keep her wits about her to avoid going down hard on some of the technical sections.
"I have experienced quite a few scary moments during the race."
Neethling was full of praise afterwards for the way in which Kleinhans rode.
"Ariane is an awesome athlete. The fact that I was able to stay with her for most of the race, is a real confidence booster for me."
Neethling reckons the reason why she is consistently performing well in marathon racing lately is that she has many more long hard miles in her legs.
She is planning to compete in more marathons, but her main goal remains to achieve a good result in August at the UCI Cross Country World Championship in Pietermaritzburg.
"Racing marathons has certainly helped to improve my endurance. It also helps me to learn how to push myself through the pain barrier.
"I can honestly say that competing in marathons has made cross-country racing seem like fun."
De Groot who won the Route 66, a three-day stage event, the previous weekend, admits that her technical skills are not yet up to standard.
"But I am getting there. I at least changed my gear ratio for the Sabie race, which meant that my legs were not quite as painful as during previous races."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Charles Keey (RSA)||4:59:51|
|2||Nico Bell (RSA)||0:00:01|
|3||Max Knox (RSA)||0:01:53|
|4||Neil Macdonald (RSA)||0:04:39|
|5||Waylon Woolcock (RSA)||0:08:14|
|6||Lourens Luus (RSA)||0:09:04|
|7||Gabriel Combrinck (RSA)||0:09:05|
|8||Darren Lill (RSA)||0:11:32|
|9||Erik Kleinhans (RSA)||0:23:45|
|10||Philip Buys (RSA)||0:24:14|
|11||Matthys Beukes (RSA)||0:24:55|
|12||Rourke Croeser (RSA)||0:24:56|
|13||Jacques Rossouw (RSA)||0:24:57|
|14||Steffen Thum (Ger)||0:32:58|
|15||Simon Gegenheimer (Ger)|
|16||Guylin Van Den Berg (RSA)||0:33:27|
|17||Derrin Smith (RSA)||0:35:04|
|18||Oliver Munnik (RSA)||0:42:24|
|19||Louis-Bresler Knipe (RSA)||0:47:28|
|20||Alan Munro Gordon (RSA)||0:55:43|
|21||Craig Stone (RSA)||0:55:51|
|22||Jaco Ferreira (RSA)||0:59:16|
|23||Barend Burger Jansen (RSA)||1:14:46|
|24||Nick Porteous (RSA)||1:19:55|
|25||Heine Engelbrecht (RSA)||1:25:03|
|26||Lee John (Zim)||1:48:40|
|27||Timothy Kock (RSA)||1:54:55|
|28||Gert Janse Van Rensburg (RSA)||1:59:15|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Ariane Kleinhans (RSA)||3:32:52|
|2||Candice Neethling (RSA)||0:00:22|
|3||Robyn De Groot (RSA)||0:07:40|
|4||Theresa Ralph (RSA)||0:11:30|
|5||Amy Mcdougall (RSA)||0:11:42|
|6||Christine Janse Van Rensburg (RSA)||0:14:02|
|7||Samantha Sanders (RSA)||0:15:42|
|8||Jennie Stenerhag (RSA)||0:20:14|
|9||Kendall Ryan (USA)||0:25:53|
|10||Cherise Taylor (RSA)||0:26:58|
|11||Ashleigh Parker-Moffatt (RSA)||0:35:05|
|12||Sanet Coetzee (RSA)||0:52:50|
|13||Siska Van Der Bijl (Ned)||0:54:01|
|14||Emily Clarke (RSA)||0:55:47|
|15||Cindy Rebello (RSA)||0:56:51|
|16||Michel Coetzer (RSA)||0:57:40|
|17||Charlene Roux (RSA)||0:59:34|
|18||Laura Herd (RSA)||1:15:08|
|19||Julia Skea (RSA)||1:15:10|
|20||Martle Vosloo (RSA)||1:33:15|